Learn the lingo
From our Levels to our Guides, Alpha students and staff speak a little differently than those in traditional schools. Find answers to our most common questions here.
What are Alpha’s three promises?
Alpha makes three commitments to every one of our students (and by proxy, their parents): Love school, learn 2x faster, and master life skills.
Promise 1: Students love school
A love of school creates the atmosphere necessary for students to succeed. Everything else (learning, creativity, risk-taking, hard work) follows a love of school. Self-agency is built upon engagement, which requires investment and commitment to their work.
Promise 2: Students learn two times (2x) faster
While most schools promise to teach one grade level’s worth of content in a school year, Alpha promises more. Our second commitment to Alpha families is their students will learn 2x while at Alpha. Our commitment to 2x Learning means students will achieve twice their predicted RIT growth year over year on the MAP test.
Promise 3: Students Master life skills
Alpha students learn practical life skills, such as Learn2Learn, giving and receiving feedback, personal finance, computer science, public speaking, via project-based workshops. Students tackle these projects as individuals, within a group, or as a part of a whole-level experience.
A love of school is the first principle of education and creates the atmosphere necessary for students to succeed. Everything else (learning, creativity, risk-taking, hard work) follows from a love of school. But when we speak of loving school, we don’t mean that school is easy, or that we should go to Six Flags every day, or that we cater to every student’s whims. In fact, if students really love school, they are more motivated to take on harder tasks that push them out of their comfort zone to grow their abilities. Here’s how we create an atmosphere that students love at Alpha:
Challenge & Competition: Students want to feel progress. They want to work on problems that challenge them at the outer edge of their capabilities. We do this through hands-on projects and personalized learning apps that meet each student at his or her level. Students want to compete with each other, so we create engaging competitions based on achievement in learning apps.
Connection: Students want to learn in an environment where they are known and loved. They need to be surrounded by adults who care about them deeply and expect them to be great every single day. It is with this in mind that we choose our Guides.
Sense of Place: Love of school is about the practices and spatial design that make any place exciting and thought-provoking. Moveable furniture? Check. Rituals built into the schedule? Check. We pay attention to the details when we create the physical and social environment at Alpha.
Ownership: Students must feel like they own their time at school, and that they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to both setting and achieving their goals. It is with this notion of “agency” that we developed everything we do at Alpha — it’s even the reason our students are in charge of cleaning up the Alpha space twice each day.
Read more on the blog: Promise #1: Students Love School
What do you mean by the Alpha Promise, “2x Learning?”
At Alpha, we minimize the time spent learning to make it as productive and effective as possible. 2x learning means that our students spend half of the time that traditional schools spend on core academics. Adaptive education technology has enabled us to meet students at their level and shape a path that fits their pace. A focused 120-minute period every morning, Core Skills, is spent using a variety of adaptive educational software tailored to your student’s academic journey.
What do you mean by the Alpha Promise, “Learn Life Skills?”
We teach life skills through a project-based curriculum. Students tackle these real-life projects as individuals, with a group, or as a part of a level workshop. We orient our life skills curriculum around specific, teachable, and measurable skills. When students learn concrete skills, they build integrated, holistic qualities like “leadership” and “adaptability” along the way. And they gain the confidence to chart their own path through life. Read more about our life skills on the Alpha blog!
How do levels work, and how do they relate to traditional school grades? When do I know it’s time for my child to jump up a level?
Students typically spend two years in a level. Each level has a level-appropriate Check Chart. Check Chart items correlate with Core Skills learning and workshops. Throughout the year, students will work on completing all items on their level-specific Check Chart. Once a student has earned all of their checks, they will level up! A student will never “level down” — he or she will stay in the same level until they complete their Check Chart.
We do not use traditional grade levels at Alpha and instead opt for mixed-age classrooms. Mixed-age classrooms allow older students the opportunity to lead and younger students to be challenged by those a few steps ahead.
