Why did we start an Acton Academy in El Salvador?
With Laura & Jeff Sandefer, founders of Acton Academy
March 2016 in Austin, Texas
When our two children reached school age, we realized that the traditional school system was not fomenting the skills needed to be entrepreneurial, virtuous and competent in the technological age.
We wanted to offer them an education that preserved their curiosity and spirit while developing key skills such as entrepreneurship, collaboration, communication, intellectual honesty and creativity.
After doing a lot of research and experimentation, we began to meet with other families who were looking to equip their children with skills for the 21st century in a loving, healthy and authentic environment.
In October, 2015, we met the founder of Acton Academy Guatemala. Over a two hour conversation, he described the learning environment we had always wanted for our children. We applied for the license, completed the initial training and, along with Carmen Castro Dárdano, founded Acton Academy & Montessori El Salvador, the 14th out of more than 200 Acton affiliates world wide (and growing!).
Our children - and those of many other innovative families - are happy and healthy and are developing skills for a lifetime of learning and purpose.
Founder and Executive Director
Shannon Falkenstein's background blends education, coaching, technology and business in multicultural environments. She studied at Visitation Academy, in St. Louis, Missouri, then went on to earn a B.S. in Biological Anthropology and Human Biology from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1994, she moved to Denver, Colorado to work at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center managing a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help reduce the impact of substance abuse in Native Alaskan and American Indian populations, where she learned early internet technologies. In 1996, Shannon was recruited as Communications Officer on a world-wide, cross-cultural internet technology project for UBS in Basel, Switzerland. In 2000, Shannon signed on with Deloitte Consulting in New York City to lead a large-scale internet project at Goldman Sachs.
After eye-witnessing the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Shannon decided to seek more meaning and joined Americorps as a Program Director at New York Cares, establishing their Youth Service Program in New York City public schools. In 2005, she earned her Master's Degree in Secondary Science Education at New York University and began teaching science in NYC public schools. In 2008, Shannon and her husband, David Falkenstein, moved to San Salvador to start a family. Shannon established Falkenstein Prep, a Test Prep and College Coaching business that helped hundreds of Salvadoran students gain entrance into US universities. In 2011, the Falkensteins began building El Salvador's first microbrewery, Cadejo Brewing Company, which opened in 2013 and is now Central America's largest craft brewery.
Carmen Castro Dárdano
Co-Founder and Montessori Director
Creativa, sensible, risueña, amante de los niños, apasionada por ayudar a las personas y orgullosa madre de un maravilloso hijo, José Eduardo.
Una mujer con un gran anhelo por la transformación de la enseñanza en su país y con el sueño de poder generar un impacto significativo en las nuevas generaciones. Al graduarse del colegio decidió comenzar la carrera de diseño gráfico por su pasión a las actividades manuales, el dibujo y el arte, después de un año hizo una pausa y decidió irse por un año como Au-pair Mädchen a Alemania en donde tuvo la oportunidad de conocer sobre la enseñanza Walforf y Montessori. Esta experiencia despertó el interés por la educación, una educación diferente que impacta significativamente la vida de los seres humanos. Al regresar a El Salvador, comenzó sus estudios en educación parvularia en la UCA . Al terminar sus estudios en educación comenzó la carrera de Psicología también en la UCA. Durante toda su etapa de estudios tuvo la oportunidad de trabajar simultáneamente en un Kínder Montessori en el cual aprendió profunda y experimentalmente acerca de la filosofía educativa Montessori la cual, desde el primer momento, se convirtió en un estilo de vida para su hijo, para si misma y en sus labores cotidianas. A lo largo del tiempo ha tenido la oportunidad de aprender y realizar diferentes proyectos relacionados a la educación, entre los cuales están la elaboración del libro de lectura comprensiva y escritura creativa -Leolandia- en conjunto con Maite Vallet, autora del método Leolandia, y también el taller de "Educación para la vida" organizado por CASSA el cual fue impartido para las comunidades con las que ellos trabajan.
El destino de su vida y pasión y anhelo por hacer algo diferente en la educación de los niños la llevó a conocer a una maravillosa mujer, con el mismo anhelo en común- Shannon Falkenstein- con quien decidió formar y fundar una nueva alternativa para la educación: Acton Academy & Montessori y con quien sigue emprendiendo esta aventura y este extraordinario camino del héroe, desempeñándose como directora de Montessori.
Founders of Acton Academy, Austin.
Co-Founder, Acton Academy
Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide. As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses.
As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America.
Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of Business, an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen Business School professors in the world.
Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Co-Founder, Acton Academy
Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science. After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City.
Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.
Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.
Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious."
"My daughter started at Acton this year and absolutely loves it!
She is in charge of her own learning in a warm and supportive environment.
Acton is at the cutting edge of how education should be transforming for the future and it is so exciting to have this here in El Salvador!"
- Spark Studio Parent