Our 2019 Annual Report

January 28, 2020 |

By Courtney Dickinson

We are celebrating the ten year mark of our school! 

I write this sitting in the middle of our Commons. I hear conversation threads emerging from math classes – discussions about existentialism and universal quantifiers, as well as geoboard explorations marrying math and art. I see patient coaching by teachers helping kids engage in learning even when they struggle. I see kids move through the building not silenced or in lines, but instead skipping (literally!) and self managing, with twinkling lights and laughter spilling out of classrooms into shared collaboration spaces. 

I founded Acera, consciously, as a microcosm of what could be possible for all schools and all students. Schools everywhere can be places where each child’s capacities, needs, and interests are placed at the center of their educational experience. From the beginning it was my intention to take these approaches to learning beyond our walls. The 2018/19 school year marks the formalization of this effort to catalyze education innovation in public schools through AceraEI. 

In the Lowell Public School district, a visit from their STEM Director grew into a commitment for a three year, whole school engagement with LPS’ Pyne Arts K-8 Magnet School. The focus? Growth in students’ science knowledge and skills, sure – but also growth in students’ conceptual problem solving, creativity and divergent thinking, and self initiative. This effort is also focused on assuring students’ well being and authentic engagement, as well as developing its teachers’ use of innovative and evidence-based pedagogy. 

2018/19 also saw the launch of our Life Science Change Agent Workshops – a series of free workshops to offer hands-on biology units to public school teachers, starting first with units in genetic engineering and microbiome. Already, workshop participants are implementing these innovative lab activities in their own classrooms, engaging a whole new generation of potential future scientists. We have found funding partners for this outreach work through life sciences organizations and educational philanthropists. We intend to show that these tools for effective education can be woven into all students’ experiences. 

This Annual Report focuses on the unique things we bring alive at Acera, and then shows how we are starting to bring these ideas and tools alive beyond our walls. 

In the Commons, as students transitioned to lunch, I asked them to share some of the things they get to do and think about here that should occur everywhere. Here’s what they told me: 

“The kind of science we get to do here. The cool equipment and broad access.” 

“Coming up with lots of approaches to solve problems and ways to make things, not just one way that a teacher says is right.” 

“Being respected – trusted really – to define and do projects I care about.” 

“Learning the math that fits me, and not having to wait.” 

Each year I am moved by our students at graduation, these mini adults who, at 14, have already figured out things they love to ponder and do, who feel comfortable owning their deficits, and who feel brave to try new things for their future. 

Kids can have a sense of purpose, authentic engagement, and develop a fearless ability to initiate and solve problems as part of their school experiences. As a result, they will be ready for a world that needs them as innovators, scientists and leaders. We are eager to grow our campaign and bring more of what is inside Acera outside to the world!

Download the 2019 Annual Report