09 Jan

Students Learning Lessons and Finding their passions through sports

From the Summit Sierra High School campus in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, you can see the stadiums where the Seahawks and Mariners play. A short walk from Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma is the Tacoma Dome where high school students and their families across Washington state gather to watch state championship games in sports like football and basketball.

Sports are a big part of what make Tacoma and Seattle great. We watch them, we play them, and we cheer loud and proud for them. Along with bringing us together, sports can bring communities together. Sports can also teach life lessons such as hard work, goal-setting, and how to be effective in a team – things the faculty at Sierra, Olympus and Atlas teach to students every day.

The sports teams at Summit teams are just like teams at any other public school in Seattle or Tacoma. Our teams play other school’s in the area, are a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association member, have practices and coaches, play their home games at a local gym, have tryouts and uniforms. Each Summit school in Washington has or will add this year a boys and girls basketball, volleyball and soccer teams.

“Sports teaches students respect, responsibility and accountability,” said Chris Nelson, athletic director at Summit Olympus High School. “These are the things, along with what students learn in the classroom that will help them have success later on in college, life and in the workforce.”

Athletic and other extracurricular activities also give students opportunities to pursue their passions and deepen relationships and connections with other students and the community, build character and become well-rounded people. Sports are helping contribute to the school culture and pride in our schools in Seattle and Tacoma.

At Olympus, students must also be committed to their teammates, sportsmanship and keep up their grade point average. If they need help, Chris is there to give the student athletes feedback to help them achieve their athletic and academic goals and be a thoughtful, contributing members of the community. Chris has helped many student athletes achieve their college athletic goals. He’s looking forward to helping Summit’s students do the same.

Chris exclaimed, “the greatest feelings as a coach, teacher or mentor is watching the student athlete develop, grow and mature into a young adult right before your eyes.”

The Olympus basketball team was also the first students to join the chess club. Chess teaches students many of the same things as basketball, but also critical, creative and strategic thinking, skills students use in the classroom.

At the end of each sports season the faculty gets to test their skills against the students in a friendly faculty vs. students game. It’s a friendly, competitive game for the faculty and students to bond over sports and celebrate their accomplishments during the school year. It’s also a time for the students to reflect on the relationships they’ve built and how their coaches and teachers encouraged them to be better every day.

What was your favorite sport at school? What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from your teammates and coaches? Tell us in the comments below.

13 Dec

Summit Sierra’s school culture celebrates diversity

This blog was originally posted on the WA Charters blog.
By Matt Halvorson

Summit Sierra High School in Seattle is doing its part to create a school culture that celebrates diversity and actively stands up to racism and discrimination. It starts with teachers and administrators who know that bringing a diverse population of kids into the building is only the beginning of providing a truly equitable education.

As of last school year, Sierra was 43 percent Black/African-American, 24 percent white, 14 percent Asian, 11 percent two or more races, 6 percent Hispanic/Latinx, and 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. Of that same group, 47 percent were eligible for free/reduced lunch, and 11 percent were receiving special education services.

“Summit Sierra really reflects the type of diversity that we hope to have — true diversity, both [in terms of] racial background but also economic diversity,” said Abby Cedano, senior director of schools for the Summit network of public charter schools in Washington. “I think we have both of those things here.”

That kind of diversity brings with it a responsibility. For all students to feel truly safe and welcome, it’s not enough to just reject racism in principle. It’s not enough to be aware of the systems that perpetuate our opportunity gaps if we aren’t intentionally working to dismantle them, at least within our own walls.

Summit is living out its active commitment to equity in a number of ways. One of the foundations has been to hire and train culturally competent teachers and staff from a variety of backgrounds, and to help them understand and confront their personal biases.

“We’ve been very intentional about hiring,” Cedano said. “We’re about at 50 percent teachers of color here, which is something we’re really proud of. We try to make sure that our staff reflects our student population as we create these intentionally diverse communities.”

From there, Summit Sierra has carried out ambitious, ongoing training on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for its staff and students.

