Meet Your AACA Directors

We are back with another round of introductions to our hard-working directors at Almond Acres Charter Academy. This time, we’d like to introduce you to Amber Wilkerson, our new Special Education Director and two familiar faces: Amy Baker, Program Director and Amy Brabenec, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Coordinator. Read on to find out about the varied paths each staff member took to get to AACA and what they love to do in their free time. 

Profile photo of Amber Wilkerson, Special Education Director at Almond Acres Charter Academy

Amber Wilkerson, Special Education Director

How long have you worked at Almond Acres?

I was officially offered the position of Special Education Director in June. I’ve been boots on the ground since!

When did you know you wanted to work in education?

My first teaching position was before No Child Left Behind legislation and I taught a Special Day Class prior to having my credential. From day one I knew it was my jam. I have taught for 20 plus years, all as a special education teacher, and have never felt burnt out. I think that says a lot about my passion…I can’t imagine being in any other setting. I love working with students, teachers, and families. 

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My favorite teachers were in first, second, third grade and my junior English teacher. It wasn’t one thing they did or taught, rather how they made me feel as a learner. I was a pretty big goof off in high school and I remember my English teacher telling me that he was submitting my name for Honors Senior English. He said he saw and heard something in my writing and wanted to develop it. Of course, I didn’t complete the summer pre-course work! Ha! These days, Dr.Vick, my Dissertation Chair, has become my favorite teacher. It has taken his feedback and expertise to get me this far!

What do you love most about your role?

I have been an administrator before and chose to go back into the classroom because the job was too far removed from kids. I accepted this position because it is a perfect blend of student and family interaction and supporting teachers and special education programs. I also fell in love with the philosophy of the school!

What else would you like us to know about YOU?

I love reading. I am obsessed with my yellow Lab, Sadie Mae, and my Doberman, Duke. I have 3 geese that I hatched in my classroom who follow me everywhere. I have been married for 26 years, and have three amazing daughters. My oldest will play Goalkeeper for Cal Poly next year!

Profile picture of Amy Baker, Program Director at Almond Acres Charter Academy

Amy Baker, K-8 Program Director

How long have you worked at Almond Acres?

I am one of the founders of AACA, and one of the current administrators as the Program Director. I helped to develop the Charter petition and have helped to implement the programs as a staff member since AACA opened in 2012. 

When did you know you wanted to work in education?

I wanted to work with kiddos as far as I can remember. Both of my parents were teachers. I grew up hanging out in my dad’s classroom after school, on the weekends, and during the summer. I loved playing school when I was little, and of course, I was always “the teacher”.  All of my jobs had to do with kiddos, from babysitting to working at the Boys and Girls Club and the Y, to coaching sports, to working through Americorps, etc.   

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My favorite teacher was Mrs. Leslie Moss for fourth grade at Winifred Pifer in Paso Robles.  She made all students feel cared for, listened to, and loved.  She made learning fun and engaging! We are still in contact today. 🙂  

How does AACA’s mission and vision align with your personal values?

Our mission at AACA is to help students be successful both academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body, and soul. At AACA, we use a Formation of Learning Framework and Philosophy in all aspects of our school. This allows us to focus on four key areas in all that we do: disposition, knowledge, reasoning, and creativity. We have chosen programs and curriculum that fit into our framework and philosophy. They also allow us to easily differentiate in order to meet the needs of both accelerated learners, as well as struggling ones. It aligns with my values because I helped to create the educational program for this school and is what I truly believe in as an educator.  

As an administrator, I have seen the positive impact that this school has made on so many students over the past 9 years. I have also been fortunate enough to have my daughter, Amelia, go through AACA since Kindergarten and she is now in 6th grade. Her experience at AACA has far exceeded what I could have ever imagined for her, both socially-emotionally and academically.

AACA is small, but mighty. Our faculty is extremely dedicated to all students.  They go above and beyond daily to work with students based on their individual needs in all areas.

What do you love most about your role?

