Denial of charter petition would likely leave more than 300 students without their school of choice
Paso Robles, California: – Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA), a public charter school successfully serving students and families in the area since 2012, is being threatened with closure if their charter petition to expand their school in Paso Robles is denied by the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. The vote, which will take place on Thursday, September 3 at 1:30 p.m., will be open to the public, and will take place online.
“This denial is based on incorrect financial concerns as well as false claims that Almond Acres Charter Academy will not be able to function as a successful school,” said Ed Surber, AACA board member and proud parent. “Almond Acres Charter Academy has served hundreds of families for eight years under the guidance and support of James Brescia. Suddenly, and under false pretenses, he is recommending that our petition is denied, which threatens the school’s survival.”
The school has held a series of meetings with the community members, Surber noted, as well as the Office of Education and parents, who’ve passionately defended their children’s education as the school looks to expand into a new building in Paso Robles, where the school began.
Almond Acres is asking parents, community members and concerned citizens to contact the members of the board of trustees in advance of the vote to encourage them to vote NO on recommendation to deny the schools’ charter petition.
Strong community support for Almond Acres Charter Academy
More than one hundred community members wrote letters to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education in support of the school. Letters can be read here.
About Almond Acres
Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. The school is located in San Miguel and is open to all students in all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul.
Following the great success Almond Acres Charter Academy (AACA) experienced with its recent distance learning program, the school is excited to announce that it will be enrolling students in a new At Home Academy program beginning in the Fall of 2020. Being a small school allows AACA to respond to changes in the needs of their families with swiftness and AACA’s distance learning program demonstrated a strength in designing education that truly is outside the box of traditional school programs.
AACA has been providing a site based instructional program since the school began in 2012. When COVID-19 forced districts across the state to close their doors and transition to a distance learning model, AACA recognized an opportunity to expand its program offerings. When survey results reported 95% of families felt the distance learning program exceeded or greatly exceeded expectations, the AACA team felt confident in once again implementing a programmatic change.
During the distance learning program, parents were surveyed several times to gauge their feelings on the possibility of a at home option moving forward. Multiple families reported they were interested in exploring an at home option and their reasons were varied. Some expressed a long term desire to do distance learning but they were reluctant to forego the school culture and climate offered at AACA. Other families shared concerns about possible restrictions in the form of health and safety guidelines that may be in place when schools reopen. The administration examined multiple options for an at home program and created the Almond Acres At Home Academy.
The AACA At Home program will consist of instruction happening in the home while families maintain the close family/school connection that is special to AACA. Parents will be provided with comprehensive curriculum guides, training opportunities, and regular school collaboration to provide the primary instruction. Parents will also have the opportunity to participate in the Program Site Council (AACA’s equivalent to a PTO/PTA) and attend AACA’s Growing Great Kids webinars where they will learn strategies to assist with a variety of parenting scenarios.
Students in the At Home Academy will not only be using the same curriculum as their peers in the traditional model, they will also be given self directed versions of the various Service and Project Based Learning units that are a core component to AACA’s academic program. Additionally, students will be encouraged to participate in the many field trips and guest speaker presentations connected to those units.
All of the school-wide activities offered at AACA will include the families enrolled in the At Home program. Some of these include annual events such as Maker Faire, musical theatre production, 8th grade promotion, Kinder Celebration, Read Run Relay, and talent show. The families will also access a daily virtual Shared Start assembly where they will receive instruction on the Habits of Mind, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and the positive behavior expectations that grow citizenship traits in all AACA students. Families will also be encouraged to attend the new Friday celebration events (awards assemblies, positive behavior reinforcer events, etc) being held twice monthly. AACA has successfully held several of these events virtually during distance learning and will continue to do so if required by safety guidelines.
In addition to these program components, families would be encouraged to participate in outside of school events. AACA hosts a Meet the Teacher Picnic before school starts and the At Home families will be introduced to the various grade level teachers, support staff, as well other AACA families. Back to School Night, Open House, and the annual Art Show will also include these families and showcase student work completed as part of the At Home Academy curriculum.
“As a small charter school, we have the ability to quickly respond and affect change. This At Home Academy will allow families to be part of our school, implement the framework and philosophy, receive guidance from staff, and still have flexibility based on their individual needs. We are able to use much of what we created and implemented during distance learning to then create this additional option.” stated Amy Baker, Program Director.