Back in May, the school held a Race Symposium for all staff and students which was led by Eileen Yoshina, manager of Equity in Education for the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

According to Matt Nelson, academic coach at Summit Sierra, the goals for the symposium were to “build an understanding of the history of race and racism within a shared language, facilitate conversation on current realities, and to expand or reinforce viewpoints on diversity in the local community.”

It was important that staff engage in the training alongside the students, he said, because it “solidifies our commitment to equity, showing by example that this learning is ongoing.”

The day included an interactive presentation on bias touching on a history of segregation, differences between how we present and how we identify, and who “belongs in America.” Participants were encouraged to share personal stories and anecdotes and to ask questions throughout.

The second half included a break-out session where students shifted to their mentor groups to discuss a survey given earlier in the week. Answered anonymously, each student had been asked to describe two experiences: a time when they were discriminated against, and a time when they saw someone else suffering from discrimination.

In small circles, the students read over their classmates’ experiences and then, with mentors facilitating, talked openly and thoughtfully about the impact of discrimination on their lives. They brainstormed ways in which they, the school, and society at large could combat racism before coming back together as a whole school for open mic reflections.

“It was an engaging and fruitful day,” Nelson said.

Additionally, all Summit teachers were trained in culturally responsive classrooms by well-known facilitator Dr. Sharroky Hollie, and follow-ups throughout the year again included the students.

Sierra is also piloting a new college-readiness course this year in an effort to meet the needs of every kid in the building. Because they have a lot of students who will be first-generation college students, the school hired a first-generation college grad who’s been working in college access for many years.

The school doesn’t limit these conversations and intentions to big-picture examples of discrimination either. Just like we as individuals can’t change the world if we haven’t done the internal work to let us live out the values we espouse, an organization or a school can’t expect to be part of the solution when it hasn’t addressed discord and discrimination within its own walls.
So, how does a diverse school manage to live out those values and encourage harmony and cohesion among its students?

One way Summit Sierra cultivates that environment is through mentor groups, which function like old-school “homeroom” classes might have, but with more meat on their bones. The mentor groups integrate students from all different grades, pairing them with a teacher who will stay with the group throughout their high school years.

“With the intentional diversity here, I think mentor groups are really the most powerful piece that allows for that diversity to really thrive, because the mentor groups themselves are intentionally diverse, so when you walk around here at lunch, you see kids hanging out with other kids from their mentor group,” Cedano said. “They tend to form really tight connections, and that means that they’re hanging out with kids from all different backgrounds. I think that structure is one of the reasons that allows the diversity to be really successful, because it’s something we have to intentionally work at, and that structure is pretty powerful.”

In other words, intentional diversity requires ongoing, intentional work to honor all students. Kudos to Summit Sierra for putting its effort where its intentions already live and creating an environment that truly nurtures all its students.


29 Nov

Jacob Leon, Tacoma native, teacher and mentor at Summit Olympus High School

Meet Jacob Leon – a Tacoma native who graduated from Washington High School in 2009. Jacob attended Washington State University where he studied as a music major with an emphasis on education. He soon found out that music was more of a hobby than a career, but still enjoyed his studies in education. Eventually he decided to become a high school English teacher and received his teaching certificate in 2014.

After college, he worked with Americorps and the College Success Foundation as a College and Career Coach at Truman Middle School in Tacoma, putting together college fairs and delivered lessons on college readiness to 7th and 8th graders.

We are very lucky to have Jacob as a founding English teacher at Summit Olympus High School. Jacob wants each and every student to see value in themselves and their communities. He wants students to critically analyze the word. His teaching philosophy is rooted in critical pedagogy and problem-posing education. In his class, he hopes to engage students in meaningful discussions around race, class, gender and oppression.

During his free time, Jacob enjoys playing video games (he is a die-hard Nintendo fan), reading, playing with his dog Miles, strumming on his guitar, watching anime, and spending time with his niece and two nephews.

What drew you to teaching at Summit Olympus?
“I was drawn to Summit Olympus because I wanted to be a part of something new. I had read a little about charter public schools and wanted to help found and shape a school. I really liked learning about the personalized model and the emphasis on skills. Often times skills are secondary to content and while content is important skills are a better indication of success in college.”