I absolutely LOVE the team of people that I work with…they are so supportive personally and professionally. They bring happiness and laughter to my days! I LOVE seeing the teachers grow as educators and succeed because we truly have the most amazing educators! I LOVE watching students experience aha moments, build confidence, and shine in the ways that they are most talented. 

What else would you like us to know about YOU?

I own another business in downtown Paso, so when I am not at school, I am often there! I LOVE to spend time with my family and friends, as they are the most important part of my life. I LOVE games, especially board games, and sports, especially college basketball, professional baseball, and football. I LOVE watching productions, especially the ones that my daughter is in. I LOVE to travel throughout this country and to other countries whenever possible. I LOVE helping people.   

Profile picture of Amy Brabenec, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Coordinator at Almond Acres Charter Academy

Amy Brabenec, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Coordinator

How long have you worked at Almond Acres?

This is my 10th year at AACA. I taught kindergarten for the last nine years at AACA! 

When did you know you wanted to work in education?

At the end of the school year, teachers would give me their extra copies of worksheets and I would play school in the summer. That is probably the first clue that I wanted to work in education.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My favorite elementary school teacher was Mrs. Walters in 2nd grade. She brought out the best in me.

How does AACA’s mission and vision align with your personal values?

Our goal at AACA is to teach students how to learn and to be comfortable with the process of learning. I grew up in 4-H and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cal Poly where the motto is Learn by Doing. There are principles and habits we teach at AACA that apply to all areas of life and I am a better wife, mother, friend, and teacher when I live by them.

What do you love most about your role?

I get to work with students of all ages and that makes me very happy!

What else would you like us to know about YOU?

We are big San Francisco Giants fans in our family, so any chance to watch a game is fun for me. At least once a day you can find me walking with my husband, Mike, and our dog, Piper. Our son, Noah, and daughter, Ava, are young adults now, and it’s an awesome gift to watch them continue to grow.

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. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 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! 

Meet Your AACA Directors

It’s no secret that we love our staff at Almond Acres Charter Academy. The dedication and care they bring each and every day make our school a special place to be. We’d like to introduce you to two leaders at AACA who help make our days great. Some of these faces may be familiar and some may be new–we think you’ll enjoy getting to know a little more about how they came to join our school and what inspires them. 

Profile picture of Jeff Cadwallader, Facilities Director for Almond Acres Charter Academy

Jeff Cadwallader, Facilities Director

How long have you worked at Almond Acres?

As of right now, this is my 2nd DAY at AACA.

When did you know you wanted to work in education?

I always enjoyed helping other students out during school. During college, I tutored my teammates in a variety of subjects. A few years after college I had no direction in my career path and had a long conversation with a close friend that had just completed her first year of teaching. After this conversation, I started researching what it would take to become a teacher. After my first year in the classroom I was hooked and knew this was going to be my life long career.

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My favorite teacher was Ms. Habas, my Probability and Statistics teacher during my senior year of high school. She made learning new concepts easy and fun. She is the reason I decided to get a math degree and I modeled many of my teaching practices after her.

How does your school’s mission and vision align with your personal values?

I believe that all students can learn and excel when given the opportunity and tools necessary to be successful. At Almond Acres, we teach the child, not the subject. We meet each individual student on their level and grow the whole child, heart, mind, body, and spirit.

What do you love most about your role?

Being new to the school, my role affords me the opportunity to see how the school runs from the ground up. A large part of my duties will be centered around the completion of our new school site and the transition from temporary sites into the new building.

What else would you like us to know about YOU?

For fun I like to go camping, golfing, and to the beach. I also enjoy spending much of my free time coaching my 3 children in a variety of sports.

Profile picture of Carrie Fiel, Curriculum Director for Almond Acres Charter Academy

Carrie Fiel, Curriculum Director 

How long have you worked at Almond Acres?

I found my home with Almond Acres in their second year which was 2013-14. I started as a 6th grade teacher and then moved to 1st grade.  After a few years in 1st grade I moved out of the classroom to work in curriculum with Amy Baker.  I have found my passion working with all things curriculum, instruction and assessment related. I have now been with AACA for 8 years and this year will be my 9th year!  I can say that I found my school home when I found AACA. 

