Our Story

Alyssa Verdi, Ascend’s founder is a former public school teacher and mother to three children of her own.  Alyssa holds a Master’s of Education K-12 degree and is passionate about providing an alternative to traditional education in order to serve the local communities.

Once it was time for their son to go to preschool, the Verdi family began to research their options.  They researched and visited several schools in the area, but when they stumbled upon a Montessori-based program, they were hooked.  Driving 2 hours a day back and forth to bring their son to their Pre-K program was worth it.  They were extremely pleased with the Montessori method.

Being a former public school teacher, Alyssa had become more and more disheartened by the traditional school system. She didn’t want her kids to just be “fine”. She wanted them to thrive, and to be seen as capable individuals with unique strengths.  She wanted to them to feel empowered as well as understand that education is a journey, and that failure is part of the process.  More importantly, she wanted her children to feel comfortable praying at school and expressing their love and need for God.

As their son approached Kindergarten age, the lack of choices in the area plagued her.  She starting looking into what it would take to start her own Christian Montessori-based school, and stumbled upon Acton Academy.  She quickly fell in love with the methods and mission.  Desiring something different for their family and community, the Verdis decided to open their own Acton Academy in the Milford, PA area.

“Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a lot of pressure when you realize all the choices that have to be made; both big and small. The Lord placed a heavy burden on my heart when it was time for our son to go to school.  My husband Rob and I realized there were no options in our area for schooling other than the traditional route; which we had been turned off by more and more over the years. We wanted something different for our kids: An education where they weren’t restricted in their learning environment or judged by what they could or couldn’t do on a test. More importantly, we wanted our kids to be in an environment where they were able to build confidence and courage in becoming who God made them to be.

Our hope is that our studio will provide families in the area with a promising option; an option that will put both parents and their children on a Hero’s Journey. Nothing great comes without sacrifice and sometimes, risk. We fell in love with the idea of a learner-driven community, and I know that other families will, too.”  

Alyssa Verdi
Ascend: An Acton Academy Founder

Our Ascend Campus

Ascend: An Acton Academy is located at 117 Milford Hill Lane, Milford, P.A. 18337

Our Team

Alyssa Verdi


Alyssa Verdi is Ascend’s founder and is a former public school teacher.  Alyssa holds a Master’s of Education K-12 degree and has over 12 years of experience working in both the public and private sectors.  She is passionate about providing an alternative to traditional education in order to serve the local communities.

Keri Pelak


Keri joined the Ascend team in September of 2022 as the Lead Guide in our Lower Elementary studio (now called the Voyager Studio).  Keri started her career off by providing early intervention services to children in the local community for several years. From there, she decided she wanted to go into full-time teaching. In 2011, Keri graduated from Felician University with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Elementary Education.

Keri joined the Ascend team in September of 2022 as the Lead Guide in our Lower Elementary studio (now called the Voyager Studio).  Keri has a Montessori Early Childhood Certification. She is a lifelong learner who loves self-education.

“Working with children has always been a passion of mine.  It wasn’t until my son started kindergarten that I began working at our local school. After feeling as though there was something missing from the public school experience, I decided to homeschool with a small group of friends. Homeschooling has opened my heart to an entirely different approach to education; but I still wanted more and that’s why I have decided to join Ascend. I am beyond grateful for this wonderful opportunity to become part of the team.”  -Keri Pelak

Keri currently lives in Dingmans Ferry with her husband and two children. She loves the outdoors; and you can often find her hiking, doing yard work, or at the beach. Her family loves to bake, and as a family they also enjoy exploring new places and traveling.

Liz Nathan


Ms. Liz’s Hero’s Journey brought her to Ascend in the fall of 2021. She has over 15 years of experience guiding children ages 3-6 at the Ann Street School. She is excited to be part of a team that looks at the child as their own special genius; where she can help guide them to learn to learn, learn to do, and learn to be. She has raised two children of her own who are now continuing their own journeys in the working world. Volunteering has always been an important part of Liz’s journey.  Among other activities, she has held positions with the Boy and Girl scouts as treasurer and committee chair, as a teacher and Sunday School Superintendent at a local church, and as a class parent and PTA member in the Delaware Valley school system.