What do you love most about the Tacoma community?
“I grew up in Tacoma and have lived here all of my life. I really believe in helping the community that raised me. I see my students as a reflection of myself. I know the neighborhoods they are coming from and I understand their struggles on a personal level. I love teaching in Tacoma because the population is diverse. I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”

What do you love most about helping students?
“I love when students make connections from class to their world. When a student talks to me about a show or movie that they saw and brings up how they noticed “foreshadowing” I can’t help but be overcome with joy. It’s a beautiful thing seeing students apply their school knowledge to something that interests them. That’s how I know students are internalizing the concepts from class. It reaffirms my passion for teaching.”

20 Nov

New Faculty Spotlight at Summit Olympus High School

Meet Chris Nelson, the athletic director at Summit Olympus High School. Chris was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana and graduated from Broad Ripple High School while lettering both in track and field, basketball and participating in JROTC. He attended Anderson University located in Anderson, Indiana for a short period before deciding to join the United States Army in 1990. He spent 24 years in the military as a Missile Technician. While in the military, Chris earned his general studies degree through online distant learning programs and courses with professors coming to the education centers on every base that he was stationed on. Chris was inspired to see the educators that volunteered their time to teach soldiers. He earned a bachelor’s of arts in criminal justice from Excelsior College and has a master’s in electrical engineering.

During his tours of duty, Chris was deployed to four combat zones and several overseas tours including in Germany and Korea and received the Outstanding Military Volunteer Service Medal. Read more about Chris below!

How did you get involved in coaching?
“While serving, all over the world, the one thing that I’ve always gravitated to was volunteerism and coaching kids in whatever sport that was being offered in that particular area. I began coaching in 1995 in Pirmasens, Germany to a bunch of kids that were just playing at the local center one day. Something in me was sparked to inform the teen center staff that I would like to build a basketball team. From that day forward, I have enjoyed training students in every sport that they choose to devote themselves to.”

What drew you to teaching at Summit Public Schools?
“First and foremost was the college preparatory based curriculum that the students receive helping them to be prepared for higher education. Another great inspiration for me was to build something within the Summit community. The faculty here at Summit Olympus supports me 150 percent and together we are seeing a positive culture being built with our students right before our eyes.”

What do you think about the Tacoma community?
“After retiring from the military at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2013, I decided to continue my volunteerism within Tacoma and surrounding communities. The Tacoma community has so many talented students that continue to blossom throughout local and national news everyday, one would be crazy to leave. “

What do I love most about helping students?
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with lots of great students that have moved on to the collegiate level in their passion; and it just feels great knowing that they are very appreciative of you for all that you did for them along their journey. One of the greatest feelings as a coach, teacher or mentor is watching the student athlete develop, grow and mature into a young adult right before your eyes. I wouldn’t want to do any other job in the world.”

Do you have a coach that made a positive impact in your life? Tell us your story in the comments.


30 Oct

New Faculty Spotlight at Summit Sierra High School

We are excited to welcome Summit Sierra’s new college and career readiness teacher, Cam Tu Nguyen. Cam Tu was born in Vietnam, raised in Tacoma, and is the first in her family to earn a college degree. With the guidance of supportive mentors, she was awarded the Act Six full ride scholarship to Whitworth University in Spokane. After receiving her Bachelor’s of Arts in Cross-Cultural Studies, Cam Tu wanted to give back to her community by serving two years in AmeriCorps as a high school tutor and mentor for students with the most barriers to college. She went on to receive her Masters of Education at the University of Washington in Tacoma and then began her work in college access.

She has a long track record of success supporting students on their college journey at the College Success Foundation, TRIO, and Rainier Scholars. She is passionate about preparing students for college and their career and is excited to begin her journey at Summit Sierra High School. Outside of work, Cam Tu loves to dance and is a salsa instructor at Salsa N’ Seattle.