When did you know you wanted to work in education?

I knew I wanted to work in education in 6th grade!  I had to create a lesson all about Jellyfish and teach my class. I fell in love with how excited others got about learning and I knew then I would be a teacher.  Funny, that I found my passion in middle school and I started my career in teaching as a middle school math and science teacher in Los Angeles. 

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

My favorite teacher was Kathy Turin. She was amazing because she knew exactly who you were as a person, your likes and dislikes, what made you excited and what bored you to tears. She made learning fun and accessible for all. 

How does AACA’s mission and vision align with your personal values?

My mission has always been to recognize and support the whole child and to meet every child where they are academically.  Being an active and participating member of society has been my end goal.  All of these align to Almond Acres Mission of growing great kids! Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. 

What do you love most about your role?

I love to see the curriculum that I have worked on come to life in the classroom and in student projects. I love to see them smiling while they learn.  

What else would you like us to know about YOU?

Ah! I spend all my free time teaching Aquafit at the Paso Robles Sports Club.  I love Aquafit and love teaching my classes at the Sports Club. Occasionally, you will also find me swimming laps too.  I just love aquatics ;0). I also love animals and you can find me taking care of our sheep and chickens.  I have two amazing and wonderful kiddos who are both now adults and going to college. 

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. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 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! 

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

When students arrive at Almond Acres Charter Academy, they are embraced like family. In fact, we consider ourselves a family! We look out for one another and we care deeply about the happiness and success of all our students. From a simple smile and hello in the morning, to a heartfelt “how are you doing?” during lunch – students know that they are an important part of our community. 

A parent poses with her daughter during a visit to Almond Acres to share about her profession as a Registered Nurse.

We help students become the very best version of themselves by inciting a passion and desire to learn. It’s not just teachers and students who are developing caring relationships at Almond Acres, it’s everyone in the building and our families at home. We create solid and affirming relationships – we understand our students, their families, and the community – and we make decisions that put student success at the center of our planning.

How do we achieve this at Almond Acres Charter School? We asked a couple of AACA parents to share the ways we regularly nurture and collaborate to create our family culture:

We get to know each other and ourselves.

We work together as faculty and families to recognize all the ways our students are capable and smart. We spend the first three weeks of every school year focusing on self discovery and setting goals for the year–even in kindergarten!  Students work with their parents and teachers to identify strengths and struggles in all areas of their lives: heart, mind, body, and soul.  In a student-led parent-teacher conference following this self discovery period, the student shares what they’ve learned about themselves and challenges themselves to grow–or stretch–their skills.  For example, a student may choose to learn to play an instrument, participate in the school play, or improve their reading fluency by learning 100 sight words.

We focus on the cooperative, not the competitive. 

Our sports teams are open to all students.  We want every child to experience what it feels like to be part of a team.  We believe that the elementary years provide an excellent opportunity to explore different interests and develop skills.  We encourage students to focus on personal growth rather than comparing themselves to other students.  We all learn and develop at different paces, and peers, parents, and staff celebrate that personal growth among student athletes.

We maintain simple principles to help every kid understand who they are.  

These principles are inherent to teaching, parenting and learning. 

The recipe to growing great kids is simple.  First, we affirm.  The strengths and struggles of each student are unique to them.  We acknowledge and recognize this in each learner.  Secondly, we strengthen.  We guide students through the process of identifying opportunities for growth and set goals that are S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, assignable, relevant, and time-based).  Finally, we celebrate!  Student achievements are regularly commemorated during our daily Shared Start assembly.

Almond Acres Charter Academy executive director and students enjoy lunch together outside

We have a genuine desire to help.

We know that if students feel supported — as a whole person — they’ll flourish. For us, this includes heart, mind, body and soul. 

Annual Fund Raising – everyone seems to get together to make this happen. The committees that are formed are one part of it, but so many people help by donating items and advertising! It’s amazing to see the community family coming together to help provide money to keep our school thriving (to my knowledge most traditional public schools in our area don’t have to raise as much money as us just to operate).

