By Carolyn Bick
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
One of the things Edgiemeh De La Cruz appreciates most about Summit Sierra High School is the way the faculty make the school feel like a second home.
“[The teachers] always greet you at the door, saying hello, or just checking up with you for a couple seconds, before the class starts, and that’s always every single morning with my classes,” De La Cruz said.
The 11th grader enrolled in the charter school when it opened in August 2016. The school, based in the International District and founded in 2015, is part of the Summit Public Schools charter system, which currently has schools in both Washington and California. It serves grades 9 through 12, and prides itself on personalized instruction, a diverse student population, and the number of students who go on to higher education. As of the 2017 school year, there are 305 students and 24 teachers at Summit Sierra High School.
Because the school is a public school, Executive Director and Principal Malia Burns said it is completely free. Anyone may enroll, she said, as the school is non-selective, in terms of its admissions criteria.
The way Summit approaches learning and teaching is a bit different from traditional schools, Burns said. Instead of having a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, each student’s curriculum is personalized. For instance, students in the same grade may have different reading levels. One may require a word bank during an exam, while another may not. Students also have multiple opportunities to demonstrate they have grasped a concept. Still, despite some initial “training wheels,” Burns said, students are expected to show progress.
“Our goal is that everyone can bike unassisted,” Burns said.
Aside from personalized learning, there are other support systems in place for students. Teacher Erica Baba is a veteran of the Summit school system, transferring from California to Summit Sierra when the school opened. Baba said each student is assigned a faculty mentor and a peer mentor group. The mentor and student work closely together, with 10-minute weekly check-ins that focus not only on a student’s academics, but also their personal life.
“These are all about sports tournaments, family events that are happening,” Baba said. “It’s just a nice way to make kids feel like they are valued as a person, and not just as a student.”
Peer mentor groups meet three days per week, for a longer period of time. Parents are also included in a student’s continuing check-in process, Baba said, during twice-yearly conferences of which the student is also a part.
While the school focuses on what the Summit system calls “core classes,” comprised of Social Science, English, Math, Science, and Spanish, it also allows students to stretch their more creative muscles with electives. Students may take these electives during two-week breaks from their main curriculum, which happen every seven to eight weeks, throughout the academic school year, and are taught by community leaders in those fields. De La Cruz recently took fashion design and urban artwork, and worked with artists in Chinatown.
“I am really attracted to art, and being free and expressing myself a lot,” De La Cruz said.
“Within fashion, you get to express how you want to be seen … and with urban artwork, it goes towards murals and sculptures, and you can define yourself within more than one source or more than one outlet.”
Since enrolling his son Julius Silvano at Summit Sierra, Keoke Silvano said he has seen nothing but positive changes. Silvano said that while Julius has always had excellent social skills, he hasn’t always been the best student, and was more interested in playing basketball than spending time on schoolwork. Before Julius enrolled at Summit Sierra, both the father and son struggled with how to best bring up the 10th grader’s scores.
“My son has always had a hard time letting me know where he was at academically, and … he had a lack of follow-through on his assignments, and … communicating that with me, so I couldn’t help him,” Silvano said. “At Summit, he usually sits me down, and says, ‘This is what I am behind in, I need help on this, I need help on that.’ So, it’s really helped strengthen our relationship as a father and son.”
And while Julius still wants to play basketball, Silvano said his son now has a vested interest in going to college, playing basketball as a scholar, rather than just a strict athlete.
“I don’t know what the next two years are going to look like for him academically … but I fully support him and his process,” Silvano said. “If he decides to go on and get a drama degree or a music degree, there is nothing wrong with that, I fully support that. If he decides to go [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math], I support that, as well.”
Carolyn can be reached at email@example.com.