”Acera could very well have just said “no.” But you didn’t, and I learned that self-advocacy, collaboration, and compromise actually works. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is how Acera taught leadership. And these skills have taken me farther than any group theory or science fact ever will.Albert HuangAcera alum
Hey everyone, I’m Albert. I was at Acera from third through sixth grade, when my family moved out to California in summer 2016. For temporal context, my first year was Acera’s last at the church, and my last was just before they added the high school.
Visiting Acera this past week, I was struck by how much of me was born here.
There are the obvious things, like my interest in computer science. In 3rd grade, my math teacher introduced me to the beauty of code with recursive fractals. I thought that “def polygon” then “def polylolygon” then “def polylolylolygon” was the funniest thing in the world. It only grew from there—I made games and ciphers for friends, and ended up studying algorithms and researching machine learning. Now I’m majoring in Computation and Neural Systems at Caltech, and working on deep signal processing for brain-computer interfaces.
But then there are the hobbies that I forgot Acera gave me. My tagline in seventh grade was “do you need a bandaid?” Now, I’m an avid hiker, camper, climber, scrambler, and skier. Acera is where I first learned to build a fire and a shelter, to tie a bowline and apply a bandage. It was only when I visited Mr. Josh’s boat building class, when I found myself talking about ski patrolling with Mr. Malcolm, that I remembered the confidence—and thus nature and adventure—Acera gifted me.
The biggest thing that Acera gave me, though, was a space to be a creative and a leader. Going into Acera, I was one shy boy. I wasn’t tall, or loud, or extroverted, so it seemed the world had no care for me. Then, I arrived here. At the new building, we ran around with pickaxes and power drills at recess, screwing and lashing palettes, building tree forts and fences, creating a whole world with my friends. I learned that the world was mutable. Old warehouses and empty lots weren’t forever—I had agency in this world.
Of course, the adults of the school have to keep things in check. Those shoddy first tree forts have since been taken down, replaced by properly constructed tree houses with brackets and fresh lumber. It was turned into a learning experience—we learned about structures and trigonometry and students produced the final scale drawings. Acera could very well have just said “no.” But you didn’t, and I learned that self-advocacy, collaboration, and compromise actually works. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is how Acera taught leadership. And these skills have taken me farther than any group theory or science fact ever will.
My greatest hope is that Acera continues to do this. And I was warmed by each familiar quilt block I saw—the amazing electives being taught (with math-bio projects along the same lines as cutting edge psychophysics research), the casual and playful teaching (which allows students to venture mistakes and learn first-hand), and the little projects that students make (each one fanning the flame of creativity). LARP and ripstik culture are still going strong 🙂 Perhaps the most important thing Acera did for me is it protected and nurtured the spark of creativity. And I’m so, so glad to see that Acera is still this space.
Acera Alum Albert Huang is a Computation and Neural Systems student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.