Be TeRRiFiC: Trustworthy

Three Almond Acres Charter Academy students  work together on a project at a table. One is cutting while the other two look on intently.

Character counts. It’s the foundation for who we are and how we interact with our friends, families, and the world around us. At Almond Acres Charter Academy, we believe developing positive character traits is as essential as learning the ABCs and 123s. In addition to our study of the Habits of Mind, we focus on 5 character traits that root us in positive character so we can flourish: trustworthy, responsible, respectful, fair and caring. We like to use the acronym TeRRiFiC to help us remember how to become a terrific person. 
Let’s jump into the capital T this week: Trustworthy. A trustworthy person is reliable, responsible and honest. A trustworthy person’s actions match their words–if they say they are going to do something, they do it. The consistency a trustworthy person displays is a way of showing that promises will be kept.

Two Almond Acres Charter Academy students work together on a project outside. One student has a shoe off and the bottom of his foot painted. The other student helps him make a print of his foot.

As we grow and develop, we express trustworthiness differently. Early examples of trustworthiness might be not taking another person’s toys, but in the older grades, interactions and relationships will reveal how trustworthy a person is. Here are some more examples of what trustworthiness may look like, sound like, and feel like in our K-8 school:

Being trustworthy might LOOK like:

…showing up on time for school.

…following through on commitments.

…walking quietly through the halls so we don’t disrupt others.

Being trustworthy might SOUND like:

…I’ll be there. You can count on me. 

…I broke the lamp. I’m sorry.

…you can go first. 

Being trustworthy might FEEL like: 

…a challenge at times, especially when it goes against a desire.

…a shoulder to lean on.

…a promise kept.

Children naturally seek to be around trustworthy people – those who provide clear expectations and boundaries alongside care and sincere interest. We can also think about how we are modeling trustworthiness to our children. Do we follow through on our yeses and nos? Do we arrive at events on time? Do we fulfill our commitments? More importantly, if we make a mistake, can we say I’m sorry and correct it next time? Our children watch us closely for cues to navigate the world. 

At Almond Acres, our dedicated staff models trustworthiness in all of our interactions with students. Our students can rely on us to be consistent with our expectations, our listening skills and in our actions. It’s how we build strong, trusting relationships that allow learning and growing to flourish in a safe environment and how We Grow Great Kids

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!

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! 

Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

This week at Almond Acres, we are studying Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then be Understood. Seeking to understand often requires the skill of listening. Whether as a student, an employee or in a relationship, the skill of listening is essential to learning and knowing a subject or a person deeply.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student listens intently to another student at the same desk. She is making eye contact and has her body facing the speaker. There are 4 students in red uniform shirts sitting together at a table.

Habit 5 teaches us that good communication begins with empathetic listening. Empathic listening is listening with the sole intent to understand another person within his or her frame of reference. It requires both intent and skill. The key is to truly, honestly desire to understand the other person. We can probably all relate to not being listened to at some point in our lives. It feels terrible–this is the first step to empathy!

Our ego commonly gets in the way of being a good listener. Instead of listening, we make sure that people understand our own point of view first, or only listen autobiographically. When we listen autobiographically, we filter what others say through our own story, experiences, prejudices, biases, and values. We probe by asking questions from our own frame of reference or agenda. We evaluate by agreeing or disagreeing. We advise by giving counsel, advice, and solutions to problems. We interpret by trying to figure out or analyze the other person. In short, we are putting ourselves first.

The productive and positive influence is to truly understand another’s point of view first. This practice expresses respect, mutual understanding, empathy, and courage. Great relationships, whether at home, school, or work are built on mutual respect. Loving and respecting others is an act of good listening because we tend to find better solutions to challenges in life when we consider the ideas from both sides to create the best idea. 

When it comes to learning, listening is obviously a must! Students who practice good listening skills become great thinkers. They can’t understand academic skills if they are distracted and not following a lesson. Moreover, asking questions and getting clarification develops greater understanding and makes meaningful connections between subjects and skills.

We believe teaching listening skills is as essential as reading and writing skills. We use a simple 3-step framework to illuminate this practice for all of our K-8 students: 

  1. Practice empathetic listening by asking clarifying questions and not judging the situation as you first see it. Some examples include: 
  • Can you tell me what happened?
  • How do you feel about _____?
  • What do you think led to this situation?
  • You sound really _______. 
  • What do you think is the next right thing to do?
  1. When emotions are high, stand your peaceful ground and don’t jump into the excitement. This will help the other person to connect to their thinking brain because they see you modeling it. 
  1. Respectfully seek to be understood. Once the other person recognizes that you are there to understand and want to help, it’s time to add your input. 
  • “I feel _______ about ________.”
  • “You could be right, however, ________.”
  • “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. Would you like my opinion?”
  • “That sounds interesting. What do you think about ________?”

Empathetic listening says to the person that you care about who they are, what they are feeling, and are open to helping them. It is a simple skill with a profound impact that we can all practice in our day-to-day lives. 

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!

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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!

Meals

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. 

Shoes 

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!