11 Jun

My name is Jalen Johnson. I’m a junior at Summit Sierra

This originally appeared on the Washington Charter Schools Association Blog

Let’s flash back to 8th grade. I was a quiet and anxious kid, feeling defined and constrained by my diagnoses of Autism and ADHD. I was a B/B- student, and not hopeful about my prospects for college – and I know that a lot of kids who look like me, kids who have the challenges I have, too often don’t make it.

As a Black student in the public education system, historically and systemically, the odds are not in my favor. Then I found Summit Sierra – and high school has been exponentially better than I imagined it could ever be for me. Today, I have a 3.9 GPA, and I am thriving in my school community.

My courses are challenging, but what keeps me going is the nonstop support I receive from teachers like my mentor Mr.Sobiek, who on the very first week of school made a trip to each of his mentees homes, just to meet us, and learn how to best support us.

My teachers here are so committed, selfless, and passionate about my success. When I ask my Math teacher Ms. Temes a question on polynomial division I am dumbfounded at how any one person can be so enthusiastic about math! And my English teacher – Ms. Visperas – every morning and every afternoon, she dedicates time to help me prep for my AP exam.

Today, college is well within my reach. To say that Sierra has transformed me is no exaggeration. This time next year, I’ll know where I am going to college! My top choice is UC Berkeley. I think I’d like to study urban planning. College will be challenging but I’m not scared – Sierra has taught me to have grit and persevere.

I see myself and other students of color thriving at Summit. This is how every school should be – our success should be the norm, not the exception. I don’t know how things would have played out for me had I not found Sierra, but what I do know is that it has forever changed me, and I know that I’m worth it.

Because of Sierra, the unsure kid I once was has been replaced with a confident and comfortable young man. WE ALL deserve an equal opportunity to a great public education. And for me and so many kids like me, charter public schools provide exactly that – an opportunity to succeed.

The testimony above was originally shared by Jalen on May 17th, 2018, at a press conference in Olympia.

22 May

Award Winning Sierra Students Share Their Story, Amplify their Voice

Two Summit Sierra High School students received first and second place in the We.App’s Rising Voices Oratory Competition. Congratulations to Oscar Cortes, an 11th grader, who finished first and N’dalo Mawamba, a 10th grader, who finished second. Along with Oscar and N’dalo, 10th grader Torin Petke also participated in the event. Watch Oscar’s and N’dalo’s award winning performances below!

Summit Sierra High School students participate in expedition courses that are taught by experts in their field and community organizations that have a long standing commitment to the community and young people. Expeditions also give students the opportunity to engage with organizations in our community.

One of the groups the school works with helps students learn and succeed in a skill most fear – public speaking. Established in 2012, We.App stands for we act, present and perform and provides public speaking and performance art courses, teaching youth the art of authentic communication by giving them a voice to impact the world.

Throughout the academic year, Sierra students gained skills such as critical thinking, improvisation and presentation and projection to help them write and perform a speech. Every day of their courses  filled with rewriting and rehearsing their speech and thinking about their own voice and how they want to communicate their message.

The students participated in an oratory competition with students from other Seattle schools. This was Oscar’s second year participating in the competition and was one of the students featured in this KUOW story last year.

Congratulations to Oscar, N’dalo, and Torin on sharing your voice and story with the community!

15 May

Student-led club gives back, help save lives

Students can find which causes they are passionate about through many different avenues. Some find it in the classroom, while others discover their passions during an internship. At our schools, our faculty give students the freedom to pursue their interests with student-led clubs.

During National Volunteer Week, one of the student-led clubs at Summit Sierra in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District organized nearly 40 students and teachers to roll up their sleeves at the second annual Summit Sierra High School Blood Drive. The amount of blood donated by the Summit Sierra community is enough to save approximately 60 lives!

“The blood drive is a way for Sierra students to get active in causes we care about and have a positive impact in the community and our school,” said Jibrel Isse, a 9th grader.

