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Learner-driven Acton Academy coming to Park City

First grade students read together during a break at the Waterford-Halfmoon Elementary School in New York, Jan 28, 1991. (AP Photo/David Jennings)
First grade students read together during a break at the Waterford-Halfmoon Elementary School in New York, Jan 28, 1991. (AP Photo/David Jennings)

Park City will have a new learner-driven school for students ages 6 to 11 in the fall.

Acton Academy Park City opens in August 2024 becoming the ninth Acton Academy in Utah. School officials say the institution takes a new approach to student learning with mixed-age classrooms and is fully learner-driven.

“What that means is that for core skills, like reading, writing, and math, the learners go at their own pace," Chelsea Paresi said. "We utilize all different types of adaptive learning technologies to facilitate that.”

Chelsea and her husband Tom Paresi co-founded Acton Academy Park City because their two sons attended an Acton Academy in Texas and loved it. Chelsea said having self-paced learning means there won’t be any tests or set reading lists for students. Each day will have time set aside for core skills like reading, writing and math, but the students get to decide when they work on each skill.

“They have kind of big goals for the year," Chelsea said. "Then they have to learn how to manage their time in order to achieve those goals.”

Tom said this method taught their son time management. He earned free time when he progressed toward his goals and lost free time when he needed to catch up on work. Tom said it started to balance out and their son learned to set boundaries for himself.

“They’re learning from a very early age, how to optimize their learning experience, and we're letting them fail," he said. "We're letting them say this week they didn't get a lot done. Why didn't you get a lot done? What can we do better next week?”

The students use adaptive learning technology to gain skills which Tom said is “a gamified fun experience.” As students advance, they earn badges and if they’re struggling, Tom said the technology recognizes it and will help them work on a topic until they understand it.

“It's more of like 100% comprehension versus more traditional models, which is more of like, you have to get a passing grade of 65 or better,” he said.

Group work and hands-on projects are also integral parts of the program. Chelsea said the students create their own culture in the classroom.

“They together as a group come up with a set of rules that they want to follow, and then they hold each other accountable,” she said.

The school schedule is a departure from the traditional educational calendar. Acton schools have six weeks of classes and one week off, which means the summer break would only be six weeks. Tuition at Acton Park City would cost about $1,500 per month totaling $16,500 for the year.

The Paresi family is working to secure a permanent location for the school. They want an area where the children can go on outdoor adventures and space for 12 to 15 students to start. They hope to eventually accommodate up to 150 students, offering classes from preschool through 12th grade.