By Mark Apostolon
In 2012, Acacia Charter School opened up the doors to both their Elementary and Middle schools with a clear mission: “to provide a nurturing and challenging learning community to the greater Stockton area”. They have succeeded in that and so much more.
Charter schools are public schools that are run independently from the local school district, but are still required to follow and meet local and state academic standards. These schools are publicly funded by the states they operate in, and comply with regular performance reviews. Charter schools by design are intended to provide students with innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and provide parents with a different educational option for their children within the public school system. “We benefit by being able to take the best from the traditional world, and then we get to think outside the box,” Interim CEO Dr. Lynn Lysco, Ed.D. proudly points out. “The staff and parents have the opportunity to work as a Team to create a learning environment that allows the students to excel far beyond what they might have, and be exposed to opportunities they would otherwise not have had access to.”
Acacia is a TK-8th grade charter school (TK meaning “transitional kindergarten”) based in Stockton split into two separate campuses – one for the Elementary school and the other for the Middle school.
Students will experience learning in ways that will allow them to both understand and improve their world. Our exceptional teachers inspire students to seek deep, meaningful understanding; to develop strong academic skills; and to become creative and independent thinkers. A rapidly changing global environment requires that Acacia students acquire knowledge and develop 21st century skills, while learning to define and solve problems creatively. Acacia Elementary cultivates compassion, fairness, respect, and individuality within a community that celebrates diversity, authenticity, and service.
“We have a philosophy that is engrained in our daily activities, here, at Acacia,” Patricia Lingerfelt, Principal of the Elementary School wryly notes. “And it’s part of why I am so ecstatic, professionally, that I made the move from a traditional teaching environment to Acacia Charter. First is acknowledging that learning is the young person’s pathway to personal growth; next, understanding school should be both challenging and joyous; and also that diversity brings quality and strength to our welcoming and inclusive school.”
That sense of unity and community is evident when you walk onto the Middle School campus. With its large entry, open corridors, and bright sunlit rooms, the building feels more like a college than a middle school. “School, at Acacia, is a community through which students, teachers, and parents develop trust, demonstrate cooperation, show respect, and acquire an understanding of the needs of others,” Grover David, Director of Afterschool Programs adds. “We have buy-in from the parents. The children who come here are assessed to find out where they’re at in terms of grade level. Then, individualized academic plans for curriculum are developed to get them to grade level.” Individually targeting the needs of every child is paramount to the Acacia Team.
“All our students who’ve been with us more than one year are at grade level or above. That is something I want everyone to take pride in – the staff, the parents and the students. We are all one Team with one goal,” Dr. Lysco stresses, adding “we want every child to have a choice for their future and we want to make sure they’re ready.” In turn, Acacia teaches the children how to overcome a common problem they may have experienced in traditional school; and that problem is low-self-expectation. “Overcoming the mindset of low-expectation is something we address straight on. Parents choose to put their kids here for a reason, because they want their children to understand and internalized that they have the right and ability to expect more from themselves – they have the right to have aspirations and ability to get there by working for it.”
The majority of children Acacia come from hardworking families. They may not privileged in the sense of financial wealth. Eighty-two percent of the student body are on free or reduced school lunch; 30% come from bi-lingual homes. But they all are privileged and rich in the commitment and love given to them by their parents and the Team. “We help them navigate the road to success,” Lingerfelt states decisively, “and we benefit from an extended school year which benefits all the students immeasurably in our commitment to engaging them for long term success.”
To get the children ready they have an impressive list of programs and partnerships. They become immersed in a college-type of sensibility and develop a high level of critical thinking. “They learn’ what is a scholar,’” David notes, “so therefore they learn ‘we walk like scholars.’”
As I wrote earlier, a walk on their campus tells you this is a different kind of school. Included in their curriculum is “Saturday School” which allows the children to practice and learn new technologies they’ll need for their futures; building and maintaining a victory garden; a large and growing variety of electives; a partnership/mentoring program with U.C.-Merced; and a partnership with InShape Gyms giving the students access to basketball and tennis courts, and a pool.
Acacia even has bi-lingual parenting classes in Spanish and English so their parents understand and learn what they need to do to help their children succeed. “They weren’t brought up knowing what you needed to know to help your child succeed in terms of higher education; what they needed to fulfill their aspirations.” So, the parents learn what they needed to know so their children can not only get accepted into a college, but stay there and graduate.
“This is one of the most interesting and exciting career moves I’ve ever made,” Dr. Lysco says smiling. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of Acacia – the students and parents are so awesome.
Not all states allow charter schools, and those that do require that certain guidelines be met by the schools. But charter school like Acacia offer a cutting-edge option for education. If you would like to know more about the school, or how to enroll your child, information is available on their website at www. acaciaelementary.org (for grades TK-5) and www.acaciamiddle.org (for grades 6-8).
By Mark Apostolon