Almond Acres Charter Academy is designing this At Home program to meet the needs of its current families and any future families. If anyone is interested in exploring the At Home program now available through AACA, information can be obtained by emailing email@example.com. Since AACA is a charter school, and therefore a school of choice, no interdistrict transfer is required to enroll.
Prior to the start of distance learning, seventh graders at Almond Acres Charter Academy were asking the question, “How does literacy, and understanding literature, change the world?” The students learned about the negative impact of being illiterate and the United Nations push for literacy.
As part of their study, students personally took on the responsibility of promoting literacy. They brainstormed ways they could help, investigated needs, and used real life skills to help expand literacy in a variety of ways.
Some of the students chose to improve literacy within their own school. Seventh graders, Kenichi Parkhurst and Libby Higgins, tutored kindergarteners, giving up their own recess to work with the younger students on sight words and reading, as well as providing fun, kinesthetic ways to perform word work (e.g. forming spelling words with playdough). Hannah Bourgault and TJ Dawson built and stocked a tiny share library to be installed between the kindergarten and first grade classrooms.
Moving beyond the Almond Acres campus, students Olivia Heinbach and Summer Colegrove, labelled snack cups at the Kennedy Club Fitness Children’s Center. The customized cups allowed children to review and practice sight words while enjoying a snack during their parents’ workout. Lucas Slawson built a tiny free library for his neighborhood. Lucas Vertrees filled a need by reading to younger students living at the homeless shelter.
Going well beyond our school and community, Brandon McWilliams focused on a nonprofit across the globe in Arua, Uganda. A school needed support for their literacy program.
An excerpt from the post written by Elsie Soderberg reads:
Last month we got a surprise email from a young man. His name is Brandon, and for a 7th grade class project he was studying global literacy. They were learning about how learning the simple abilities of reading and writing can change someone’s life, and in his words “As part of our study, I want to help improve literacy in the world.”
He wondered if students at Solid Rock Christian School could use books, pencils, pens, and paper to improve their literacy. If he raised money to provide those supplies, he asked, would the students be able to benefit? “Absolutely yes!” Elsie [our Director of Communications] emailed back.
So, Brandon put on his own fundraiser making jam in his family’s kitchen and selling it at school. It wasn’t fancy. All he needed was some glass jars, strawberries and sugar, and a folding table to put them on. Amazingly, by this small act of love, he raised enough for pens, paper, and English textbooks for an entire classroom!
This material outcome is a great blessing, but there’s more. Brandon is in 7th grade– the exact same age as the students who will benefit from his work. He realized that he could do something, didn’t need it to be big and glamorous, and wasn’t daunted by fear of failure. Maybe he’s teaching us- what standard do we think we need to meet before we can do something?
This style of hands-on, real life learning that is driven by the students’ natural curiosity, is called project based learning. Almond Acres takes it one step further by encouraging students to incorporate service into their studies as well.
“It brings me so much joy to see our kids learning and serving at the same time,” said Brandon’s mom, Melanie McWilliams. “They’re using creative thinking to come up with project ideas. They’re using their writing skills to email resources. They’re using their technology skills to research. They’re even using mathematics and science when they make jam or a small wooden library. Most importantly, they’re using their heart to make our schools, community, and world a better place.”
–A cast of more than 55 students from Almond Acres Charter Academy recently starred in the musical, Madagascar Junior. The production was held at the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation Berg Auditorium and was directed by Claire Fundaro.
“Almond Acres offers a unique opportunity for its students through the process of production,” said Claire Fundaro. “The lessons that are taught in theatre will impact all aspects of these students’ lives. They’re given the chance to grow their confidence from auditioning, to rehearsing in front of their peers, and to the final product which creates a strong character within them. The process is invaluable, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the magic that only theatre can create.”
With only two weeks of rehearsals, the students were show-ready, according to the school. Parents and students worked together behind the scenes to construct sets, props, and design costumes.
Being a part of the school’s annual theatre production is something that students look forward to every year. “I like to pretend to be someone I am not, and I like that I can put a lot of my emotion into something,” said student, Divy Emmons, who starred as Marty the Zebra. “I can go on a whole journey with my character. My biggest highlight of the show was spending time with the whole cast because I made stronger relationships with some people and the cast was awesome!”
