Hands On! Minds On! Project-based Learning at AACA

Project-based learning is a dynamic approach to learning. It encourages students to learn by getting hands-on and exploring content in a more interactive way. Our Almond Acres students acquire deeper, more meaningful knowledge by actively exploring real-world situations and challenges.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a key component of our instructional program. We integrate PBS across all subject areas and in all grades whenever possible. Our PBL enriches student knowledge by utilizing themes, unit-based queries and a variety of hands-on methods. Our innovative PBL efforts also enhance community connections via field trips, guest speakers, and our highly rewarding service-based projects. Our project-based learning is always driven by a question.

project based learning trip

Service and project-based learning is a creative outlet for our students that also encourages partnerships with our broader community.  Last year we had 43 different  

businesses, both for profit and nonprofit, work with our school!  Here are a few examples: 

Our kindergartners visit Annette Lodge, and learn how to listen to stories, and learn how to tell stories.  Both generations tell stories and listen to stories. For our kinders, the PBL question here was, why are stories important

Another class, our third graders, spent time caring for the beach as they sought to answer the question, how can I be a steward of the ocean?  First they learned about the importance of waste — and what happens to it, how it can end up in our oceans. And they learned about caring for the wild animals who call the beach and oceans home. We were visited by experts from SLO County Integrated Waste Management Authority for this PBL experience. 

project based learning trip

Our third grade class displays their science project in the Paso Robles City Library  

and in Studios in the Park. They are excited to showcase their artwork and also support and serve our community by providing a beautiful 3D mural to different locations in town.

Our eighth graders enjoy PBL in several different spaces. Previously, they focused on entrepreneurship. They took a tour around Paso Robles City Park and visited about a dozen different businesses.   We asked what does it mean to be an entrepreneur,  

and how do you start your own business? Our eight graders met with different businesses, and practiced being interviewed by each other, too. Says our Executive Director, Bob Bourgault, “It was a beautiful dialogue to help kids understand the power of inspiration; to start a business or engage in entrepreneurial efforts.” 

Allegretto Hotel chapel

This year, our eighth grade students visited the Allegretto Hotel to understand the wide array of art on display here. Our middle school class will create an art piece for our new school’s atrium, and this visit was the first step to answering the question, how does art live on? 

For our fourth grade class the question was, what best tells the story of the California missions?  Instead of just researching a mission project in a traditional method, our AACA students investigate an artifact from the mission. It might be a stone, or a bell, or a cross. It might be a gravestone or a well. Our students research and share what they’ve learned about this particular object that represents life in the California mission. 

project based learning trip

Project-based learning is meaningful. It involves making decisions, solving problems, and interacting in or with something or someone that’s real. It’s always engaging and provides a longer-lasting impact on the students. We love PBL at AACA! 

About Almond Acres 

Almond Acres is relocating to Paso Robles. Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students in all communities, the school is currently located in San Miguel and moving to Paso Robles for the 2021-22 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Inclusivity + Community + Best Practices in Education = Almond Acres

We’re trying to move our school from its current hillside location in San Miguel to a larger, more centralized spot in Paso Robles. To do this, we need the approval of the San Luis Obispo Board of Education. Over 100 families and faculty took the time to write letters on behalf of Almond Acres Charter School. 

It’s an extraordinary and humbling outpouring of heartfelt zeal for our charter school. We thought we’d share why other parents love this school so much. Three themes keep emerging — in these authentic letters — our inclusive culture, strong community and unique and beloved educational approach.  Here’s a tiny sample of the tidal wave of positive parental descriptions of our school and spirit:

The understanding that each child is an individual with different needs is key to why I am sending my children here. The inclusive nature of the school allows for much family involvement in our children’s education and school culture. The support network and friendships created during the time we’ve attended AACA goes way beyond the school gates. This is a community of invested and passionate parents, students and educators. This network is key not only for our children, but for the community of Paso Robles.

The school ethos —  positivity, sense of duty, determination and passion — is seen in local small business, cultural life, and in the evolution of the city community.

AACA helped develop my son’s individual strength and is helping us develop him into an outstanding citizen. Over the last year, our son has learned to recognize 5 core values of being a good citizen and helps our entire family focus on being trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair and caring.

My children, as most, have many different needs. Support services at Almond Acres have been so thorough, open, and consistent in their communication with me, my children, and making sure to find ways to provide exactly what my kids need to succeed and grow. They teach the kids from the beginning self advocacy and let them voice their opinions and concerns. They play an active role in their own education.

We chose AACA for the small school size and the strong focus on the students. I appreciate that AACA focuses on our children’s personal strengths whether it be heart, mind, body or soul. And that they help us identify that so we can help our children better.

Not only has AACA been good for my child, but it has helped me be a better mom. At one point I was having a hard time with my son, and Mr. B (school principal) met with me to help guide me through tools that I can use to help him be his best self. Also, throughout the year he has held Zoom calls for the parents so that he can help guide us through the challenges that parenting brings.

AACA finds how each student is smart and encourages them in that direction. That is an out-of-the-box way to think about education

No school is perfect and certainly not a fit for everyone. Every concern I’ve had with the school over the years was talked out with staff members and they actually made swift active changes surrounding my concerns, and always follow up to make sure the new plan in place is working out for everyone involved. This open communication and willingness to make changes based on parental feedback is a huge factor in our school choice.

I have never felt so welcomed as a parent/adult at a school and the staff, faculty, and children all welcomed us. It was what we felt was “true Paso Fashion”. Since moving here there has been this wonderful sense of community. A sense of togetherness and a kindness that we see throughout our town. Almond Acres Charter Academy is just that. They are a community within a community raising good people, innovative learners, self starters, and future compassionate, loving humans.

Almond Acres Charter Academy is not perfect, but we are a team of dedicated educators and families that are striving to create meaningful education through service/project-based learning experiences. For example, in Kindergarten, we partner with Annette Lodge, a senior living facility in downtown Paso Robles. It’s a beautiful relationship built on visits, exchanging written letters and surveys between the kindergarten students and the residents at Annette Lodge. They teach us about life then and now, answer questions about life as Americans, and tell us their stories. Kindergarteners think of the seniors as “the wise people” because they have collected the most life stories.

Our structure allows us to respond quickly to the needs of our students and adapt our programming when necessary. Through the upheaval of COVID-19, AACA was able to offer a program that supported both our students and staff while maintaining our philosophy. I am very proud to share across the county the work that AACA is doing to serve students.

The fact that my son sleeps in his SCHOOL uniform two weeks before term starts each year tells me that he adores his school, his buddies, his teachers, and especially his principal, Mr. B. who directs with a kind but very purposeful manner. He knows every child by name and has the grace and patience like no other. Amy Baker, founder, is brilliant in her own right and is the silent backbone of AACA.

While distance learning was a struggle for our family, I was extremely impressed with how quickly the school was able to switch to an online platform. The teachers were amazingly helpful during the transition and helped modify the curriculum to better suit my sons’ needs.

I strongly support AACA and the school’s philosophy of growing great kids, the positive school culture, the encouragement of critical thinking skills, the acknowledgment of individualized learning styles, and the promotion of student leadership in both academics and citizenship. This school has been a real blessing to our family and the entire community.

AACA emphasizes character development — learning strong and effective social skills and the importance of teamwork. What I really appreciate about this is that students at AACA learn these with a sense that their success as students is not just a matter of looking out for themselves. On the contrary, they come to understand that they are there to learn and grow as human beings that will make a contribution to their communities as a whole.

About Almond Acres

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. The school is located in San Miguel and is open to all students in all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!