Our levels are broken down as follows:
- Learning Lab (LL): approximately kindergarten through first grade
- Learning Incubator (Linc): first and second grade
- Level 1: third and fourth grade
- Level 2: fifth and sixth grade
- Level 3: seventh and eighth grade
- High School: ninth grade to twelfth grade
How does the lunch program work? Do you stay away from common allergens?
Families may sign up for Alpha’s daily lunch program at the beginning of the academic school year. The lunch program provides nutritious and delicious options for students, designed to expand students’ culinary horizons. The program also offers vegan and gluten-free meals to accommodate students with dietary restrictions. However, Alpha is not a peanut-free or allergen-free environment.
What is the daily schedule?
While Alpha schedules vary by session (and we are continuously optimizing them for our students!), they tend to follow the same rough format that’s outlined in the walk-through on this website. You can also review schedules for specific Alpha levels on the Parent Portal, or read a quick write-up on our Typical Day.
How does Alpha select Guides?
We take deep pride in hiring at Alpha. Guides are selected based on: 1) their ability to motivate and know students and 2) their ability to plan engaging life skills workshops. We select Guides from top universities across the country with competitive backgrounds in fields like tech and start-ups. Guides are not required to have formal teaching credentials.
What is the student-to-teacher ratio at Alpha?
Alpha maintains a 10:1 average student to Guide ratio, with a slightly higher average in older levels and a slightly lower average in younger levels. However, because Guides are not responsible for preparing and teaching content, their first priority is to motivate students. So, each Guide knows every student and can inspire them to be successful.
Does the school follow a traditional school calendar?
Our school year begins in mid-August and ends in early June. Alpha has five seven-week sessions broken up by breaks. We follow typical holiday schedules with a few additional breaks built-in throughout the year.
How long does it take a child to ‘transition’ into Alpha?
We give kids a long runway for acclimating to Alpha. Some jump in head-first and adapt to the rhythm quickly. Others can take up to two sessions — this is a new environment and there are freedoms and challenges that don’t exist at other schools, so it might take several weeks to adjust. Either way, our Guides know kids and are in tune with how they are doing socially, academically and emotionally through the process and they are seeking to help students acclimate.
Academics & Program
Tell me more about MAP testing.
The MAP (also referred to as MAP Growth) assessment is a web-based, adaptive assessment tool that provides an accurate measure of your child’s academic growth, independent of grade level or age. MAP was developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, (read more about it at NWEA). In short, this test is a high-quality alternative to state-based standardized assessments (e.g. STAAR). For more detail about why we use it, you can check out our blog.
MAP test data helps us with goal setting and progress measurement. It’s an adaptive test, which means it results in a different experience for each student, and we coach students to think about it as an extension of their regular Core Skills time. We want our students to be comfortable taking tests and for them to see these times as a way for us to better understand their personal learning strengths and growth areas.
How do I know my student is working on content that is appropriate for them?
Alpha has developed an Academic Continuum to ensure that our students progress properly throughout their academic career at our school. The Continuum uses a mastery-based education model, meaning that our students dedicate additional time to study areas they have not mastered while moving quickly through subjects they already grasp. To understand where students currently belong on our Continuum, and therefore to ensure that they are working on content that is appropriate for them, we use three data sources — the MAP test, the built-in assessment tools within our adaptive apps, and when necessary, Guide observation.
Why don’t you give letter or numeric grades at Alpha?
Alpha High School students are the only Alpha students who receive numeric grades and a grade point average (GPA) at Alpha, as grades can be helpful both in the college admission process and in preparation for more traditional grading in college. For the rest of our students, grades do not fit with our mastery model of education.
When working through our Continuum via a mastery model, students dedicate additional time to studying the concepts they have not mastered and move quickly past concepts they already fully grasp. There is no floor or ceiling on the content our students tackle, so if their test results show they need to go back to the basics in a subject, they will. If their results show they’re ready for advanced content, that’s what they’ll be matched with.
