The year was 2019 and the place was Acton Academy West. I first connected with this academy through an unexpected phone call with Head of School Jayme Bynum. Over a 30 minute conversation, Jayme explained some of the unique features of the school: mixed age, one-room schoolhouse format; a blending of direct learning as a class community with self-paced online learning; Socratic teaching methods and real-world character/skills development; all propelled by a Hero’s Journey metaphor. Immediately, I was fascinated. Even better, the role Jayme described for me as an “Art Quest Guide” sparked a level of creative thinking and problem solving I’d rarely been invited to employ within schools.

I got to work designing two large-scale collaborative art projects. One for the Elementary cohort and one for the Middle School. Sitting in a circle with the elementary bunch, I was immediately struck by three things:

1) The authentic respect offered by the group. No rowdiness. No rude comments. Just sincere interest and curiosity.

2) I noticed a freedom and individuality in each kid. Students seemed expressive, engaged, and comfortable being their unique selves.

3) My third observation was with the Middle School cohort. I was amazed at the intelligence of the entire group as expressed through words and actions. These junior-highers actively listened to each other. When asked to discuss a topic, they knew how to take a position and argue persuasively and succinctly. They took turns. They seemed to choose their words and actions with care, favoring the expressions that edified others. Like the elementary group, the middle schoolers focused deeply and aimed high with their art, with each person achieving great results. I was stunned.

Over the next three weeks, the kids and teens at Acton West created two complete murals in just 6 lessons. Written “artist statements” reflected pride in their work and respect for the process. As we neared completion of the Arts Quest, I learned that Acton Academy West is one of hundreds of independently owned Acton Academies. A model that started in Austin through founders Jeff and Laura Sandefer, Acton Academy is continuing to grow micro schools all over the world.

Author Rebecca Faubion is co-Founder of Click here for a free copy of the book Art Spark, and a free 2 lesson demo of Artful Kids Club curriculum for schools.