The blood drive was organized by the school’s Activism Club, a student-led service group, to benefit Bloodworks Northwest, a non-profit organization harnessing donor gifts to provide a safe, lifesaving blood supply to more than 90 northwest hospitals.

Student organizers say the Activism Club’s goal is to create opportunities for students to get involved in their community and make a change. The club is brainstorming ideas for future community service activities in the coming months.

“I’m so impressed by the compassion and hard work of the students,” said Ms. Crystal Visperas, an 11th grade AP Language teacher. “Organizing the blood drive takes time, but they happily do it because they know what a difference in makes and how much it helps others in the community,”

The activism club did everything from outreach, to coordinating with Bloodworks Northwest, to scheduling and checking in students at the blood drive – transferable skills that the students will benefit from in college and career.

“The students did a great job organizing the blood drive,” said Cecily Nagel, donor resources representative at Bloodworks Northwest. “This is the second blood drive we’ve worked with these students on and I always come away impressed with their spirit of giving back.”

Summit Sierra students are also learning how they can be contributing members of their community. Other Summit students have organized a food drive for a community food bank and won an award for their volunteer service in Tacoma. These activities are not only building relationships in school between students and faculty, but also building bonds with the neighborhoods and community members our schools serve.

Do you want to learn more about how we connect the communities we serve with our students and faculty? Schedule a school visit or learn more about Summit Sierra, Summit Atlas, and Summit Olympus today.

09 May

Writing an essay in Mr. Leon’s class

Do you remember writing a book report in high school? Do you remember sitting at your desk at home after school, turning the essay into your teacher and getting a grade back with a few notes written in the margins?

In Jacob Leon’s, class things are different. Students are engaged from the start, get feedback along the way, go at their own pace and are in charge of their own learning.

Mr. Leon is a founding teacher and student mentor at Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma, WA where he teaches Advanced Placement (AP) English. At Summit Olympus High School every student takes at least six AP courses and one AP exam before graduation. Jacob’s students wrote a literary analysis about the theme and the plot of the book the Great Gatsby.

Each day the class read a chapter and discussed a chapter in the book. Once the students finished the book, they wrote their first draft of their essay. Like most first drafts, it gets revised with feedback and one-on-one help. Jacob meets with each student to review their essay and make it stronger by citing evidence from the book to backup their writing and show they understand the book.

“I want my students to be good writers, but also know good writing when they see it,” Mr. Leon, a Tacoma native said. “It’s important that they are always growing so they are set up for success when they go onto the next grade.”

After the first meeting, the student takes a few days to revise their first draft in class and tighten the structure and organization of their essay. During this time, students work independently and at their own pace. Mr. Leon checks in with each student during the class on their progress and help each student one-on-one. Students are encouraged to ask for help when they need it. Teaching students to advocate for themselves will help them succeed in college when there aren’t teachers there to check in on them on a regular basis.

Students are also encouraged to collaborate with other students to improve their writing. While meeting deadlines is encouraged, Jacob knows that some students will need a extra help along the way to master concepts. In Jacob’s class the focus of the grade is learning the content and the skills, not meeting an arbitrary deadline.

“Time management is important, but student growth and mastering concepts is one of the most important things students can learn,” Jacob said. “What they learn in my class doesn’t stop at my classroom door – it’s reinforced in their other classes at Olympus.”

Want to see great teaching and a tight knit student community in action? Schedule a visit to Summit Olympus today. Learn more, schedule a tour, or enroll your child here.

What’s your favorite book and what lesson did you learn from its theme? Tell us your story in the comments.

08 May

Thank you to our teachers

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Summit Public Schools wants to express how thankful we are and how much respect we have for the work teachers do every day in the classroom to help students succeed in school, college, and life.

If you visit any classroom at Summit Sierra, Summit Atlas, or Summit Olympus, you will see teachers:

•  Engaging and challenging students to reach their goals and do their very best.

•  Mentoring and supporting students through good and challenging times.

•  Introducing students to new activities and ideas that help them find their passions and causes they care deeply about.

