Acton Academies are a great, if not the best, educational programs for gifted children. Period. – Dr. Suzy Thompson (Intelligence & Creativity expert).
If I were to take all of the research that I came across while pursuing my Masters in Gifted & Talented Learners and even my Doctorate in Intelligence, Creativity, & Giftedness, and created a “Perfect School” for these children, it would have closely mirrored the pedagogy of Acton Academy. Fortunately, I did not have to create this school from scratch and am able to build upon what Jeff & Laura Sandefer created for their children. The primary difference between the Acton Imprimis Salado and other Acton Academies is that we have an outspoken Christian viewpoint in our eagles’ (students) character development and studies.
In this blog post, I’d like to make a two very simple yet profound statements that I really want you to understand deeply:
- It is never about what a gifted child can do that will determine a successful future and fulfillment in life. It is ALWAYS about who that child is.
- The Hero’s Journey equips children to not only master their educational quests, but also provides an even more critical component: the human component. It helps gifted children define who they are and find their callings.
Academics at Acton Imprimis – Gifted children really dislike being tied to time. The time restraint drives them crazy. Either they do not have enough time to dive as deep as they want into their studies before being forced to move-on with the class, or they master the class material quickly and are bored for the rest of the time they are stuck in that room. At Acton, we take the time restrain away and say, once you have reached a level of mastery (we state 95% accuracy), then you can move forward with your studies. Thus, it doesn’t matter if the child masters the material in ten minutes or ten days, the time factor is no longer a pain. And, they do roughly 250% more work, in depth, than the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards requires for a child to graduate from a public high school.
Individualized Education Plans – Yes. We are fully accredited, and your child will be ready to go off to college upon graduation. However, your child can also choose to equip themselves to be ready to begin a life of entrepreneurship and graduate with an established limited liability company (LLC) in his/her name. Your child can begin his/her journey into the fine arts, trade school, anything that he/she desires to be and feels is his/her God-given calling. Each child is given an individualized education plan that he/she can adjust as needed to reach his/her life goals. And, they have real world apprenticeships that are required prior to graduation.
But, Who am I? I have heard this question asked by countless gifted children from middle school into adulthood throughout my 15 years of working with this population at my private practice and even as a college professor just advising students. High Achievers wake up in college to the realization that they have been living up to somebody else’s standards and have no idea what they really want to major in or why. Some gifted children begin to get frustrated with themselves for not being able to stick to a major or not understanding why they feel so alone among a sea of friends. “Nobody understands me. I don’t even understand myself.” Their identities have been so wrapped up in what they are able to do that they never think to actually learn about something they don’t get graded on, themselves.
Beyond the traditional academics of math, science, spelling, writing, reading, literature, social studies, history, economics, etc… Acton includes the Hero’s Journey and all the character traits that Heroes need to lead, survive, and thrive as real modern-day heroes. This is vitally important for gifted children. Their hearts crave purpose over production, quality friends over popularity, and for an innate deeper meaning to life, especially as they mature.
Character Badges – Gifted kids need these to function in life. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. They need to know that humility is greater than pride. Servant Leadership is more effective than being bossy. That to stay cutting edge, one must keep a student spirit, because once you’re a know-it-all you have begun to decline in knowledge. They need to know how to give and receive criticism, how to be a quality friend, how to mentor others, how to face their fears, and how to submit to authority. They need to wrestle with deep questions and be able to disagree kindly with others who think differently. Gifted children need to learn how to be gritty, resilient, and overcome adversity without snow-flaking out and feeling sorry for themselves. They need to understand the difference between accountability and victim-hood.
Discovering One’s Gifts – This is the coolest thing! Gifted children are actually equipped and empowered to discover their personal gifts instead of being conformed to what society thinks about their abilities. They don’t have to live up to another person’s agenda. They are in a safe environment to try, fail, and try again without being bullied. (Zero bully tolerance at Acton Imprimis Salado…as in zero bully tolerance). They can find out through apprenticeships if what they think they would be good at or think they’re interested in is what they really want to do.
Multi-Grade level Studios: This is fantastic for gifted children! Gifted children develop asynchronously (Google “Columbus Group Asynchronous Development” for more information) which basically means that they intellectual level is consistently higher than their grade-level peers, but their physical, social, and emotional development can be all over the place. Thus, the mixture of ages greatly helps gifted children feel like they fit-in with more of their studio mates. Furthermore, most gifted children have a number of older and younger friends. To the gifted, it’s about mental age, not biological age.
Hands-on Quests: Most world-renown gifted experts will agree that a combination of hands-on learning and a commitment to tasks is necessary for gifted learners (Renzuili, Sternberg, Torrance, Silverman, Etc…). In fact, Dr. Renzuilli even stresses that the three overlapping factors needed for giftedness includes creativity, ability, and task commitment. These are all factors that can be found in our quests.
Wiggle Room: I mean this as a pun. The children literally have room to wiggle in the studios. They can choose to sit at their desks or sit at table or lay down on the floor, chill in a beanbag, etc…as they work on their individualized tasks. Statistically speaking, there is a high probability that a gifted child with a psychomotor overexcitabilty (this just means excess energy) will be labeled as ADHD in a traditional school setting. At Acton, the child isn’t confined to a desk. On another note, gifted children have a lot of wiggle room in their questioning. The Socratic guide should not discourage curiosity. Thus, the gifted child has plenty of room to question, hesitate, and find understanding on their own.
Passion Hours: At Acton Imprimis Salado, we include a passion hour each week for our eagles to study whatever it is that they are passionate about. Their topics can change as many or as few times as they desire. They can study ANYTHING that they are passionate about to share with their tribe. It can be a person, a product, a game, a point in time, a place, anything.
Running Partners: Considering the complexity of their emotions and how gifted children can have such intense imaginations, emotions, and even (for some) lives…Gifted children love the idea of a running partner. This person holds them accountable, encourages, and runs alongside them in their personal Hero Journeys, and the gifted child gets to do the same for his/her running partner. This is such a great way to launch those quality friendships.
I honestly believe that I could write a book or maybe even multiple books on why Acton Academies are great for gifted learners. It’s more than just their stellar academics. It’s because our pedagogy addresses the heart of the learner. The Who is greater than the do.