6 Ways We Make Middle School Magical

On any given day, if you take a walk through the Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA) middle school wing, you’ll hear the sounds of learning and joy in our halls and classrooms: Spirited debates and discussions, laughter among friends, and conversations between students and teachers. You’ll see a community of teachers and learners engaged in active thinking, creating and doing. You’ll undoubtedly notice our commitment to nurturing the heart, mind, body and soul throughout the unique middle school years. Here’s a glimpse of what we offer our bright 6th-8th grade students at our tuition-free charter school:

1. Authentic Academics

Our daily schedule looks similar to a traditional middle school day: We use “periods” for students to rotate through English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Recreation and Electives and include a morning and lunch recess. But, as middle school parents can attest, that’s where the similarities end:

The Middle School Leadership Team is unique because it comes up with the BEST ideas for activities. It’s really fun and creative and so hands-on. When there’s a problem, they’ll solve it.

-AACA Parent

All middle school students participate in our school-wide Shared Start and a homeroom Morning Meeting. We believe this boosts belonging and community in our K-8 school. 

AACA middle school teachers utilize a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach that is the core component of our instructional program and is integrated across all subject areas whenever possible. We also make connections throughout the community with field trips, guest speakers and service components. PBL makes learning authentic and lasting–just what a middle school brain needs. 

Our dedication to STEAM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) has helped us develop popular events and programs like Destination Imagination, an after school STEAM program open to all students, and our Annual Maker’s Faire

2. Leadership & Character Development

All AACA students participate in a yearly study of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, developed by Steven Covey. Through our Pathways Course, middle school students further their understanding of the 7 habits and also have opportunities to refine their problem-solving and decision-making skills. The Pathways Course includes essential college and career readiness skills. 

An optional weekly Leadership Class is popular among our 6th-8th graders. Students in the Leadership Class lead many aspects of our school including Shared Start, recess and lunchtime activities, school-wide contests, and fundraisers. In fact, if you come for a tour of our middle school, you are most likely to be welcomed and led around by a member of our middle school leadership class. Who better to share with prospective families than the ones who get to experience and shape it everyday?

I think AACA has such a unique middle school environment. Not only are students taught to be considerate leaders, but students are given many opportunities to show their initiative skills. Leadership and citizenship is exceedingly highlighted. And most of all Almond Acres stretches and educates students as a whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul.

-AACA Parent

3. Service Learning

Our middle school students are active volunteers in our community, putting into practice what they learn through service learning projects, a cornerstone of our curriculum. Field trips and guest speakers help us learn from and interact with the community. The skills students learn in school often spill out into summer, with many students choosing to serve and engage in Paso Robles’s many amazing community offerings. Being good citizens is an important aspect of our AACA school model.

4. Arts

AACA arts electives are some of our most popular middle school classes. We offer choir, instrumental and vocal, art and drama. Each year our students put on a student-run musical theater production and a talent show. We also showcase student art at our annual art show.

middle school students on stage for a drama production

5. Sports

We may be a small school, but our sports teams still pack a punch. From Cross Country to Flag Football, Volleyball, Basketball, Track & Field and Ultimate Frisbee our middle school students get to compete against other local middle schools and hone their skills. Being a part of a team in middle school provides a solid foundation in teamwork and sportsmanship.  

Additionally, all middle school students receive physical education classes with our full-time recreation & wellness teacher.

AACA Middle School is like a family – it is small and all the students know one another. Teachers are able to give more attention to individual students because the class sizes are smaller. The philosophy of Heart, Mind, Body, Soul is very unique for a school as it promotes teaching students foremost and curriculum follows. When we take the well-being of every student into consideration, it makes it much easier for students to focus and learn the curriculum.

