For me, as a working parent, it's hard to describe just how important the "environment" feels at the place where I drop my kids off -- everyday, all day -- while my husband and I go about our busy lives. A learning environment is not just about the curriculum, or the test scores, or the tangible measures; but also about the intangibles - knowing that my kids are in a kind and loving environment, where the entire staff knows and cherishes them, and where they are encouraged, every day, to be the unique and outspoken young individuals that they have so beautifully become. ACS is truly a treasure.
I have two children at Almaden Country School, a son in 7th, and a daughter in 5th grade. We are in our 7th year with ACS, and are still so pleased with our decision to move from public to private. Not only is it the smaller classrooms and specialized teachers who make a difference, but also it's the lessons themselves. Prior to ACS, my son was mostly doing common core dittos and worksheets in class with little hands-on or individualized learning. Now there are many experiments, and group and project-based learning that involve real life examples and varying opinions. With the fantastic addition of the new athletic director, Coach Mac has reinvigorated the flag football, basketball, volleyball and track programs over the last few years.
To its credit, ACS strives to preserve childhood. I used to worry that by not having gone to a larger public school, my children would be too sheltered when high school came along. However, I am grateful the ACS program allows kids to focus on joyful learning, self-confidence and developing 21st century skills in a safe environment. They are able to make smart and sound decisions for themselves and they have formed bonds and close relationships with friends for life. Plus, I can clearly see how graduates are well prepared for high school and beyond!
I also can't say enough for the excellent Drama program at ACS. Starting in 1st grade, through 5th, Drama is a requirement that the children all LOVE (still offered as an elective through Middle School). Mr. Leonard and Miss Leary put on 7 or 8 amazing productions throughout the year - I highly recommend seeing one of the plays if you are thinking about joining the ACS community. It's absolutely incredible to see ALL of the children up on stage and not shy or nervous at all about speaking in front of a crowd. This is what sold us on ACS - public speaking is such a hard thing to overcome and when you start early, it's easy and enables children to become great speakers to each other and adults throughout their lives.
Dr. Ole Jorgenson has been on board as our Head of School since before we joined ACS 7 years ago. He is highly respected and a strongly engaged Head who always has an open door for both students and parents. He knows most everyone on campus by first name and is often available for stimulating conversations.
Almaden COuntry School has an incredible staff of teachers - some of which have been on board for over 20 years! In addition, we have been lucky to recruit and retain several newly accredited teachers who are phenomenal.
On average the ACS methodology on homework is 10 minutes per grade level, i.e. 10 minutes for first grade, 20 for second grade, and so on. This really allows for kids to be kids and participate in after school sports and other activities without having the stress of hours of homework, which has been proven not to be useful at this young age.
Last year, our oldest daughter graduated from Almaden Country School. She had such an enriching experience from day one in their preschool program. The school prepared her well for Notre Dame High School, where she started this year. There were no issues with transition and ACS can be thanked for that. This summer, we are preparing our little one to begin kindergarten at ACS. There was never a question in our mind that she would go there.
The teachers at ACS are highly skilled and have a tremendous amount of experience. It is clear that they want to do right for each child and that they love teaching which I think goes a long way. They are approachable and answer my questions. They are supportive.
The homework policy is very thoughtful. Just 10 minutes at first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, and so on and so forth. Teachers carve out some time for students to work on what they need to in class as much as possible including their projects, and the administrators are clear that homework is about quality, not quantity.
ACS has a Big Buddy program that really unites the student community -- it teaches the older students to look out for their buddies and make them feel safe and important. The home room classes have weekly meetings to talk about issues the students are facing, speech classes push the students to think about larger ethical dilemmas, social justice classes have them considering identity, culture, and different paradigms, and community service in a wide range of forms encourage the students to consider others outside of themselves.