Every day, teachers are working hard to meet each student where they are to personalize their instruction and meet the needs of every child in their classroom. Teachers also make sure every student knows that they are known and cared for. Our teachers are truly making a difference in students’ lives and futures.

At Summit, our teachers are also teaching students what it means to be a contributing member of their community. Whether it’s volunteering at the White Center Food Bank, organizing a blood drive or volunteering at a nonprofit, these experiences show students the positive impact they can have on their own communities.

As our schools grow, we will be welcoming more amazing teachers to the Summit family. The growth and success of our schools is made possible because by the dedication of our teachers to serve our students and families everyday. Thank you for all you do for our students, families, and the communities we serve.

10 Apr

How Students and Mentors are Building Trust at Atlas

When you were growing up did you have a friend or group of friends that were by your side throughout your middle and high school years?

At Summit Public Schools not only does every student have a mentor that stays with them throughout their time at school, but every student has a mentor group that sticks together. At Atlas these mentor groups are called pods, just like the family groups that Orca whales swim in.

“Each pod group has each other’s back,” said Nick Woodruff a history teacher and pod leader at Summit Atlas. “It’s a really cool, tight bond they have. They are a support system and also hold each other accountable.”

Mentor groups are one of the many reasons Dawn Clafin chose Summit Atlas for her son. She liked the idea that he would have a mentor and a group of students that would stick together throughout his time at Summit. Dawn added that it was encouraging for her to send her son to a new school with new students knowing someone was looking out for her child’s social and emotional wellbeing and growth.

Tahlia Calderon, a 6th grader, likes how her mentor group is a safe place where the group of students can share their feelings and challenges and won’t be judged and that they will listen to each other.

At least once a week each pod has circle. Circle is a time where the students, in their pod groups can talk about their week, what’s going on in their life and what’s coming up.

“What I like about circle is you feel you have a connection with everyone in my pod that’s unbreakable,” said Khalid Hussein, a 9th grader at Summit Atlas.

Abdirahman Mukhtar, a 6th grader at Atlas, has circle every Friday with his pod. During circle his pod uses the time to get to know each other better and check in on what’s going on in their lives.

“It feels good because everybody wants to know how you’re doing,” Abdirahman said. “If you’re doing bad then everybody is going to try to help you and feel better.”

Positive adult mentors and a close knit student community have great benefits for student development. When students feel connected and feel like they can trust their school faculty and friends they have a support system that can help them succeed in school and life.

Want to see mentorship and a tight knit student community in action? Schedule a visit to Summit Atlas today. Summit Atlas is enrolling 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th graders for the next school year. Learn more, schedule a tour, or enroll your child here.

Did you have a group of friends or a mentor that helped you on your pathway? Share your story in the comments.

29 Mar

Hamilton helps student conquer her fears

It’s not every day that you get to sing a song in front of thousands of students at a theater where some of biggest music acts in the world once performed, but that’s just what Louveda Lee, an 11th grader at Summit Olympus High School in Tacoma, did.

Louveda and other 11th graders from Summit Olympus and Summit Sierra had the exclusive opportunity to participate in the Hamilton Education Program. Along with getting to see a performance of Hamilton the Musical, the students took a course where each student created an original performance piece based on what they learned as their final project.

“When I first saw the requirement that I would have to perform in front of others it terrified me,” Louveda said. “I almost didn’t participate, but I thought not seeing Hamilton would be something I’d regret and it gave me the motivation to complete the project.”

Louveda first heard about the opportunity to participate in the program during her calculus class and was immediately interested. She then asked her AP History teacher, Carrie Crain, for more information.

“History has always been one of my most challenging classes,” Louveda said. “When I was thinking of the lyrics for my song it made reading the words in the book more fun when I put a tune to them. I was teaching myself a new way to learn.”

Louveda first performed the song for her teacher, who told her she’d submit the song, but she never thought she’d be chosen to perform.

Practicing her song in front of family and friends to prepare for performing in front of thousands of students also helped build her confidence. When the day came to perform her song she was nervous and also impressed with how great the performers before her.