-AACA Teacher

6. Positive Student-Centered Culture

It is possible to attend a middle school that is a positive environment for growth and development as a tween and early teen. Our middle school embraces sixth to eighth graders as current AND future leaders, ideators, problem-solvers, and independent contributors. Due to our small size, AACA middle schoolers can each be known for who they are and the safe community feel of a K-8 building contributes to fewer discipline and behavior problems than a traditional middle school. And fewer behavior issues means less time pulled away from academics

Want to check out AACA Middle School in person? We welcome prospective families to chat with us and take a tour of our new building. Even if your student is looking for a better fit for 8th grade, it’s never too late to join us

About AACA

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. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from 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! 

Beating the Back-to-School Jitters

Are you beginning to feel the Back-to-School jitters? If so, you’re not alone! Everyone feels a little nervous about a new school year and a new adventure – students, parents and even teachers! We invited resident teaching and parenting expert Amy Brabenec to walk us through how to prepare for the first day of school and reduce our jitters to maybe just some gentle butterflies. 

An Almond Acres student in red uniform polo smiles while showing the inside of a book he is reading.

Take it away, Amy:

I am almost as excited for this school year as I was the very first year we opened! It feels like a fresh start with endless possibilities for creating our best school year yet! Here are some practical things to discuss and practice before school starts. 

You are safe! 

Teachers (all adults at school are teachers in some capacity!) have two jobs: keeping your students safe and learning. They take both jobs very seriously!


Some students are not used to making decisions about what to eat when, so they try to eat everything in their lunchbox during the morning snack time, leaving little to no food for lunch. That makes for a hungry afternoon! It’s worth a conversation ahead of time and maybe a practice run or two. 

Packaging and Containers 

Practice opening food packaging, juice pouches, and containers. I wish someone had suggested this to me when my children were little. I sent my son to school with containers he couldn’t open without making a giant mess, and I didn’t include any utensils! Did I think those would magically appear? Did I think the adults could open every child’s container for them? I don’t know. I’m just grateful his teachers were kind and non-judgmental when they explained what was happening! 

Lost & Found

Label everything with your child’s name. Label every little thing. 

Listening and Following Directions Fast, the First Time

Do your children stop and give you their attention when you say their name? When you give instructions, can they stop and do what you asked? For safety and scheduling reasons, we need students to respond to calls to attention and follow instructions. It takes practice, so make it fun. Try to beat yesterday’s record of how many times your child looked at you when you said their name, or track how fast they followed directions. 


If your child does not know how to tie shoes, consider whether they have the fine motor skills to learn right now. If so, teach them! If not, consider shoes without laces for school. 

Launch Pad

Consider a box or designated area as a launch pad for each child. The launch pad is where they will put everything they need for the next day. You could add a photo of the items or a written list to remind your child what they need!

Always Watching & Listening

We sometimes think our children are too busy playing to overhear our conversations. They pick up on more than we think. So, to prepare your child for school, consider how they might feel if they know you are sad because you will miss them while they are at school, or you are worried about how other students will treat them, etc. A child may think, “If my parents are sad or anxious, maybe I should be, too!” That isn’t to say we should be fake; our kiddos see right through that, too. But, we can be mindful of our impact.

Dropping Off

I was the parent who hung out too long. If my daughter cried at drop off, I held her and sometimes I cried, too. I felt awful leaving her upset, and the guilt was crushing. Her teachers would tell me that “She’s just fine as soon as you leave!” That would drive me crazy and hurt my feelings. Fast forward to becoming a kindergarten teacher who would be in family counseling soon after. Sure enough, the students who had a hard time leaving their parents were just fine within a minute or two after the parents departed. Lingering only made things worse. Our daughter struggled with anxiety and had very few coping skills as she got older because I tried to rescue her out of ever being uncomfortable. I share this because if I could do it all again, I absolutely would. I would tell her I love her and I’ll see her later, and I’d leave her in the capable, caring hands of her teachers. The unspoken message is, “I love you. You are safe. I feel good about you being here. You got this!”

Grand Opening & Meet the Staff

The week before school starts we have our Grand Opening & Meet the Staff event. It’s a fun, informal way to meet your teachers before the first day of school, which can help with some of those new-school-year jitters! It’s also a great time to meet other families. See ParentSquare for more details!

