23 Nov

Making core subjects relevant to students: the Summit classroom experience

Kylie-Ford-300x524By Kylie Ford, Summit Olympus biology teacher

Growing up, I loved science. My plan was to go to medical school and become a doctor.

But during my college years, I had summer jobs tutoring other students and serving as a mentor in science programs. I decided to get my Masters in Education and dedicate my career to teaching kids to love science and to love learning.

After teaching in traditional classrooms, I heard about public charter schools and decided the core values of Summit Public Schools really aligned with my views and philosophy that every kid can go to college. I was thrilled to be one of the inaugural teachers at Summit Olympus in Tacoma this year, teaching 9th graders about biology.

I hear from Tacoma parents and kids that they are so happy to have the option of public charter schools. And I am excited that we have the option to show kids different ways to learn. Our classrooms are not lecture style, with rote memorization. Our students learn through projects and hands-on learning. Public charter schools are not for everyone, but it is great for families to have them as an option.

We also focus not only on what we’re learning, but why. I want to make sure students know that even if a career in the field in science is not their calling, the skills they are learning will help them with multiple career paths. Like how to interpret data, the skill of asking questions – those don’t pertain just to scientists. Giving our kids those real world examples of how the core subject courses matter in their lives now and in their future careers is so important. They can still have a stake in my class. They can relate to and care about it.

We have students who are really flourishing. We have some kids already working above grade level, pushing themselves to do more. And then those kids are turning around and helping mentor their peers in certain subjects. It’s such a collaborative, positive environment.

I see some of our students here in Tacoma really thriving with the help of teacher mentors, with the ability to spend time on self-directed learning, and I can’t believe the Supreme Court would deny our kids this opportunity. We were all shocked with their ruling in September, and I remain hopeful that the legislature will find a way to keep our students in school, learning and preparing for college.

For many of our students, college has not been a part of what they envisioned for their futures.

We just got back from a college visit at the University of Puget Sound. One of our students was asking great questions on the tour and told me later that he always felt that some teachers and adults thought “brown and black kids aren’t supposed to make it out of high school.” But now he’s got a team of people who expect him to go to – and succeed at – college. We set high expectations for our students and they are starting to take on those expectations for themselves.

It is possible. As long as public charter schools stay an option for our families and students in Washington state.

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