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Sunday, December 10, 2017

New 'micro-school' coming to Mason District

An Acton Academy. 
A small private school, associated with the Acton Academy network, is expected to open in Mason District next fall. 

A location hasn’t been nailed down yet, but there are two possibilities, both churches. One is in the West Falls Church area near Route 50, and the other is in Seven Corners, says Village School founder,  Lauren Quinn, an advanced academic resource teacher at Parklawn Elementary School who has taught at several public and private schools, including Congressional School.

Each Acton Academy has no more than 150 students in a “one-room-schoolhouse” setting. Instead of classrooms organized by grade, there are studios of up to 40 students of mixed ages and two adults, known as “guides” rather than teachers.

“The Acton model focuses on personalized learning,” Quinn says, “while traditional schools are based on a factory model that assumes all kids develop at the same pace and learn at the same time.”

“We believe all kids have gifts and talents,” she says, so students are given time to pursue their interests and passions. The concept is aimed at encouraging children to become independent.

A studio for elementary students would have students age 6 to 10, with the older kids mentoring their peers, Quinn says. Some Acton Academies have middle and high school students, but the academy she hopes to open in August will start with just elementary-age students. Annual tuition would be $12,000.

There are more than 50 Acton Academy “micro-schools” up and running or planned in the United States and around the world, but the Village School will be the first one in Virginia. Another one will open in Washington, D.C., next year.

The first Acton Academy was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2009 by Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Acton School of Business, and his wife, Laura, who has a master’s degree in education.

The schools are based on the concepts of “learn to learn” (emphasizing self-paced challenges and Socratic discussions), “learn to do” (focusing on hands-on experiences in science, entrepreneurship, the arts and apprenticeships), and “learn to be” (children embark on a “hero’s journey” to discover the unique contributions they can make toward a life of meaning and purpose).

Quinn believes traditional schools fall short by focusing too much on “learning to know” and failing to teach students to be independent learners. “Traditional schools are not preparing students for the real world,” she says, noting students need to be critical thinkers because many jobs of the future don’t even exist yet.

Parents interested in enrolling their children in an Acton Academy would first learn about the Acton approach, fill out an application, then participate in a collaborative interview to see if it’s the right fit for both parties.

Once Quinn nails down the location, she plans to have an open house.

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