All That in a Nutshell

  • The AACA staff are excited about our upcoming school year, and we are committed to making it a great experience for ALL students!
  • Productive struggle is important in learning, so let your child work through wrestling a granola bar wrapper or having big feelings. You can give some pointers, but let them practice and celebrate their independence. 
  • Practice now is freedom later. If we practice the routines we need for each day, we build productive habits. Our brains are then free to focus on learning and building relationships at school!

About AACA

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. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from 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! 

Why Choose a Charter School

A charter school is a publicly funded, independently operated public school. Most charter schools are started from the ground up, by a team of passionate educators and parents who see a need in the community and decide to fill it. Charter schools operate under a contract between the school and the state government that outlines how the school will educate students in exchange for public funds. A charter school’s authorization is renewed every five years based on agreed upon expectations for educating students, including state standards and testing.  

Three Almond Acres Charter Academy upper school students smile for the camera.

Mission Driven

Founders of charter schools want to offer students and the community a unique approach to learning. They may choose to focus on college preparation, arts or sciences, or a specific curriculum; the sky’s the limit! The school’s unique mission drives the planning for the school and influences every part of the students’ day. 

Ten years ago, Almond Acres Charter Academy founders began with a powerful vision; to create a school that would be a part of, and continue, the tradition of the local districts, but also have greater flexibility in the delivery of curriculum, fiscal management, and decision making. A school and program of learning that centers the best of interests of children in all decisions was born. Today, Almond Acres has bloomed into a thriving charter school serving K-8 students of the Paso Robles area  – with heart and dedication. 

Student Centered

Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all learning. Charter schools are usually centered on the needs of the student, often through a personalized curriculum or specialized offerings. An artistically inclined child can thrive in an arts-centered school, while another child may do best in a school with smaller classes and an emphasis on outdoor education. The ability to find a “just right fit” for your child’s schooling is very appealing. 

Growing Great Kids!

Affirming each for their strengths and struggles,

Stretching positive and productive habits of mind, and

Celebrating the awakening of creativity!

Our simple mission is to put students first. Almond Acres celebrates the uniqueness of each child by designing lessons based on the many ways a child can learn and identifying how children are smart, not just how smart they are. We value students for who they are now and who they hope to become and we take advantage of our small class sizes to build solid, affirming relationships that help students grow into the best version of themselves. 

Freedom to Innovate

Because charter schools are free to choose the best path to success, they can be an exciting hub of innovation and creativity. Highly qualified teachers are often attracted to work at charter schools for a chance to teach in a less restrictive way, with greater creative freedom, or with like-minded teachers and staff. 

In addition to an innovative project based approach, we use research backed practice to teach reading, writing and math fundamentals. Arts and sciences, leadership, technology, and unwavering student support are all included in our curriculum. Our service learning projects connect students to the local community, creating a bridge between schooling and life. And we get kids up and moving throughout the day with physical education and abundant athletic offerings, to strengthen young muscles and hearts.

The exterior of Almond Acres Charter Academy showcases the multiple intelligences with a series of signs and symbols.

Almond Acres teachers are the heart and soul of our school. Our teachers are committed to creative, energetic teaching, and a positive school culture that is modeled by every member of our staff. We teach to the strengths of every learner, including those with 504s and IEPs. 

Community & Size

Parents looking for a small school, where everyone knows their name, often look to charter schools to find a greater sense of community. Many charter schools are born out of a desire to create a like-minded community, where children can safely learn in a way that suits their needs.

Community is at the core of our safe and deliberately small K-8 charter school. At Almond Acres, every child gets personalized attention, caring instructors, and a close-knit academic environment. Communication between teachers and family is frequent.  Special events invite families to our school to celebrate our success and cheer on our growth. We lean on parents as our partners in growing well-rounded children into college-bound students. 

Almond Acres Charter Academy strives to offer excellence, flexibility, and choice in your child’s education. We love our close community and invite your family to experience all our charter school can offer.

About AACA

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. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from 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!