We honor kids for their unique intelligences: how they are smart is more important than how smart they are.

We engage available, reliable adults to support kids daily in their growth and courage. 

Daily Parent Involvement – I consistently come across parents that not only know the names of my kiddos, but they know their likes and dislikes and achievements and struggles. This to me validates the family culture of AACA…we all have each other’s backs. 

Our end of year camp-out (pre-COVID-19) always had a large turnout and the feeling (to me) is like a big family reunion with food, fun, and unity.

Our small charter school means faculty and families really know one another and intentionally partner in the developmental arc of each kid. 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. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 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! 

Our Culture of Learning: Empowering Students to Take the Wheel

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”

Dr. Maria Montessori
An Almond Acres Charter Academy student takes a huge leap into a sand pit

Just as parents know that each of their children is unique, we, too, know that each child that walks through the doors of Almond Acres Charter Academy is endowed with their own set of talents, skills, and dispositions. We believe the first step to learning is to honor and understand the individuality of each student: we affirm their strengths and struggles so that we can then stretch and grow them into the best version of themselves.

A student who takes ownership of their learning is motivated, engaged, and self-directed. Is there a more perfect description of our AACA students? Our talented teachers know that learning isn’t imposed upon the unwilling, which is why we provide the opportunities and support for learning to flourish while assuring our students of their capacity to achieve. Here’s how we intentionally design our curriculum to create a learning environment that develops the heart, mind, body, and soul. 
From the start of our K-8 school, we put learning in the hands of our students through authentic project-based learning that is both meaningful and creative. Cultivating future leaders is also an essential part of growing great kids. Our students develop leadership skills based on Stephen Covey’s popular work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

We foster academic achievement by:

  • Hiring fully credentialed CLAD or BCLAD certified teachers
  • Adopting research-proven instructional strategies
  • Incorporating 21st century learning technologies in every classroom
  • Adhering to current state standards in all subject areas
  • Using service and project based learning units of study 
  • Wearing school uniforms to promote harmony among peers
  • Participating in California state mandated tests  
  • Supporting classrooms with paraeducators
  • Providing more one-on-one instruction
  • Integrating physical movement, visual and performing arts, and music to enhance learning

Destination Imagination Enrichment Program

Many of our students also participate in Destination Imagination, a competitive, international STEAM based after-school enrichment program.  Many of our teams have made it to the State Finals, and one team has attended the Global Finals! We are proud to offer Destination Imagination programs that are unique to North County schools.

Four Almond Acres Charter Academy students have the opportunity to touch a snake with the help of a community adult

We believe all children can learn and succeed

At the core of Almond Acres Charter Academy is the belief that all children have the inherent ability to learn and succeed. We help our K-8 students identify their individual learning styles and their innate intelligences, while providing settings in which they are most capable to excel. Our school is proud to offer Personalized Learning Portfolios (PLP) for every student, small class sizes in a small school environment, flexible spending, contemporary technologies, and a high level of family and community interaction.

We believe that a love of learning comes naturally in an environment that focuses on empowering students to be active participants in their own education. Join us and help your child grow into his or her best self!

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. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 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! 

A Simple Mission: Children First

At the heart of our small, intentionally built school is one clear goal: nurture the whole child, heart, mind, body, and soul. The simplicity of our mission makes decision-making easy. We put children at the forefront of our planning for all parts of our day from curriculum to our environment (including our new school building) to how we spend our time together.

Almond Acres Charter Academy young student stands next to a magnetic board with the words heart, mind, body, and soul spelled out

Putting our values and priorities first in our lives lets us live the life we wish for. This is true for education and school-settings, too. This paradigm shift — to focusing on the individual and whole child — is needed in public education right now. We want every person to be thinking about each child – how to dignify them – before the academic and assessment goals.

