My name is Rob Orlando, one of two co-founders of Liberty Leadership Academy, a K-8 private school in Bel Air, Maryland. In 2004 I walked away from a career in education. I loved teaching, and my experiences in elementary and middle school are some of the most rewarding of my life, but the whole time I was there I couldn’t escape the feeling of hypocrisy. I didn’t believe in the curriculum we were being forced to teach, and yet I would go through the motions and do it anyway. How would rote memorization, absorbing lectures from an adult, and learning to obey really prepare children for the future?
So I walked away from education to pursue a career in computer science. I left the traditional model behind; or so I thought. Flash forward to 2017, and life had given Kim and me three amazing boys. As parents living in the day and age of unlimited possibilities, we did not want my children learning how to become factory workers. We’d look at what our boys were learning, and while it appeared like success on the surface, the reality was we couldn’t draw parallels between the curriculum and what would bring them joy and opportunity later in life. Like all parents, we want our children to experience the best life has to offer, and the dots just weren’t connecting. The scary part was where we did connect the dots. While we were fortunate to work with some incredible people over the past decade, they weren’t the majority. The majority feared change, required concrete instructions, had a victim’s mindset, and lacked the ability to apply creativity and abstract thinking to develop innovative solutions. Those dots we could connect, and we did not want our children to suffer the same fate.
I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something. Not just for my children, but for other children as well. As a coach of youth sports for over a decade, I wanted something better for my players also. During that time, I learned how making practices fun and competitive while weaving in a foundation of character, chemistry, and leadership created high-performers who excelled as a team. I kept asking myself, “Isn’t that what they should be learning? Why can’t education do the same?” Realizing this wasn’t going to happen on it’s own, I finally decided to act; I decided to start a school here in Harford County.
But how would I even start a school? I had no idea. So I did what every good engineer does: I Googled it. And there it was, “Join the education revolution: start an Acton Academy today.” I had no idea what this was, but having nowhere else to go yet, I decided to “follow the white rabbit.” Where it took me was beyond anything I could imagine. In truth, it started me on my own Hero’s Journey. And along the way, my journey connected me with Nathan and Jessica Ottensmeyer and their two children. I’ll let them tell you their story, but I will say this: Nathan, Jessica, Kim, and I are honored to bring the Acton Academy model in the form of the Liberty Leadership Academy to Harford County.