“This experience taught me that while I thought I had the worst stage fright and told myself so many times that I couldn’t do it, thanks to the support of my friends and family and my own determination I was able to get through it,” Louveda said. “It felt amazing afterwards just knowing that I had been able to get over that and make everyone proud.”

Experiences like this is just an example how Summit Olympus shapes self-directed learners. Summit students are encouraged and coached by teachers to develop the different facets of self-directed learning – Challenge Seeking, Persistence, Strategy-Shifting, Response to Setbacks, and Appropriate Help Seeking.

“I think this experience forced all the students to conquer one fear or another,” said Mrs. Crain. “My goal throughout the year is to give them the skills they need to read complicated text, and write at a level that is college ready, ultimately giving them the confidence to overcome their fear.”

For many of the Olympus and Sierra students that got to see Hamilton it was more than a day in downtown Seattle, it was a learning experience they will never forget.

“The truly best part was seeing the faces of the students after,” said Mrs. Crain. “They laughed, they cried, they were in awe. At the end of the day they were able to make meaningful connections to American history and apply it to the current political climate.”



15 Mar

Summit Sierra Named a Finalist for a Top School Design Award

Summit Sierra High School finished as one of the finalists for the 2018 Learn By Design competition at SXSWedu.

“We’re incredibly honored by this recognition,” said Myron Kong, Director of Real Estate and Facilities for Summit Public Schools. He went on to add, “we spend a lot of time thinking about how to create a diverse array of educational spaces that support our students and Summit Learning. This recognition is strong affirmation that we are designing innovative spaces.”

Ten projects from Seattle to Japan were selected as finalists for the 2018 Learn by Design competition. The competition spans PreK- 12 to higher education and recognizes groundbreaking work in the design of physical learning environments and how it impacts pedagogy and learning outcomes.

“One of the things I enjoy most about this school is how it was set up to support students whether collaborating, learning, or bonding with their teachers and classmates,” said Malia Burns, founding principal of the school. “It’s a space that enhances community, teaching and learning.”

Jeffrey Vu an 11th grader and founding student at Summit Sierra added, “The design of the school makes the environment extremely welcoming. I really like this school. I like the bright colors and the open spaces feel comfortable.”

Summit Sierra High School offers a personalized learning model, where students work at their own pace, progressing once they’ve shown competency in a subject. Summit Sierra is a charter public high school. All Summit schools are state approved, tuition-free and open to all students. Personalized learning is supported through design of spaces in the school that encourage a diverse, dynamic spectrum of activities including:

•In class, students experience adaptable learning environments that can shift from collaboration to individual teaching and learning. Large glass garage doors can connect individual classrooms with the open spaces.
•Larger collaborative spaces are complemented by seminar rooms and smaller rooms, which are used for a wide array of individual quiet study time and small group activities.

“Collaborating with Summit Public Schools helped produce a space that stimulates active learning,” said Philip Riedel, principal architect at NAC Architecture. “The design of Summit Sierra High School compliments the great teaching, sparks creativity and supports impromptu collaboration.”

16 Feb

Navigating the Pathway to College

FAFSA, GET, CBS – the alphabet soup students and families need learn about to prepare for college can be confusing and difficult road to navigate without help, resources and support. At Summit Public Schools, we recognize each student’s journey to college is complex and unique. The process begins months and years before they submit their first college application.We also know that a student’s success in college doesn’t stop once a student receives an acceptance letter.

On a winter night, more than 40 parents, students, and family members gathered at Summit Sierra High School in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District to learn more about preparing for success in a four-year college or university, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society. They had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from college admissions counselors from Seattle Pacific University who gave them tips to apply for financial aid and key dates in the college application process. Families also asked questions about what resources there are to help pay for college on the federal and state level and how they can help their student complete the application process.

College Night is just one way in which Summit’s faculty helps support families and students through the college process. Faculty supports juniors during the registration process from the ACT and SAT test as juniors to helping sophomores with the PSAT test in the spring. At Summit Olympus High School, Summit Sierra High School, and Summit Atlas, every student will take at least six AP courses and two AP exams before graduation. AP courses help prepare students for college-level work and many colleges accept them as college credit, saving students time and money.