Benefits of a K-8 School

If you’ve ever stepped inside Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), you sense that our school feels more like a home than just a school building. Everyone knows your name, from teaching staff to students to parents. We spend a lot of time together—our students are with us when learning the alphabet, multiplication tables and all the way through the formative years of middle school. This sense of family is a powerful benefit of attending our K-8 school.

student actors in a movie

Safe and Nurturing Environment 

By attending a K-8, families have fewer transitions and students get to remain in a safe, developmentally appropriate environment that nurtures students right where they are, suggests a Harvard Education Magazine study. The familiarity of the buildings, scheduling, and the staff gives students confidence and knowledge as they grow. Also—who doesn’t love fewer drop offs when you have multiple kids in school? 

The safe community feel of a K-8 building contributes to fewer discipline and behavior problems than a traditional middle school. And fewer behavior issues means less time pulled away from academics. Higher grades and greater involvement in extracurriculars like sports and performing arts, are a pretty great benefit, too. 

Leadership, Agency & Confidence

Have you noticed that leadership is a central tenet of our philosophy? 

Throughout the up to 9 years at Almond Acres, students are provided many opportunities to practice and learn character traits through the Leader in Me curriculum. The consistent messaging of our Habits of Mind in the classroom and during Shared Start, means that our AACA students get the opportunity to go more and more in depth each year. Students also practice these traits in the community through service learning projects, a cornerstone of our curriculum. 

Our middle school students look forward to the chance to be “top dogs” at Almond Acres. 7th and 8th graders serve as role models for the younger students and serve as the Student Body Leadership Team. They are proud to hold this responsibility and aim to set a good example for younger students. Additionally, our Buddy Program gives elementary students an opportunity to see that middle school can be pretty awesome.

Almond Acres also offers athletics for our entire K-8 student body. From intramurals to competitive teams, there is something for everyone. We cheer each other on from the start—it’s common to see our elementary students cheering on our middle school athletes. The athletic and team skills our students learn early on support greater participation in middle school. 

4 Almond Acres students in bright yellow uniforms run on a track

Students at a K-8 school also experience higher levels of self-esteem. At Almond Acres, we help students get to know all the ways they are smart. We focus on their strengths as we affirm, stretch and celebrate each individual. Students feel comfortable being challenged, learning new things, and taking risks. Our K-8th graders learn how to fail and start again for all nine years in a supportive atmosphere with trusted adults ready to help and guide.

Culture of Community

When you enroll at Almond Acres, you get more than an education, you get a school home that feels like family. Our K-8 culture is built on positive teacher-student-family relationships with emphasis on service to our community.

Our students benefit from a sense of security and support in knowing our teachers are there beyond the time shared in classrooms. We often see students make special connections with an elementary teacher and come back to stop by the classroom as a seventh grader; just to check in.

Almond Acres families are considered our greatest assets. Families participate in activities, fundraisers and decision making. They attend field trips, help out in the classrooms and support our teachers. We are thankful for parent involvement from kindergarten to 8th grade, which frees up time so Almond Acres staff can do what they do best: teach the heart, mind, body, and soul of every child. And parents love to see first-hand what happens at school, strengthening the school-home connection.

At Almond Acres, we are proud to offer our child-centered, holistic education and the benefit of consistency, support, mentorship and a school family for nine straight years. Rely on us to help create a secure foundation for your child. We are enrolling now for Fall 2022!

About AACA

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. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from 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! 

How to Find the Best School in Paso Robles, California

How to Find the Best School in Paso Robles, California

Parents either contemplating transferring their child to a new school or searching for a school for the first time are likely to have plenty of questions. How much choice do we have? What options are available for schooling? What factors should I consider in choosing a school? And so on.

Parents who want to find the best school in Paso Robles, California will have plenty of options as the number of school choices generally increased over the last few years. Many, however, also find it difficult to choose the best school for their child given the abundance of options. Here’s a guide on finding the best school for your child in Paso Robles, California.

Assessing Your Needs

The first step in selecting a school for your child is to assess his or her needs as well as your family’s requirements. Keep in mind the personality of your child as a quiet and shy child will likely do better in small class size or a smaller school. If your child is showing potential in either music, sports, or science and math, then it might be better to enroll him or her in a school that has programs in special areas. 

