What Matters? A Glimpse into the Sacred at Acton Academy

Laura Sandefer

March 3, 2018

What makes an Acton an Acton?

This is the question we had to ask ourselves when other parents requested a kit so they could open their own. Over the years, we had amassed an astonishing heap of activities, processes, experiences, programs, and projects – some good, some not so good.

Could we boil it down to the top five or so treasures that would ensure someone else could create a learner-driven community – one that frees young people to be responsible, kind, confident, independent thinkers and decision-makers equipped with the skills necessary to thrive?

You may be surprised what rose to the top. The Hero’s Journey and the Socratic Method made the list, of course. What was next?

Studio Maintenance.

How could tidying up be a distinguishing characteristic of a school, one that unleashes learning? And don’t most schools sing their own rendition of “clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere”?

The difference resides on a spiritual plane even as it includes cleaning toilets because the Acton Eagles have claimed their studios as sacred – set apart as deserving honor and respect.

Their belief is clear: what we are doing inside these walls is vitally important.

Reflecting back to my own school experience, it wasn’t a big deal to see writing on the walls or gum stuck under a desk. Someone else took care of that. It wasn’t our job. “Sacred” was the furthest thing from my mind when I thought of my classrooms.

But it’s a tangible reality at Acton and feeds the learning journey beyond building teamwork and the skills to maintain a workspace.

Every day for fifteen minutes, the Eagles stop what they are doing – even if they are in flow or just about to finish an important goal. They stop. And they take care of their space. Together. They work quickly in teams with duties that are specified into checklists. The goal? To get back to a “pristine” space in which a fresh start may be made tomorrow.

For parents, this has rich application at home. And it’s not about keeping bedrooms tidy which is a different can of worms.

The questions I’ve asked myself are: What as a family do we hold sacred? Do I use that word often so my children absorb the concept in their own lives? What do we sacrifice for and keep protected, separate from the mundane?

For us, it’s family dinners. Nothing fancy. Just carving out time each day to be together and replenish ourselves with food and conversation. I may not have the chance to actually cook something (thank goodness for salad in a bag and already-roasted chickens!) but I do light a candle and try to have a sprig of something to make the moment “pristine.”

Some weeks we miss the boat and family dinners are lost. Inevitably, this has a trickle-down impact on the rest of my life. I do not feel as grounded or mission-based.

We see this in the studios, too. When Eagles begin to slip in their Studio Maintenance, it often shows up as a loss of excellence during their core work. Reigniting the spirit of a sacred space can be a trigger to light the fire elsewhere. It’s a matter of remembering and then doing.

We are spiritual beings at the core. Holding something as sacred in our otherwise very physical existence may be what holds us together as whole humans. Sometimes all it takes is a vacuum cleaner or a candle to trigger our memory: this matters.

(Note: I wrote this yesterday before entering the elementary studio where I am reading A Wrinkle In Time each day after Studio Maintenance. It’s a blast and we had ended on a cliff-hanger the day before. I didn’t get the chance to read with them because the Eagles chose to do a deeper cleaning than usual and to rededicate their studio by signing their names next to their handprints on the wall. They conducted their ceremony in complete silence to represent its importance. These very young heroes were cheerfully and seriously choosing the sacred over the fun – and this on a sunny Friday afternoon after a long, hard day of work.)

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Middle School is where young people rapidly start owning their education. Middle school is the perfect time to develop intellect and character while gaining a deeper sense of self and the real world. Students have a broad palette of topics to study and pair in-depth academic exploration with real-world connections to experts and local apprenticeships. Middle School is about deepening a passion for individual subjects while broadening your understanding of yourself and your future.