Liz earned a Bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in engineering. She has held positions in the paper and packaging industry doing research and development; as well as leadership in production facilities. She is very excited about the challenges ahead as she works in this new educational setting with our young heroes.

Melissa Schultz


Melissa lives in Mount Hope, NY with her husband and twin daughters. She received her BS in art education (K-12) from St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY. ‍

"I taught drawing, painting, ceramics and photography at Suffern high school in NY. I am an artist. I love to paint and create. I love being outside and connecting with nature, often bringing my sketchbook with me whenever I go hiking. I enjoy art history and visiting museums to see all of the beautiful works of art in person.

I also love to bake and once owned a bakery in Warwick, NY with a focus on fancy decorated cakes and sugar cookies for all occasions. When I had my daughters, I knew that I did not want to send them to public school. I wanted an environment for them that allowed them to learn and grown in their own unique ways. We spent 3 years at a beautiful co-op, where I also worked as a mentor to all of the children there.

I am constantly learning and growing and working towards being better everyday. I am very passionate about using art as a form of expression and, one day I would love to continue my education in the field of Art Therapy. I also plan on working towards receiving my Montessori certification in the near future." 

Meagan Ruppert


Meagan Ruppert Campion has 15+ years of experience in marketing, event production, management, sales, and operations.

After graduating from Stony Book University, she spent a year in Thailand on a mission to find her purpose. Upon returning to the US, she got intentional about her life mission. She spent the next decade helping others harness their gifts and build purpose-driven businesses by teaching them business strategies and mindset mastery.

Despite much success in her adult life, her younger years were spent staring out of the classroom window dreaming of anything but academics. It wasn’t until university, where she could choose her own adventure, that she discovered a love of learning. As a result of the challenges she faced in her early education, she sought an alternative to standard education for her children, leading her to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia, because of their emphasis on outdoor time, imagination, open-ended play, and strict screen policies.

After the pandemic and falling out of love with city living, Meagan and her husband chose to spend a year in Costa Rica and Panama to figure out “their next.” After returning to US soil, they were guided to the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. After a long search, she found Ascend and was immediately drawn to the school as the answer to her prayers for a school that would honor her children’s gifts and individuality.

She now supports the school in various ways - from operations to marketing, support, and anywhere in-between - and is helping Alyssa drive the greater vision of Ascend to reach more families and make a bigger impact.

Svetlana Fisher


Svetlana has been with Ascend since 2021 and helps connect parents with school staff as well as each other. Svetlana is Ascend's go-to parent for information and guidance that families may need to support their children on this learner-driven journey.

Having gone through many different schooling systems herself as a student and as a parent, Svetlana believes that parents have a choice when it comes to their children's education and should take time to explore their options and help their children discover the type of learners they are. As a parent of two, Svetlana has gone through a Charter School, Homeschool, Cyber School, Public School, and Private School. Svetlana believes schooling, just like other choices we make in life for ourselves and our children, should be intentional and informed.

Our Advisors

Jeff Sandefer

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.

Laura Sandefer

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."

Our Promises

We promise through Socratic guiding and experiential learning to encourage each member of our community to:

  • 1

    Begin a Hero’s Journey,

  • 2

    Discover precious gifts and a commitment to mastery.

  • 3

    Become a curious, independent, life-long learner.

  • 4

    Embrace the forging of a strong character.

  • 5

    Cherish the arts, the physical world, and the mysteries of life.

  • 6

    Treasure economic, political, and religious freedom.

Acton School Guide

Our Beliefs

We believe clear thinking leads to good decisions, good decisions lead to the right habits, the right habits forge character, and character determines destiny.

  • 1

    We believe each person has a gift that can change the world in a profound way;

  • 2

    We believe in learning to learn, learning to do, and learning to be.

  • 3

    We believe in a closely connected family of life-long learners.

  • 4

    We believe in economic, political, and religious freedom.

Acton School Guide

Our Economic Model

We believe self-directed, peer-to-peer learner-driven communities built by our young Heroes will deliver transformational learning at a cost all parents can afford.