Here are some example of how we grow great kids, according to parents, AACA teachers and other care-giving grown-ups: 

heart icon

“ There are two things that stand out to me about AACA that makes them different from traditional education. First, they emphasize the importance of growing great kids that eventually turn into great citizens. One of the ways they do this is to teach them how to problem solve by finding the next right thing they can do. 

Mr B. shared a story with me of a former student who observed her AACA classmates walking away from a fight at the high school. He knew they made that good choice because they had the philosophies of finding the next right thing ingrained in them. 

The second thing they do that is different from traditional education is they find how each student is smart and encourages them in that direction. That is an out-of-the-box way to think about education and I know my son will benefit from his teachers working with him in that way.”

mind icon

“As an educator, I admired AACA’s educational philosophy of teaching the whole child. The staff truly believes that all students can learn and everyone is great at something. They build their curriculum and instruction around each child’s learning modalities as well as providing the rigor and content required for students. 

One of the things that sets AACA apart from other public schools is their instruction on the different intelligences: Heart, Mind, Body and Soul. Students, parents and staff get to know the best ways they learn and process information through these 4 intelligences. Students learn to advocate for themselves by knowing how they best learn, teachers and staff can create lessons and activities to challenge students in these areas and push them to learn and develop in other areas.”

body icon

“My daughter, who will be in 2nd grade, started kindergarten at AACA after a year of kindergarten at a different school. Because of her genetic disorder, and being nonverbal she was made to feel different than the other students, didn’t connect with the staff or her peers, and developed major behavioral issues. As soon as she started over in kindergarten at AACA, everything changed. 

From the first day she stepped on campus she was made to feel a part of the school and her peers. After two years, and two of the most amazing teachers, she has friends, is learning and reading and truly loves school. The dedication, hard work and passion from the general education teachers, special education teacher, her aide and the school as a whole has created an environment that makes her feel included, smart, important and loved. 

She walks down the hallway and everyone says hi, students know her by name, not the girl who can’t talk. The idea that everyone is smart in their own way, and that you don’t have to do something one way for it to be right is a key component to AACA’s philosophy, and a reason that everyone in San Luis Obispo County should be honored to have this school within the county.”

soul icon

“Our youngest son at AACA needs an emphasis on social/emotional learning. AACA strongly emphasizes this learning from the top down. To share a personal example, when our son was struggling to control his emotions and impulses, we met with the administration to create a plan for his success. Right away we learned that he could take a break by flashing ANY staff member the “fist of five”. What does that mean? He can quickly and unobtrusively flash his emotional level on a scale of 1-5 over his heart and that will communicate to EVERY staff member that he needs a break because they are all trained in “fist of five” from the Principal to the Bus Driver! 

Our son has learned so much about his personal learning style and what makes him a unique learner and he can communicate that to EVERYONE at AACA because every year every student creates their kite; a visual representation of their individual strengths and weaknesses in heart, mind, body, and soul.

In short, AACA actively engages each child in their own learning process. AACA imbues a love of learning in their students. They are not just being taught how to succeed in the classroom but how to succeed in life and as members of their community.” 

Almond Acres Charter Academy teacher and student discuss work during a class conference

At AACA, we celebrate the differences that make every child unique. We inform our students how to self-identify the ways they learn best. We do not fit kids into molds. Every child is special and valuable. And this paradigm shift — when put into action and lived every day — both at home and at school — transforms how we parent and how we educate. 

In public schools today — 1/3 of kids thrive, 1/3 of kids survive, and 1/3 of kids take a dive. The kids who take a dive will find alternatives, so they can thrive. For example, they might go to a trade school. AACA wants to be a place for the kids who are just surviving at public school. These kids could thrive with AACA! 

AACA may be a fit for one of your children. Not every child in the family has to attend – some families have kids at multiple schools. We are here for one or all of the kids who want a different way to learn, a new approach.  At Almond Acres Charter Academy, we affirm the strengths and struggles of each learner, stretch their knowledge and skills, and celebrate their accomplishments, large and small.  We believe that a love of learning comes naturally in an environment that focuses on empowering students to be active participants in their own education.

About Almond Acres:

Almond Acres is moving 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!