Though next school year seems far away from the holiday season, fall leaves and the first day of school are closer than ever for the brand-new Apollo Academy, an Acton Affiliate. Only a limited number of students can attend this innovative, mixed-age classroom that will be opening for the first time next year in South Tampa.
Apollo Academy owner Beth Ann Valavanis’s inspiration is fueled by her desire to build something that changes the trajectory of families in her local community. A mother herself, she understands the magnitude of the role that school plays within a family. When she found Acton Academy, she immediately saw a future for her daughter, and ultimately her family, that leverages the resources in the modern world to make learning customized, engaging and fun.
“Something clicked for me when I started diving into Acton Academy and its approach to real-world learning,” she said. “I wasn’t looking to start a school, but the alignment between the learner-driven model, my passion to invest in our community and the vision I have for our family was undeniable.”
The timing could not have been better for her to take this leap of faith. Valavanis recently left the corporate sector to spend more time with her 2-year-old daughter. However, it did not take long for Valavanis to launch Apollo and share her vision with the community. The response has been amazing.
“I have been overwhelmed with how many families like mine are looking for alternative options for their children,” she said. “They either already are aligned with the Acton approach, have a child in Montessori and don’t know what next step is, or they feel traditional learning is not going to work for their family.”
There is an abundance of research that supports the customized learner-driven model. For instance, research shows that homework is ineffective. What does work, however, is reading together at home. Apollo is strict about “no homework” for core skills, so that families can spend those coveted few hours each school night together as a family. Valavanis said swapping out core skill homework with intimate story telling adds up to the best family investment over the long haul. She wanted a school that uses proven research and supports families that values quality time together.
Other Acton philosophies include adaptive game-based programs to engage learners, Socratic discussion to strengthen critical thinking, hands-on and real-world projects and life-changing apprenticeships.
Enrollment begins with an introductory phone call with potential Apollo parents and Valavanis to discuss the learner-driven curriculum and Socratic method. After an introduction call, Valavanis encourages parents to dive into the research on their own so that they have a deep understanding of what the school is and is not. Then, she invites families into the studio to talk more in depth about the learning design and expectations. During this collaborative interview, students quite literally rule the school.
“I tell them, ‘We are in your space, you are not in ours, so you are welcome to explore the studio on your own or you can join the conversation I’m having with your parents.’” Valavanis said.
In addition to the learning design, Valavanis explains the Acton systems such as student portfolio process, which involves frequent parental and community member meetings that exhibit student success. Student-led town halls, coveted contracts, studio maintenance and freedom levels are also discussed.
Admissions for fall enrollment is underway at Apollo Academy. The studio set-up is in progress, and families can see the space during their on-site visit.
“Apollo Academy doesn’t accept students to enroll. We invite families to join us,” Valavanis said.
For those who would like to join other forward-thinking families at Apollo Academy, simply schedule an Apollo Academy Introduction Call using the website’s calendar that provides available days and times.
Meanwhile, find out more about the South Tampa studio located just a block north of Kennedy on the corner of N Howard and W. North A Street by visiting the website that offers resources including books, articles and videos that further define the learner-driven Acton approach & vision for the school.
By Angela Underwood