Family Plans



Laura Sandefer

September 24, 2013

One of our founding family members told me: “If Acton Academy were to go away tomorrow, the one thing we would never stop doing is our family meetings. Our family plan has changed our lives more than anything.”

It would be crazy to run a business without a mission statement, vision, clear goals, budget and strategic plan. Aren’t families more valuable as human organizations? Why not give the same attention and care to our most precious work? If we were so purposeful in our family lives, wouldn’t we be more satisfied each day? Less stressed? Better stewards of our time and resources?

At Acton Academy, we call this putting in your big rocks first and then filling in with the little rocks. (Ask your child to demonstrate this to you if you haven’t heard about it yet.)

We believe there is infinite value in a family sitting together regularly to talk about who they are, what they want to do as a group and as individuals, and writing up a real plan of action.

There are many ways to do this. We do not prescribe a specific method to you. We simply encourage you to do it.

To get you going, we have found one clear and easy route to writing a Family Plan with your children. It comes from Patrick Lencioni’s book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family. If you need a copy, let me know and you can borrow mine.

These are the questions that work to begin this adventurous and productive process for your family:

  • What makes our family unique?
  • What is our family’s most important priority – our rallying cry – right now

Going deeper on this one: To do this, we will……..; and we will also have to stay on top of our regular responsibilities which are…

  • How will we use these answers and keep them alive? (ie, hang them up on the door, have weekly family meetings…)

We have posted the family plans from our community in our parent section of our main website. I am inspired each time I read them. My family is probably the least disciplined in the bunch to sit down and check on our goals. Sometimes we hit a weekly check-in, other times, it’s each month. Some years, it’s each quarter. You’ll find your stride.

Our next parent lunch meeting will be a time to share stories and encourage each other in this process.

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Parent Resources


Acton Academy Mesilla Valley


Laura Sandefer

September 19, 2013

Since my last post, several people have requested seeing the list of books our elementary students recommend. Here is their “two thumbs up” collection – so far:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson

The Candymakers, Wendy Mass

The Giver, Lois Lowry

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George

Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

The Trumpet of the Swans, E.B. White

The Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum

The list will grow as the reading continues…

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Acton Academy Mesilla Valley


Laura Sandefer

September 17, 2013

First, let me paint a little vision for you:

What you will see at Acton Academy:

  • children who are late to group discussions because they cannot put their books down;
  • children walking into walls because they are lost in books;
  • a tall redhead directing traffic around a reading child.

What you will not see at Acton Academy:

  • Required Reading Lists.

Why in the world would we NOT have required reading lists?

Reason #1: They kill the love of reading.

“…reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag. This is how we breed kids who say they ‘hate reading.’ The very act itself….You read for its own sake. To learn, to travel, to be spooked or heartbroken or elated. To grow. And when you do this, when reading becomes something that you authentically value, you become a better reader and writer without even trying. You start to reach for more advanced reading material, inferring word meaning, connecting with characters and identifying their growth, interpreting nuances of meaning and symbolism with delight and awe. When you write, your sentence structure becomes more complex and sophisticated. You write with greater imagery. You take emotional risks, understanding that good writing is honest.” (Carolyn Ross, Rutgers University M.A., current high school English teacher)

Reason #2: They say to children: “We don’t trust you.”

Reason #3: Reading for pleasure improves math, writing, and well, life in general.

Reason #4: I’d listen to Heather Staker about anything. Here what she wrote on the subject:

This vision I painted is our reality. We are in love with reading. The Acton Eagles are surrounded by wonderful reading choices. We have students who help each other choose what to read next; parents who gently guide the youngest Eagles with what books to bring to school to read; and Guides who help steer students into their reading challenge zones. Students posts their critiques on Goodreads, mark the bookshelves with their “Eagle Picks”, and have book exchanges on Valentine’s Day all to celebrate the act of reading. “Drop Everything And Read” – D.E.A.R. – is a luxurious time built into the elementary school schedule. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we adults indulged so in the middle of a busy day?

I have been in the shoes of the parents who want a school to tell their children what to read or at least take away the comic books. (For me it was to please take away the military weapons books and insert “Anne of Green Gables.”) For those of you leaning in this direction, I hope you will trust me when I say to hang in there, be patient and trust in this environment and these children. (Call me if you need someone talk you down from the ledge of required reading lists. You have my number. Day or night.)

We know that once the love of reading kicks in, it sticks. No one can take this love away from our children. This love will be their best teacher, best friend and faithful liberator in life. And yes, the affair can start on the back of a cereal box.

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Hero’s Journey



Laura Sandefer

September 11, 2013

Our emphasis at the start of the school year is FUN. We believe learning is one of the most fun things in life and we want our environment to reflect this.

A close second to the fun is creating our boundary system. Boundaries ensure safety and security – intellectually, emotionally and physically. Without limits, freedom and fun become stressful chaos or worse, meaningless and wasteful.

At Acton Academy, our boundaries are not fuzzy. They outline how we treat each other, our environment and ourselves as travelers on Hero’s Journeys.

I am often asked, “How do you discipline students at Acton Academy?” I like to rephrase the question: “What happens when a student chooses not to respect the boundaries drawn by their fellow Eagles?”

Our answer is simple: We respect their choice.

The Eagles spend a great deal of time exploring why their time at Acton is important. The “Why belong?” question is critical. Next, the group debates and adopts community standards and consequences for not respecting them. These are our “rules of engagement.” All of this takes days and a great deal of patience, but once the Eagles have spoken, the boundaries mean a great deal to everyone.

We use the words “choice” and “decision” daily at Acton. The Eagles know they choose their words and actions each moment of each day; and that these decisions determine their overall experience in school and, ultimately, in life.

In the elementary school, the consequence of choosing to cross over a boundary at Acton Academy is removal from the community in varying degrees. The choice to disrupt the group’s or an individual’s learning or safety begins with a brief separation within the studio; if the boundary is intentionally crossed again, the separation takes place in the conference room with a guide to discuss why the choice is being made; and finally, after three clear and intentional breaches of intentional disruption or harm, the parents are called to bring their Eagle home until he or she chooses to rejoin the community and commit to its covenants.

The middle school system of consequences includes losing privileges within the community and/or losing Eagle Bucks. When there is a clear intention to break with the contract, discussions begin between the student, guide and parents about the choice to stay within the community or to leave Acton Academy.

When a boundary is crossed, our words are simple: “We love you. You made the choice and you knew the consequence of your choice. We are excited for you to choose to join the community again. And even if you choose to leave, we will continue to believe you will choose a Hero’s Journey.”

This week the students are negotiating these rules of engagement. We will post them in the elementary school weekly update and on the middle school blog when they are adopted.

We believe this is one of the most powerful processes within our community because it is based in respect, freedom of choice and the understanding that what each human chooses to do and say matters to the world.

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