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! 

Vape-Free Campus

Over the 10 years we’ve been teaching at Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), we’ve learned a few things about helping middle schoolers thrive. Things like when to push and when to give space; how to be silly but not embarrassing (middle schoolers hate that); and how to help kids make healthy decisions, like not to vape. 

Vaping may be trending nationwide, but not at Almond Acres.  We are proud to say we have a 100% vape-free campus. There are a lot of components to helping middle school students buck this trend.  Here’s how we do it: 

Structured and Joyful Middle School

We know that engaged kids are often responsible kids who don’t want to get involved with drugs and alcohol. Almond Acres middle school is designed, both in philosophy and community, to keep students active, social, and engaged. 

Five Almond Acres students standing in front of the new school

Our project-based learning gives middle school students control over the direction of their education. When students know the WHY, they become more deeply invested in learning. Inquiry projects allow our students to design the outcome and make an impact.

Accountability is at the core of our teachings.  As leaders within our K-8 school, Almond Acres middle school students take a leadership pledge. Students have an awareness of the consequences for not showing up as the best version of themselves and they don’t want to test those boundaries. This sense of control over their lives helps them rise to the high expectations we set.

With so many options for extracurricular activities like performing arts, after-school programs and community service, AACA students don’t have a lot of extra free time to make poor choices. Our robust athletics program offers everything from competitive teams to intramurals and club sports, providing an outlet for social interaction, team-building skills, and risk-taking in a safe environment. When a trophy or a PR is on the line, it’s easy to see how vaping could derail your goals. 

Embedded in our curriculum is health education that includes research-based information from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. We know that knowledge is powerful when it comes to helping our students make decisions that impact their lives. By providing students with the facts about the harmful effects of drugs on growing bodies and minds, they can make choices that will keep them on their path to a bright future.

Close Knit Community

When middle school students know they are cared for and valued for who they are, they respond in kind. Our strong community keeps our students connected within safe boundaries. And frequent communication with families makes sure there are no gaps between what occurs at school and what parents are aware of.

Almond Acres teachers and staff care for each student who walks through our doors and our small school ensures that everyone is known by name. Teachers know that relationships built on trust and respect are the most important part of helping young minds grow.

Our school-wide buddy program, which helps bridge the lower school and middle school, builds positive interactions between older and younger children. Our middle school students are well aware of their influence on younger kids and they truly desire to set a good example and be a role model.

Almond Acres middle school students sit together around a round table to work on a project together

Begin With the End in Mind

As part of AACA’s leadership curriculum, we practice using the 7 Habits of Mind to support social and emotional well-being. A student favorite is “Begin with the end in mind,” meaning to identify your goals and dreams and then make a plan to get there. Our students spend time envisioning their dreams and future and our school community supports their path to those goals. We talk about obstacles that may get in the path of their dreams, like vaping, and how to safely get around such challenges. Education is what helps us grow strong minds and strong hearts. 

We invite you and your middle schooler to join us at Almond Acres and see the positive impact a holistic, child-centered education can have on your future. Enrollment for Fall 2022 is open now!

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! 

A Slam Dunk: Sports & AACA

Five Almond Acres middle school athletes and their coach gather at a Cross Country meet

Almond Acres may be a small community school, but our sports offerings are anything but! 

AACA is proud to offer a robust athletic program that includes after competitive teams and intramurals. It’s just another way the entire Almond Acres community is working to grow the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul

In addition to our health and recreation programs and top notch academics, we nurture our students to grow into the best version of themselves through skills gained by being part of a team. Our athletes develop confidence, leadership skills and life-long friendships. They learn to win with grace and handle disappointment with dignity. 

There is no greater time to find a sense of belonging and community than the middle school years. Our middle school sports offerings are designed to give students a chance to showcase their skills and learn new things. Sports are a social outlet and they’re a lot of fun! 