What drew you to teaching at Summit?
Summit’s model has key components to what I believe are essential to student success. This includes a small learning community with capacity for teachers to be mentors and focus on relationship building with students. Summit also prioritizes college and career readiness, thus providing students with the skills to help them excel post-graduation.

What do you think about the Seattle community?
When I was young, my family and I would drive up from Tacoma to visit our favorite restaurants in the International District almost every weekend. I grew to love the Seattle community and has made it my home over the last four years. The city is so diverse and laid back that I believe anyone can find a community to belong.

What do you love most about helping students?
The relationship building aspect is very important to me. I love to learn about their stories and watch them develop their identity and goals over time. That’s why I think I gravitate towards working with upperclassmen in high school or college because I can help them transition after they’ve hit their milestones.

09 Oct


Quick. Name your favorite teacher from your own student days.

Do remember your teacher’s name?
What grade level were you, when that teacher made an impact on your life?
Can you recall whether that teacher taught history or maybe PE?

It probably took a moment to flash back to the exact time, place and even a cherished memory of you and that teacher. At Summit Public Schools, we believe that after family, teachers are often the most important adult role model in a child’s life. Setting goals, developing good study habits, problem solving – even learning to work with others. Many of these skills are mastered during the school day.

At Summit Public Schools, we know the value of positive adult role models on student development. One of the distinguishing features of Summit’s approach to learning and teaching is the value we place on mentorship. So much so that we build mentorship into our curriculum and set aside time during each school day for mentorship.

“Each student is given a mentor cohort that they meet with on a weekly basis,” said Jacob Leon, an 11th grade mentor and AP Language and Composition teacher at Summit Olympus. “This connection helps students make friendships early in the year. It also provides students with an adult that they can trust and confide in. As a mentor, I can advocate for my students to other teachers and help guide them through academic and social struggles.”

At Summit Olympus, mentors and mentees are heading into their third year of support, listening, goal-setting, and accountability. Both students and our faculty at this Tacoma public charter high school learn and grow from this relationship. Jacob said that he loves working with students and that it has been amazing to watch them grow from teens to young adults. He’s also learned about what it means to be an effective mentor to his students.

“My advice to new mentors would be make sure you check in with each mentee equally,”Jacob said. “It’s really easy to focus your time on the student that is behind, but the beauty of mentorship is that you can push the students that are on track to be better versions of themselves. Also use mentor time to get to know your mentees on a personal level, their likes, their dislikes, their passions, their fears. That information can then be shared across your school with teachers and administrators to make the student feel connected to the school.”

Want to see mentorship at a Summit school in action? Check out this great video of Aukeem Ballard, who grew up in Tacoma, Wash. Aukeem is a member of the faculty at Summit Prep and was called a changemaker by Edutopia for his work helping students succeed in school and life.

Who was your favorite teacher? Got a favorite memory or life lesson?
Tell us in the comments below


28 Sep

Learning about each other outside of the classroom

Over the past 15 years, Summit Public Schools have developed a few traditions. None more cherished than the annual camping trip for students.  

Toward the end of every summer, the faculty, and a myriad of parent volunteers, embark on a two day excursion with the students. This annual event is often cited by alumni as central to their Summit identity and involvement with their campus community.

Bringing faculty, families and students together and enjoying the great outdoors that Washington state offers is a great foundation for our vibrant and growing school communities. Highlights certainly include delicious food, listening for owls and watching the stars at night, a game of flag football, songs by the campfire, and s’mores, of course. But what make this camping trip unique, is teachers using a shared experience like camping as a method for building community and school culture.

We’ve found that the simple act of camping gives students an opportunity to expand outside their comfort zones and get to know each other deeply. For many of our students this is their first time going camping. Many say it’s one of their favorite experiences at Summit.

Over the course of two days, faculty members lead students in self-discovery and team building activities. The work is balanced with lots of fun activities, culminating in a student-led talent show. This year’s showcase included origami skills, beat boxing, dancing and magic tricks.