How do you motivate students? Can you explain the reward systems and how they all relate?
The primary motivators of our students are our Guides. Because of our app-based educational approach, Guides have the time and resources to focus more deeply on truly understanding and connecting with our students, building authentic relationships and encouraging them to put in their best effort. As student experts, Guides collaborate to create systems that keep their group of students engaged and excited to press into new academic work.
While our motivational models vary per level, they have a few commonalities:
- They focus on effort, not outcome
- They reward positive behaviors instead of penalizing negative ones
- They are based on each student and his or her individual goals, rather than comparing students academically to each other
What if my child has a learning difference?
Alpha welcomes a variety of different types of learners. Because learning is individualized and students progress along their own learning path, many students are able to be successful at Alpha.
Does Alpha offer world languages?
Alpha believes the best approach to teaching world languages is through immersion, rather than in the classroom. We intentionally design the Alpha day so students can learn at school and have free time in the afternoon to dive deeper into areas of interest, such as learning a new language. Because of this, we do not offer world languages to students until they are in high school. We understand the need for high school students to build a competitive resume and to do so, they must take coursework in a chosen world language.
What about fine arts and sports?
Alpha does not have formal sports or fine arts programs, however, we regularly offer opportunities for students to explore these avenues in afternoon workshops. Art workshops are consistently offered throughout the school year and Q-breaks and lunchtime allow for lots of physical activity throughout the school day. We encourage students interested in specific fine arts and sports to pursue them in high-quality outlets after the school day ends. Wellness is an Alpha life skill, so we regularly offer physical education-style classes like Tae-Kwon-Woah!, Basketball, and Fall Ball (among many others!).
What is homework like at Alpha?
At Alpha, 2x learning ensures students complete their academic work in the mornings, and have the time they need to explore their passion and purpose through workshops and after-school activities. While the national standard for homework is traditionally 10 minutes per grade level (i.e. 5th grade = 50 minutes), at Alpha only Levels 2-4 are asked to complete homework. This after-school time allows students to continue to fill the “gaps” in their knowledge. Additionally, some of our older levels have workshops that require after-school work. Students can expect 25 minutes of homework in Level 2 and 50 minutes of homework in Level 3.
Is Alpha accredited?
Alpha K-8 incorporates best practices from accreditation, but because innovation and continually improving our programs is our top priority, we elect to not pursue accreditation for levels LL-L3.
We are currently pursuing accreditation for Alpha High School. Stay tuned!
How can I best support my child’s academics at Alpha?
While parents are always a valuable source of moral support and encouragement for our students, you can leave the rest to us. The best way parents can help at Alpha is by stepping back and empowering their kids. With Guide coaching, your children are capable of managing their schoolwork, picking workshops, meeting goals, and asking the right questions — we promise! If your student is struggling with motivation or content, his or her Guide will step in to help.
How often/when do parents meet with Guides and other staff?
Formal parent conferences take place after each round of MAP testing, three times a year. Guides come loaded with student data, prepared to discuss students’ academic accomplishments and growth. Year-round, our guides’ primary focus and responsibility is emotional and motivational support for students. Our leadership team is available to discuss any parent concerns or needs that may arise.
How do I know when my child completed a task or goal?
Curious about your child’s progress on their apps or Check Chart? Alpha students have ownership over their work and academic progress. Don’t hesitate to have your child take you through his or her goals and Check Chart in our in-house app DASH. DASH provides a transparent view of students’ work habits and progress toward their goals.
What should my kid do if they are stuck on an app?
Getting stuck on an app is something we’ve all experienced as adults, and we expect it to happen with our students. It’s the process of getting “unstuck” that helps teach our children “how to learn” and helps them take responsibility for their own progress. Students are given coaching on how to access the resources to help them get unstuck, such as some common troubleshooting questions:
- Did you use the help function in the app?
- Did you read the explanation in the app?
- Did you use the online and offline resources that are readily available to you? (offline being tools such as a number line or manipulatives for LL)