Our Story


"I'm quitting my job to start a school," I told my wife.

She laughed, thinking it was a joke.

"I'm serious. I'm going to start a school." I repeated.

She was confused, searching for a sign that this was a joke.

"Are you serious!?"

At the time, I was a chemical engineer at ExxonMobil. It was my "dream" job and we had just moved across the country after five long years double majoring in chemical engineering and Russian; we had a three-year-old son, and another on the way.

"Do you really want to start all over?" she asked.

It was a great question. I had a good-paying job, and security for our family, but knew the answer was "yes."

"I want to create a place where our children will be able to follow their passions and be excited to go to school."

In 2019, we discovered Acton Academy. This was the community were searching for--parent-entrepreneurs creating world-changing schools.

James Van Duker
Co-Founder and Head of Acton Academy Kingwood

Schedule a Tour

Our Staff

James Van Duker
Founder and Head of School for Acton Academy Kingwood

James Van Duker is nothing if not passionate about education. He believes that the noblest occupation is a teacher. He loves the words of Victor Hugo, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

James received a bachelor of science in chemical engineering, and a bachelor of arts in Russian from Brigham Young University, and spent five years working for ExxonMobil as a chemical engineer in Houston, Russia, and Papua New Guinea.

He is passionate about entrepreneurship and has spent over ten years as a real estate investor managing rental properties and flipping homes. He loves coaching and mentoring others and, while living in Papua New Guinea, assisted subsistence farmers to start small businesses. He also mentors his two young boys, who are both budding entrepreneurs.

James is a firm believer in life-long learning and is always seeking to find new ways to grow and develop. He is passionate about language, and is self-taught in Russian, which he learned living in Russia for over two years as a volunteer for his church, and is semi-fluent in Melanesian Pidgin from his time working overseas with ExxonMobil.

James is also a wizard-in-training-- a lover and student of magic since first seeing David Copperfield perform live over thirty years ago when he was eight years old.

James’s most proud accomplishments are his two beautiful boys, Jacob and Eli, who are his greatest motivation for finding his calling and changing the world. He believes a person can do anything they want to if they are willing to put in the effort. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.”

Cameo Van Duker
Co-Founder of Acton Academy Kingwood

Cameo is a lifelong learner, is always curious about the world around her, and loves adventure. She is a competitive runner and an experienced pianist and organist.

Cameo loves being around and helping people. This led her to earn a Master's of Social Work degree, and she currently holds an LCSW license. Her main area of experience has been working with teenagers and their families in

Cameo grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, but her family took a three year stint in Rio de Janeiro with her dad's job. She has a passion for culture and has traveled extensively, one of her highlights being a 3 month study abroad to Africa, living in a tent doing an anthropological field study with the Ova Himba tribe in Namibia.

Cameo has homeschooled her two boys for the last 8 years and has enjoyed the experience and has learned a lot and grown immensely because of it. She fell in love with the philosophies and programs of Acton Academy and is so excited to start this journey and change the world!

Erin Hein
Assistant Head of School

Erin has worked in the youth leadership and education field for over 15 years. Her very first job after graduating from Texas A&M, as the Marketing Director of Amigos de las Americas, solidified her belief that young people are capable of changing the world when we give them the right resources and step out of their way. She has never looked back. She believes whole-heartedly in learner-driven education that focuses on showing even very young learners how to seek great resources, ask excellent questions, and approach conflict or disagreement from a mindset of kindness and curiosity.

Erin is an enthusiastic learner, creator, and storyteller. Her four children and her incredible husband are her guiding lights. As a family they love to travel, try new things, read together, and sing along to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Nallely Camarillo

Nallely was born in Mexico and moved to South Texas during her teen years, she attended the University of Texas Pan-American where she attained an international business bachelor and a minor in Spanish. She worked in the U.S. Customs broker field for five years and then moved to the Houston area.

She first discovered her passion for education as a leader for the youth, and also loves researching the different learning styles, assisting mothers on their breastfeeding journeys, and has trained as a Doula to help with her education.

She furthered her career as a teacher in lower level elementary in CTR Christian Academy for four years, but her passion for children goes beyond the classroom as in her spare time she has been involved as a coach for the First Lego Team and is a recurring volunteer for Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, Nallely did all of this while homeschooling her children for their first four years of education.

Family bond is the most precious thing for Nallely. She married her high school sweetheart Angel, and they have a wonderful son and a magnificent daughter. As a family they enjoy going camping on the weekends, exploring new parks, cookouts, as well as having family movie nights on Fridays. She also incorporates music and dance as much as possible on her activities.