At the end of their trip, students attending Summit Sierra in Seattle’s International District, expressed their gratitude for their peers, faculty and the families for making the camping trip a positive experience. Asked about her students’ experiences, Katie Bubalo, principal at Summit Atlas in West Seattle, said, “We are so grateful to have such a warm, welcoming community here at Atlas.” She went on to add, “It truly takes all of us to make it happen–students, teachers, family, and community partners. We can’t wait for our next trip together!”

Have you had an experience that helped you expand outside your comfort zone and grow? Tell us about it the comments below.

17 Aug

Community Celebrates the Opening of Summit Atlas

Nearly 200 families, students and community leaders from West Seattle, White Center and surrounding communities joined us in officially opening Summit Atlas.

“Our community has worked side by side with Summit over the past two years to help shape the culture of this new school from the ground up,” said long time West Seattle resident and Summit Public Schools board member Shirline Wilson. “We welcome families and students to their new school. A school that will help close opportunity gaps and give our kids an education that will prepare them for the rigors of college, and become contributing members of society.”

The founding class of 9th graders starts school on August 21 followed by 6th graders the following day. Over the next four years, the school will grow to serve grades 6 to 12. Summit Atlas is our second Seattle location for Summit Public Schools and third in the Puget Sound region. Summit Sierra High School in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District and Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma will serve grades 9 through 11 in the 2017-18 school year, eventually rolling up to a full 9 to 12 grade school. All Summit schools are tuition-free and open to all students.

“I’m so excited for my 6th grader and 9th grader to start their first day of school at Summit Atlas,” said West Seattle resident, Bahsan Ibrahim. “I have been looking for a school that would be the right fit for my family and believe I found it at Summit Atlas.”

Summit Public Schools prepares a diverse population of students for success in a four-year college or university by ensuring high-quality teaching meets each student’s individual needs, including collaborative project time, personalized learning time, elective expeditions to explore their passions, and one-on-one mentor time.

At the event, students and families from the community helped cut the ceremonial ribbon, then toured the school grounds and classrooms. They also heard from the principal of Summit Atlas about the school’s values and commitment to the community.

“At Atlas, we will always keep our doors open and have high expectations coupled with loads of love for every student every day,” said Katie Bubalo, Founding Principal and Executive Director at Summit Atlas. “We are excited to collaborate with our neighbors at other schools and community members and invite anyone and everyone to join our school family.”

Learn more about Summit Atlas at http://atlas.summitps.org/

08 Aug

The Science of Summit: School Models that Drive Student Success

This post originally was featured on the Summit Learning Blog

Today, Summit Public Schools is very proud to announce the release of The Science of Summit, a groundbreaking white paper 15 years in the making. The Science of Summit is our effort to share what we believe about young people, about the promise of public education, and about principles for school design rooted in the science of learning.

Since our founding in 2003, we have held ourselves accountable to a vision that every student should be equipped to lead a fulfilled life. We’ve worked in partnership with nationally acclaimed learning scientists, researchers, and academics to develop a model that supports that vision. It combines our core values, what science tells us on how students learn best, and cutting-edge research into a school experience that is tailored to every community’s needs. Today, we share this work with you.

Measurable Outcomes that Drive Student Success

Every single element of our model is grounded in what science tells us about how students learn best. In The Science of Summit, we translate the science of learning into the intentional design of our schools to achieve student success in four outcomes: Cognitive Skills, Content Knowledge, Habits of Success, and Sense of Purpose.

Summit Learning Student Outcomes

Through the cited research below and many more references in the white paper, we describe how:

•Cognitive Skills, such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are skills essential for success in college and career, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Multiple prominent curriculum frameworks and standards — Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and the Center for Curriculum Redesign — advocate teaching these skills. We prioritize Cognitive Skills in grading above all else. Working with Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), we developed a single Cognitive Skills Rubric to assess student work. The rubric outlines 36 Cognitive Skills such as asking questions, interpreting data, and synthesizing sources. Students spend the majority of class time immersed in real-world projects that require this higher-order thinking.

•Students need a broad Content Knowledge base in order to put Cognitive Skills to work, as outlined in research from The ABCs of How We Learn. Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, tells us students must understand academic subjects more deeply than a web search can provide. We enable students to advance through material at their own pace and move on only when they demonstrate proficiency, in line with findings from Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and scientist Todd Rose.