The production was made possible with the support of local individuals and businesses namely the Rima and Stoltzfus Families, Joyce Vertrees, Gena Beckett and Jill Ponti, Realtors with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hallmark Realty in downtown Paso Robles, and Jerissa Parkhurst with EF Educational Homestay Program. Raffle prizes were donated by Cambria Bicycle Outfitter, Keri Border, and Mr. and Mrs. Thompquist.
Almond Acres is a charter school located in San Miguel that has a Visual and Performing Arts Program. In addition to an annual theatre production, it also hosts an annual art show and an annual talent show.
San Miguel, California: – Fourth grade students of Almond Acres Charter Academy had the unique experience of being transported back in time during an overnight field trip to the Mission San Antonio de Padua located near Fort Hunter Liggett. Established in 1771, the well-preserved mission is steeped in California history. It can accommodate up to 65 guests in its renovated living quarters.
The trip was one that students will likely never forget.
“When I went on the trip, I felt like I was living during the early mission time,” said Vaughn Hanson. “It was an amazing experience.”
“I loved this field trip because it was a great learning experience,” said student Amelia Baker. “I learned very valuable information like the San Antonio Mission was the third mission established.”
“It was like a step through a time machine,” said another student, Marshall Hutchinson.
Over the course of two days, students were encouraged to learn through docent-led tours and self-discovery. During their stay, the students sought to answer the question, “What artifact best tells the story of the California missions?” They investigated the grist mill, threshing floor, and reservoirs; measured cemetery walls; sketched pictures; inspected architecture, artifacts, and plants; and wrote down thoughts and observations. They interviewed experts, like Joan, a mission docent, and used the knowledge they gained to adjust their conclusions.
Not only did the students explore during the day, but also in the evening. Three community astronomers, Glen, Scott, and Larry, came and shared their passion for the night sky. They connected how the Native Americans used the night sky to tell stories and how some cave paintings reflect that knowledge. They showed the students how the mission padres may have used the planets for navigation. Using current technology with their telescopes, they pointed out clusters, planets, and constellations.
“I liked the overnight field trip because we got to see Jupiter and Saturn,” said Roman Sanchez Ramirez, a fourth grade student.
Incorporating state standards for math, science, history, and english into creative projects and field trips, boosts students’ knowledge retention levels. This style of education is called project based learning.
“In traditional education, we focus on one subject one at a time,” said Bob Bourgault, Executive Director at Almond Acres. “We’re doing everything we can in our educational programs to tie all subjects together and let kids be creative. This increases the students’ neurological strength, and more importantly, it makes learning fun!”
The trip was made possible thanks to the generosity of a fourth-grade parent.
“What a memorable and incredible experience! This visit to Mission San Antonio was a powerful first-hand acquaintance with mission life that will stay with students throughout their lifetime,” said Lisa Leopard, fourth grade teacher.
“We had such a remarkable field trip with our students,” said Joanna Lisonbee, fourth grade teacher. “We not only experienced, hands on, what mission life was like and the impact it had on California history, we also had a unique opportunity to connect with our students in a whole new way. We all built a great understanding of the mission era, great memories, and great connection that will last!”
PASO ROBLES — Almond Acres Charter Academy is hosting its annual benefit auction at the Estrella Warbirds Museum on Nov. 15, from 6 to 10 p.m. This year’s auction will help raise essential funds which benefit AACA’s Project Based Learning, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), and athletics programs. AACA will highlight their Fund-A-Need goals and gift their students with materials, field trips, and hands-on experiences to help them grow.
The event will provide opportunities for attendees to meet everyone involved with the school and network with other community members. Tickets are $50 which includes finger foods by Chris Beckett and Katie Castillo of Roots on Railroad, music by Sparrow Entertainment, beer and wine, and access to both silent and live auctions. The theme for this year’s auction is “Top Gun” — dress is semi-formal, contemporary or 80s style.
The event is sponsored by Pankey Ventures and The Partridge Family Olive Company. Auction items have been donated by local businesses.
Tickets can be purchased by Nov. 1 by visiting TheAlmondAcresAuction.com. For more information, visit the AACA website at AlmondAcres.com or call the office at 805-467-2095.