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!

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