•Social-emotional learning is inextricably linked to academic learning. Students need Habits of Success — a set of skills, mindsets, dispositions and behaviors grounded in the social nature of learning. To prepare our students for college and career success, we adopted prominent educational psychologist K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard’s 2016 Building Blocks for Learning as our framework. It outlines 16 key social-emotional learning skills for comprehensive student development.

•Students need more than a diploma upon graduation; they need a Sense of Purpose. Research from William Damon, Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, tells us students thrive when they understand their interests, values, and skills and have a credible path after high school. To achieve this vision, we incorporate weekly 1:1 mentoring and goal-setting into our approach. By tracking goals weekly with mentors, students cultivate the “why” behind school and develop an inner compass for life after high school.

Our Framework for Designing a School Model

Beyond detailing evidence for each of our student outcomes, The Science of Summit presents a framework for designing school models aligned to a school’s articulated purpose of education and grounded in evidence.

The Aligned School Model Framework was developed at Summit Public Schools.

The Aligned School Model Framework 
presents six steps for designing a school model that consistently and reliably predicts success for all students when implemented effectively. We used this framework to inform the design of our own model and hope it will be helpful for the greater education community.

This framework is critical to ensuring Summit schools meet the needs of all students. We hope it can do the same for others across the nation, and encourage our peers to use this framework to articulate their own school models.

And finally, we invite the education community to collaborate with us, learn with us, and teach us. We hope educators everywhere will use the ideas we present in The Science of Summit to serve their communities. Please join us on this journey to support all students.

Download the full white paper now to read more about the science behind our approach and the framework we used to design our school model.

28 Jul

Sneak peek at new Summit Atlas in West Seattle

Construction crews are finishing work on the new charter public school, which opens to students August 21

The building once housed a Safeway grocery store, and then a church. Now, it’s the home of Seattle’s newest charter public school: Summit Atlas.

On Friday, members of the media and a few families and students joined Summit leaders for a hard hat tour to see the changes to the building at the Southwest corner of 35th and Roxbury, which will open its doors Aug. 21 to students.

“I really like all the open spaces and the bright colors,” said Vega Rietberg, 13, who will be attending 9th grade at Summit Atlas.

Like Summit’s other schools in Puget Sound – Summit Sierra High School in the International District and Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma – the school is bright, cheery and has flexible space for students. Classrooms have rolling garage doors that allow them to open up into a larger common space, giving teachers flexibility when projects require collaboration.

Principal Katie Bubalo said the teaching staff is excited about the space, which complements the school’s focus on core academics, personalized learning and providing every student with an adult mentor. The school is close to fully enrolled, and its student population reflects the diversity of the West Seattle and White Center communities it serves.

“This is an incredible community with incredible kids who deserve an incredible education,” Bubalo said. “At Summit, 99% of our graduates were accepted into college this school year. I can’t wait to work in partnership with our families, students, and teachers to ensure the story is the same at Atlas. College success and service to others–that is what we will be working toward and working on every day in this awesome building.”

The new school starts with sixth grade and ninth grade, and will eventually serve students in 6-12th grades. Sado Awad, mother to 11-year-old Kadar Mahamud, said she is excited to have this new public school option in her neighborhood.

“It’s a new school with a lot of good opportunities,” she said.

The school will also focus on giving back to the community with time on Fridays set aside for community service opportunities for students. During the tour, Bubalo said the school will focus on the 3 C’s: college success, community service, and building character.

Construction is financed by the nonprofit Pacific Charter School Development. James Heugas, the regional director of the PCSD, said his team is proud of the work done to create a unique and modern building out of a former grocery store. As the school grows, the building will add another wing to accommodate students.

All Summit schools are tuition-free and open to all students. There are still a few seats left. Learn more about Summit Atlas at http://atlas.summitps.org/

Summit Atlas will hold its official ribbon cutting on Wednesday, Aug. 16 from 5-6:30 p.m.