Frequently Asked Questions

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.

General Info

  • What are Alpha’s three promises?

    Alpha makes three promises to every one of our students (and by proxy, their parents): Love school, learn 2x faster, and learn 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
    Alpha utilizes adaptive technology, an innovative schedule, and self-agency to create an environment where students remain engaged and therefore learn twice as fast as their counterparts in traditional schools. Students accomplish the work of a typical academic day in 100 minutes, or two traditional class periods, as compared to the 7 hours of a traditional school.

    Promise 3: Students learn life skills
    Alpha students learn practical life skills, such as public speaking, giving and receiving feedback, personal finance, and entrepreneurship, via project-based workshops. Students tackle these projects as individuals, within a group, or as a part of a whole-level experience.

  • What do you mean by the Alpha Promise, “Love School?”

    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 Faster?”

    2x learning means that our students spend half of the time that traditional schools spend on core academics, and in that time are able to achieve the 90th percentile or above on their MAP testing. Adaptive education technology has enabled us to meet students at their level and shape a path that fits their pace. A focused 100 minute period every morning, Core Skills, is spent using a variety of adaptive educational software

  • 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 are placed into levels based on a combination of their age and academic progress. After each round of MAP testing, MAP scores are reviewed along with each student’s age to determine their level placement. A student will never “level down” — he or she will only stay in the same level or advance to the next one.

      We do not use traditional grade levels at Alpha and instead opt for mixed-age classrooms. Mixed-age classrooms allow older students to model and lead younger students and younger students to model their behavior off of more mature students. 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.

  • What happens if I want to travel with my children? Is Alpha strict about attendance?

    If you solely rely on the knowledge contained within a zip code, you are breaking an Alpha first principle. Travel away! While your kids at school will love being at school, we completely understand (and encourage!) families to take trips and therefore do not have an attendance policy. To support remote learners, Alpha has a program called “Alpha Anywhere” which allows students to continue their academic coursework from wherever they are while continuing to receive 1:1 coaching with a Guide.

Academics & Program

  • How does goal setting work for daily, weekly and session goals? How do I know my child’s goals aren’t too easy or hard?

    We love giving students the agency and accountability of setting their own goals at Alpha. That said, these goals are not set in a vacuum. Our Guides evaluate each student’s current placement, rate of progress, and the ultimate goal of getting to 90th percentile of grade level, and then work with each student to ensure that they are walking down the right academic path. The daily, weekly and session goal setting process becomes a student-Guide negotiation, with constant coaching. Over time, our students get better at this, while our Guides continue to monitor and push them toward an appropriate level of challenge.

  • 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:

    1. They focus on effort, not outcome
    2. They reward positive behaviors instead of penalizing negative ones
    3. 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. For children with specific learning differences, we do not employ full-time specialists but we are willing to work with families who would like to personally provide additional support for their children during the school day.

  • 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?

    We want students to have the space and capacity to pursue interests and passions in a high-quality environment after school. We’ve designed school days with this in mind. Guides coach students to set challenging goals that can be met within a school day so they don’t have homework and can focus on their interests once the school day ends. Because self-agency is at Alpha’s core, if a student doesn’t meet their goals during school, they have the freedom to take their computer home to ensure they stay on track to meet their session goals.

  • Is Alpha accredited?

    No. We incorporate best practices from accreditation, but because innovation and continually improving our programs is our top priority, we elect to not pursue accreditation.

Parent Involvement

  • 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. That said, you should feel comfortable contacting your child’s Guide with any questions, concerns or suggestions at any time.

  • 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. That said, we encourage any parents with questions, concerns, or suggestions to reach out to our Guides or other staff members via email at any point in the session. All staff can be expected to answer emails within 24 hours.

  • How do I know when my child completed a task or goal? Is there a way for me to have “parent access” to the apps?

    Curious about your child’s progress within the apps? Don’t hesitate to have your child take you through his or her daily and weekly goals, and even show you inside individual apps. You can also reach out to your student’s Guide for more information, or wait for progress reports at the end of every session, which note goal completion. As for parent access to individual apps — no way, José. You’ve chosen Alpha because you believe in our methods, and those methods include trusting the apps and the Guides to monitor student progress and ensure you have nothing to worry about!

  • 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)
    • Have you asked a friend?
    • Have you asked a Guide?
  • Is there financial aid available at Alpha?

    We are committed to making Alpha available to all students. With this in mind, we approach tuition using a tiered and objective system based on a family’s Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). Families must provide Alpha with their 1040 tax form in order to receive the tuition indicated. Financial aid may also be referred to as ‘adjusted tuition.’