If your middle school student is looking to grow his/her athletic development and have fun at the same time, we offer the following sports: 


Flag Football (Co-ed)

Volleyball (Girls)

Cross Country (Boys & Girls)


Basketball (Boys, Girls & Co-Ed teams)


Track & Field (Boys & Girls)

Volleyball (Boys)

Ultimate Frisbee (Co-ed)

Almond Acres is part of a regional league that competes against nine other schools in the area. Middle school athletes play against other schools our size, preparing them for more competitive teams when they reach high school, but still allowing a fair playing field. In cross country, competitions are divided by age group and open to everyone in our area, regardless of school size. 

The brand new gymnasium at Almond Acres Charter Academy for K-8 sports and physical education. 

Our elementary students don’t miss out on any of the action, either. Sports at Almond Acres are open to all students so they can experience being part of a team and explore their skills and interests. Sports provide our elementary students the opportunity to be with friends, move their bodies and have fun in a low risk environment, as well as prepare them for middle school athletics. 



Cross Country (all grades)


Basketball (3rd-5th grade)

Flag Football (3rd-5th grade) 


Track & Field (all grades)

Ultimate Frisbee (3rd-5th grade)

Sports teams at Almond Acres extend our mission of developing the whole child beyond the hours of a typical school day. We know that kids who play sports show increased confidence, sharper brains, sleep better and develop stronger hearts and lungs.  All things essential for children to grow into the best version of themselves. Sports at AACA are a win-win!

Join us at Almond Acres as we cheer on our athletes–there’s a team for everyone here!

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! 

We Love Recreation!

Almond Acres Charter Academy is built on the philosophy that each child is unique, and that by teaching to the individual — every student achieves optimal levels of success and becomes a great citizen. The four pillars of our school mission to ‘grow great kids’ are heart, mind, body and soul. The body aspect of this quadrumvirate includes recreation — play, exercise, and movement. Plus nutrition, sleep, and healthy physical habits.  Our PE program is better known as our Recreation program because we want all of our Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA) students to learn how to have fun and recreate.  

All AACA students have weekly recreation classes with our credentialed Physical Education Teacher, Sean Sommerville. Our recreation ethos focuses on grade-level state standards, as well as building stamina. By having ongoing walking/running challenges, we elevate collaboration and cooperation. Our students work together, set goals and practice recreational habits that can last a lifetime. 

Almond Acres middle school volleyball team

We offer elementary and middle school competitive sports, too, including cross country, volleyball, basketball, football, ultimate frisbee, and track & field. In addition, every year our school comes together for our much-loved Read and Run Relay and fundraiser. 

In a typical year, our collective K-8 school’s goal would be to: 

  • Read 100,000 minutes 
  • Run 250 miles
  • Raise at least $30,000 

This year, with the pandemic,  our Read and Run Relay goes virtual. On April 1st, students will be challenged to a 1-hour read-a-thon AND a 1-hour jog-a-thon. Every student will get to participate by reading and running on their own, but stay connected to each other through Zoom. Plus each year an Almond Acres student designs our tee-shirts for the event via a competition during our art classes. Monies raised go towards the purchase of books, digital reading apps, and equipment to enhance our Recreation program at Almond Acres. 

This event is wonderful because it is inclusive. Academics, athletics, and art are all brought together for families and the community to celebrate and support our students.” Erin Colegrove, the AACA Read and Run Relay event coordinator 

“By allowing students to show off their skills, whether they love reading, running, or a combination of both, we are honoring the whole student: heart, mind, body, and soul. By celebrating each child’s unique makeup, we get tremendous buy-in from the students, and that is how we are able to set and achieve such big goals.”

Bob Bourgault, Executive Director,  Almond Acres 

Every student has innate skills and talents, and it is incredibly rewarding for us to watch each child learn about, and become, the best version of themselves: heart, mind, body, and soul. At Almond Acres, it’s not just about physical education. It’s about learning how to recreate. 

Donations to the 2021 Read and Run Relay can be made using this link.

About Almond Acres 

Every child is unique. At Almond Acres tuition-free public charter school, we serve grades K-8 and we educate the whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul.  Our focus on meaningful educational experiences within our community embraces service and project-based learning.  We also emphasize character development and strong citizenship standards alongside our robust curriculum. We are enrolling now. We grow great kids!