Ask yourself these questions. How much importance do you place on proximity? Is it necessary that the school is located either at your workplace or near your home? Do you require a school that offers before and after school care?

Knowing Your Options

Parents have different choices depending on their location and the supply and demand for some schools. For example, some schools will have more applicants than the number of students they can actually take in. Or it could be difficult to transfer the child to a highly popular school located outside Paso Robles city.

Parents can choose from different kinds of schools. Below are the choices.

Considering neighborhood schools in Paso Robles, CA?

Many parents often prioritize getting their child into the neighborhood school. If this is the case, then it is best to check your local district’s rules and boundaries to know which school your kid will likely be assigned to. You should also find out the rules for attending other schools such as magnet schools, charter schools, or schools within your local district or outside of it.

Considering magnet schools in Paso Robles, CA?

Magnet schools are also offered in various school districts. These are schools that provide specialized education in various areas such as sciences and math, technology, or arts. Some magnet schools also have different structural organizations like operating on a year-round schedule or mixing various grade levels in one classroom. Magnet schools do not have to comply with neighborhood boundary rules. They also attract students throughout and outside the school district.

Considering charter schools in Paso Robles, CA?  

Public education has transformed in recent years and one of the significant changes in the growth of charter schools. These are public schools that are free from the traditional school regulations set by the state. Charter schools are governed instead by charter agreements approved by local school boards, which means that they can be shut down if they fail to meet the requirements of their charter. Parents can send their children to charter schools within or outside their school districts as charter school enrollment does not follow neighborhood boundaries. Charter schools with high demand typically use the lottery system to determine eligibility to attend.

Considering private schools in Paso Robles, CA?

Private schools, unlike public ones, do not receive funding from the government. They also craft their own criteria for eligibility and admission. Their teaching methodology, curriculum, and enrollment procedures are also set by its board of directors, principal, teachers. Private schools can also hire teachers without credentials.

Considering alternative schools in Paso Robles, CA?

Alternative schools are typically schools that have different education philosophies from traditional schools and programs. Usually, these schools have small class sizes and offer emotional and social development or a self-paced curriculum. The term alternative school is used to describe a wide range of schools. As such, it is best to ask why a particular alternative school you’re interested in has been classified as an alternative.

Research the School

After narrowing the choices, you can start researching the schools’ profile, teacher-student ratio, test scores, and ethnic make-up, among others. You can also check parent reviews if there are any to get feedback on leadership, management, and quality of teachers so you can compare your choices better.

You can also consider visiting the campus as no amount of research and reading can replace the insights to be gained in checking out the school physically. A short visit where you are armed with the right questions and a list of things to check out will help you make a well-informed decision.

You can create a list of features that you wish for in the future school of your child. Below are some of the basic features to look for according to the U.S Department of Education website:

  • High-quality teachers and staff
  • High expectations
  • Rigorous curriculum
  • Busy, visible children
  • A great welcome for visiting parents
  • The openness of staff and management to answer questions
  • Robust parent-teacher association

Below are some questions you might want to ask during the school visit.

  • How do you train, support, and monitor teachers?
  • How much homework do you give to students?
  • How do you handle the behavioral problems of students at the school?

Take the time to think and list down the questions you want to be answered during the school visit. Write them down so you don’t forget to ask them.

Check Enrollment Procedures and Applications for Schools in Paso Robles, CA

After you’ve made a choice, then find out about enrollment requirements. Public schools usually require your child’s immunization, and health records, and proof of address. If you are going for the neighborhood school, then make sure to research all the paperwork needed for enrollment in Paso Robles city as well as application deadlines.

In the end, it’s not easy to find the best school for your child given the many choices and the different variables at play for parents. It is necessary to take the time to know the different options, narrow them down according to your requirements, and research thoroughly each school in your narrowed list. Don’t forget to consider your child’s needs as it is a crucial factor in choosing his or her school.