COMING SOON! Spark Guide

Spark Guide Bio Coming Soon!

Alex Nelson, Discovery Studio Guide

As a former homeschooler/unschooler myself, the processes and goals of EMA and the community around EMA really excite me. I’m amazed at the depth and beauty of a learner-led environment, and I can relate to it in a deeply personal way.

My background is as a performing artist and arts educator. I have a degree in Music from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) (with a concentration in Guitar Performance) in Winston-Salem. I have served as both the Site Director and Director of Music Programming (sometimes simultaneously!) for Clapping Hands Farm, a performing and visual arts camp in Pittsboro, all while maintaining a private studio of music students learning guitar, ukulele, piano, and composition/songwriting.

While at UNCSA, I took classes in education and childhood development. I also participated in ArtistCorps, an initiative that seeks to bring arts education and appreciation to schoolchildren that otherwise would be unable to have the opportunity to learn an instrument or attend a concert tailored for them. The program also integrated learning metrics with art, using experience-based hands-on education to support learning in math, science, language acquisition, and more.

Through these programs, I’ve had the privilege to develop my love for working with young people of all ages, and to me, my time at EMA is the next logical step on this journey.

I’m immensely pleased to have the joy of being a part of such a vibrant community and look forward to the beautiful work we can create together.

Valine Zeigler, Head of School/Founder

As a mother of three, my husband Eric and I, have always been deeply concerned about the state of American education and specifically the future happiness and well-being of our children.  We wanted our children to feel safe, supported, and be wholly seen.


Before homeschooling, I was a Language Arts Teacher within the Los Angeles Unified School District for 7 years;  I enjoyed serving as department chair, literacy coach, mentor teacher, and earned National Board Certification – a voluntary and rigorous certification process for showcasing excellence in education.


We began homeschooling when our oldest daughter was born in 2002. Fast forward ahead, two more children and 13 years later, other courageous families joined us. In response to the gentle nudging of a visionary friend, Empowered Minds Academy was founded Fall of 2016.


While homeschooling (actually around 2014), I began to follow Acton Academy, a learner-driven community out of Austin, Texas.  Like Acton, in my household, there was an intentional focus on hand-on learning, unstructured play, and project-based work. In the mornings, we started our days off with self-paced and self-led reading, writing, and math challenges that were placed in bins and completed throughout the morning. The afternoons were play-based and project-based.  Acton Academy and their learner-driven model, mission, and philosophy resonated with me powerfully. Like Acton, I too believe in equipping my children to master and manage themselves and their own learning.


I am passionate about sharing the learner-driven model with you, and as the founder of an Acton Academy Affiliate that centers Black learners and their families, I am even more excited!  For me personally, expressing this belief – “We believe that by un/dis-covering, reclaiming, and reconnecting with our truth will we better understand who we were, who we are, and who we must be.” – has been one the most affirming and life-changing experiences.

Empowered Minds: An Acton Academy  ©️ 2022