Along the way, faculty and students talk about their career goals with their mentor. Every student at Summit has a mentor that serves as college counselor, coach, family liaison, and advocate throughout their school experience. This relationship helps students stay on track to achieve their goals, but also gives them an emotional support as they make their way to graduation and entering college.

Student success in college and career extends far beyond the classroom. We focus on helping students develop in the following four areas that form the foundation for a lifetime of success in and outside of school.

Cognitive Skills – Developing the deeper learning, critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills needed to succeed in today and tomorrow’s workforce.

Content Knowledge – Engaging students in personalized learning, filling learning gaps & moving students towards competency in all subject-areas.

Expeditions – Immersing students in real-world experiences to help them discover and explore passions and careers, and apply their learning in authentic ways.

Habits of Success – Empowering students to engage in self-directed learning and develop key habits that are invaluable for college and life success.

These foundation areas, wrap around services and a faculty dedicated to student success are a significant reason why, historically, 99 percent of Summit’s graduates are accepted at four-year colleges, and Summit graduates complete college at double the national average.

All our Washington schools are currently enrolling students. For more information and to see at an open house or student shadow day how we help students on their way to success in college and life, please visit the school websites below:

Summit Atlas Middle and High School – West Seattle
Summit Olympus High School – Tacoma
Summit Sierra High School – International District, Seattle

What was your biggest challenge applying to college? Tell us in the comments below.

23 Jan

Summit Sierra High School Students Give Back to the Community

Summit Sierra High School in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District sits a few blocks from many other nonprofits, such as a health clinic and an affordable housing nonprofit that helps low-income and vulnerable communities. This spirit of giving back and contributing to the community can also be seen in the classrooms of our high school.

Beyond what students learn in the classroom, Summit Sierra students can lead a club where they can pursue their interests or find a new passion. This school year a group of students have taken the initiative to get engaged with the community that surrounds the school.

The Little Saigon neighborhood is just a block from Summit Sierra. According to the website Ethnic Seattle, Little Saigon grew into a vibrant business area in the 1980’s, following the influx of Vietnamese refugees to Seattle, and other areas of the United States, due to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

This group of students brainstormed ideas of ways they could get involved and learn more about this historic community. They decided to start the Little Saigon Ambassadors club. The goal of the student-driven club is to help build a positive relationship between their school and the community.

The Little Saigon Ambassadors’ first initiative was to collect donations for the Asian Counseling Resource Services food bank located a few blocks from Summit Sierra High School. This is the only food bank in Washington state that regularly distributes foods that cater to Asian American and Pacific Islander diets, including healthy and nutritious staples like rice, tofu and produce.

“My favorite part of the Summit Sierra High School community is there are a lot of friendly people who want to help out each other,” said James Chen, an 11th grader at Summit Sierra High School and president of the Little Saigon Ambassadors.

Little Saigon Ambassadors club delivers donation to the ACRS food bank.

The food drive got off to a good start, but the club realized they could do much more to encourage faculty, students, and families to donate items. The group developed an outreach plan to encourage more donations and participation for the school and reached out to their community outside of the school and soon more donations started to come in.

“The food drive has been a valuable learning moment for the students,” said Dustin Dacuan, the club’s faculty advisor and an English teacher at Summit Sierra. “Along with giving back to the community, they are learning community outreach strategies and engaging their families and friends in their education.”

From providing a neighborhood space for events like the Celebrate Little Saigon festival to supporting other nonprofits at their community events, it’s always been a priority to engage and contribute to a neighborhood that has welcomed our faculty, families and students with open arms. With the great work of the Little Saigon Ambassadors, Summit Sierra High School’s families, students and faculty look forward to continuing a strong relationship with the community and giving students opportunities to learn.

James notes, “I think it is important to give back to the community because it shows who we are as a people and that we want to spread smiles in our community.”

How do you give back to your community? What did you learn from volunteering your time? Tell us your story in the comments!