“This makes no sense.”  “I can’t find that page.”  ” I don’t learn this way.”  “I don’t know how to teach myself.”    Students starting the 2017-18 school year objected vocally when they first encountered Summit Learning. Teachers were less blunt in their comments, but they, too, had many questions as we embarked on this new venture. Halfway through the school year, we still have much to learn and improve upon. One might wonder why a school would choose such a path and whether it is worth the fuss.

Some Background

Bader Hillel HIgh (BHH) is a young dual curriculum school that initially utilized a local online charter school, eAchieve Academy for its general studies. eAchieve Academy is outstanding in the breadth and depth of curriculum offered as well as the quality of instructors. However, not all students are good candidates for online learning, and BHH school leaders quickly recognized a need for face-to-face experiences to supplement and enhance their students’ environment. A teacher was hired to support students in their math courses, and science and humanities support staff soon followed. For the 2016-17 school year, I became the school’s first full time Blended Learning Director.

Geometry practice

Enter Summit Learning

When our school administrator shared introductory information about Summit Learning Program (SLP) with me, it was love at first sight. Self-directed, personalized learning with a dynamic curriculum grounded in robust, quantitative research- it seemed like an easy choice. Since BHH already had a general studies staff on site, it made sense to transition to a curriculum that blends live instruction with online curriculum. We visited a school using SLP for grade 9, and liked what we saw. By the end of May 2017, BHH was accepted as an SLP partner school, and the race was on to get ready for 2017-18.

Hitting the (Bumpy) Ground Running

Our team enjoyed superb training from Summit Learning over the summer. We quickly geared up to roll out the new platform for grades 9 & 10. Prepared as we were, there was a steep learning curve while teachers and students worked with the unfamiliar platform. Summit’s platform is elegant, yet one has to work with it awhile to even know the questions to ask.

Compounding the excitement of adopting a new system was the reaction of students enrolled in two distinctly different programs, Summit Learning (gr. 9-10) and eAchieve Academy (gr. 11-12). When the students came in the first day, we hit a huge speedbump: Students viewed the introduction of Summit Learning as splitting up their school, and indeed, they were no longer all enrolled in the same school for general studies.There was a decrease in time for multigrade groups to hang out together, and the juniors and seniors were envious of the amount of time Summit students spent with teachers. It took months for some to accept these changes.

Within minutes of complaints about the “split school” came questions about the credibility of Summit Learning. Try telling a group of teenagers about this amazing, well-researched program when all they see is unfamiliar language (Focus Areas, Cognitive Skills, Concept Units) and a completely foreign grading system! My love for Summit Learning did not impress the tenth graders who had begun eAchieve last year and wished to stay with the familiar. My colleagues and I worked hard to help them adapt to SLP. Looking ahead, BHH students will enroll part-time in eAchieve when they need a course that we cannot provide, and I look forward to a continued partnership with the online school that provided the school its initial general studies program.

Conducting a physics experiment

“Hey, Mrs. Berger, I passed my Analogies Focus Area!” “My mom says this will really help me in college.” “My classes are all green!” “My goal today is to turn in my history slideshow.” “I wish they had Summit when I started school.”  The dialogue is shifting. I still hear complaints, but they are fewer and fewer. There is a familiarity that informs student and teacher comments about the program now.