Nallely firmly believes that we can all do our part to make this world a better place for the next generation, and day by day she continues to live by this ideology.

Marcela Cabezas

Marcela is a passionate learner, mom, spouse, and teacher. One of her favorite activities is baking with her daughter, Rebekah. Marcela loves to spend time with her family and enjoys travelling. She is a Montessori-trained guide and has worked with 0-6 year-old children for over 10 years. She received her certification from the American Montessori Association. She holds a bachelor's in Early Education and a Master's Degree in Civilization and Culture from The university in Salamanca, Spain.

Marcela strongly believes that each child is not a satellite but a unique and wonderful world. She loves observing what young children can do by themselves if we just stop, step back and watch them do it.

"We discovered that education is not something which the teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being."
— Maria Montessori

Brittnee Fertig

Brittnee Fertig is thrilled to have the privilege of joining Acton Academy's middle schoolers on their hero's journeys. Her commitment to life-long learning and personal growth guided her as she obtained her Bachelors Degree in Philosophy, studied Mental Health Counseling as a post-graduate, and established a successful career in taxation and business operations.

Throughout her life, Brittnee's passion has been having a positive impact on the lives of young people, a role she first filled as she mentored her two younger sisters before solidifying her drive as a Middle School Youth Leader and Crisis Counselor through the Crisis Text Line. She believes that there is nothing more empowering for a hero than to be challenged, fail, try again, fail differently, try again and succeed- all within safe guardrails and without adult interference. Her goal is to foster adolescent inquiry so that heros are courageous enough to search for their own versions of their truth. Brittnee believes that Acton heroes are fellow travelers on the road of learning-to-be and, as James Russell Lowell said, "one thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning."

Brittnee's personal adventures include traveling the world and growing her understanding of other cultures as she visited Japan, Costa Rica, France, and Puerto Rico. As a health and wellness enthusiast, she loves to explore the outdoors with her family and fur-babies. Her greatest adventure of all has been experiencing the joys and challenges of life alongside her two children and husband.

Kristen Robbins
Outdoor Leadership Guide

Kristen has been in an elementary education setting since graduating from St. Edward's University in 2008 until 2017. She then enjoyed working for The National Outdoor Leadership School, leading backpacking expeditions and teaching outdoor education. She has 2 young sons and a supportive husband, and they love spending any chance they get outdoors as a family. She loves instilling her passion in our learners while building connections to the outdoors.

Our family enjoys reading together, building legos and when we can, my husband and I love to compete in 12 hour long adventure races. We mountain bike, trek and kayak while orienteering to collect checkpoints along the way. I believe teaching in the outdoors allows students to have stronger connections to nature, increased environmental values and reduction in depression. My mission at Acton is to Ignite wildly curious minds deeply rooted in the love of nature, themselves, and their community that will sustain them for a lifetime. "I don't care about perfection I'd rather roll deep In the messiness of life" Rupi Kaur

Amber Harrison

Amber was born in London, United Kingdom. She moved back and forth from London to Houston until the age of 18, when she settled in Houston permanently. She gained my citizenship in 2016.

Amber is a second generation Montessori guide. Her passion for the Montessori philosophy stems from her mother, and also from first hand experience as a Montessori student, and she has always known this is what she wants to do. She received her AMS Lower Elementary certification from Houston Montessori Center in 2004, and has she taught in both Upper and Lower elementary classrooms.

Amber has two phenomenal daughters, the oldest attends college while the youngest attends high school. She has three dogs and two cats and loves all creatures big and small. She loves to travel and has travelled to Africa, many parts of Europe and all over the United States. Her goal to visit all seven continents. She is an avid gardener and loves the outdoors.

As a guide, her main objective is to foster a lifelong passion for learning, to nurture the whole child, and to assist children to realize their own personal cosmic purpose.

" The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence" Maria Montessori

Our Advisors

Jeff Sandefer
Advisor and Acton Academy Co-Founder

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
Advisor and Acton Academy Co-Founder

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."

Experience how Acton is transforming education in this independent, award-winning documentary.

play button

Watch the video.

Schedule a Tour
I learned so much from being an Acton parent and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. There is no question that my life would not be what it is today had I not cultivated an Acton mindset. I grew a great deal by learning to parent our daughter through her “failures” at Acton (some of these “failures” lasted years and required lots of humble learning).

Hi, I'm James Van Duker.

I'm Founder and Head of School at Acton Academy Kingwood.

We would love to hear from you.

Come to Open House 🗓