Summit Academy: up and running

Over the summer, Summit Academy relocated from its South Amherst location to a corner of ARHS that formerly housed English classes, a Culinary Arts program, and a preschool.

Although we now share a building, there is a lot those of us at ARHS don’t know about our neighbors at Summit Academy, whose school is sealed off to ensure privacy via double doors at the end of the ARHS English and language hallways; the school also has its own entrance by the West parking lot.

I entered Summit with my Journalism teacher to see a completely transformed space from the halls that I had walked in previous years. I peeked into classrooms to find small classes of 6-8 students, filled with students’ art and other projects. The song “Sweater Weather” played in the background as the students in a music class learned to play it.

The staff and students have made the environment of the public day school incredibly friendly and they all greeted me warmly as I passed through. What was once the kitchen of ARHS is now the cafeteria of Summit, which leads to the office of Principal David Slovin. Mr. Slovin said Summit Academy is focused on offering students delicious and healthy lunches, of a better quality than they had before the move.

The move, from a separate school building on South East Street, was challenging for those involved.  “We had to pack up and label everything for transfer,” said Summit English teacher Jennifer Chylack, who spent a lot of time in August moving different books and materials for her English classes into place.

But according to Ms. Chylack, the move, and working at Summit, are all worth it. “Summit is a really unique teaching environment,” she said. “I teach a diverse student body and serve a wide range of needs.”

Ms. Chylack explained that she designs her own curriculum for her classes, which are similar to ARHS English course offerings: American Literature, World Literature, Journalism, and Creative Writing. However, Ms. Chylack said that her classes emphasize work in the classroom and reduce homework.

“The students are wonderful to work with. I love the challenge of making literature and writing accessible, interesting, and relevant to students’ lives,” she said. She also described the rest of the staff as dedicated. “They all work really hard to support their students and families,” she noted.

Ms. Chylack’s favorite parts about working at Summit are the collaborative work she does with the staff, as well as the individualized work she does with students. Because of the school’s size, Ms Chylack said that there are many opportunities for teachers to get to know their students very well.

“We try and notice each student every day,” she said. She also believes that the small group environment reduces anxiety and students become more invested in their learning. “And I really enjoy the challenge of curriculum design and integration of new technologies into all of my assignments,” she said.

Ms. Chylack described the relationship between Summit and ARHS as “in transition.” “The move has made us much more aware of each other, and I hope that the increased proximity will lead to an increased understanding of the work taking place on both sides of the doors,” she said.

Principal Slovin also hopes that those on both sides have “more opportunities to communicate and build a relationship.” Mr. Slovin has observed many changes in the school over the years. “Summit has been around for a long time [in some form] to support students that can’t make progress in a traditional school,” said Mr. Slovin, ad he is devoted to “students who want to learn in a different way.”

Mr. Slovin described Summit as a community of people that help and care about each other. “The student always comes first. We really try and look at the individual and get to know how to treat their specific needs,” he said. “We want to be able to help students who deal with a range of things such as anxiety, ADHD, and other obstacles they may face.”

Sierra Romero, a senior at Summit Academy, described Summit as a much more relaxed and calm setting than ARHS. “The class size is a godsend for me; I don’t do very well in a large class,” she said. Romero  attended ARHS in past years, but for her senior year, she made the move to Summit.

She explained that, in a traditional school, she had to take many classes that didn’t work for her.

“I knew I was an intelligent person but I had trouble expressing it on paper,” said Romero. Summit Academy is a much better fit for her and knows that she will be able to succeed. “Summit has a great balance of helping with your home life and your school life and everything in between. I love this school,” she said.

Korie Zigorin, a junior at Summit Academy, attended the school before its move over the summer. “I think the smaller space makes it a lot easier for kids to attend classes than in the past,” he said.“I’ve seen a lot more kids come in to school a lot more days than they have in past years. I don’t know if that has to do with the new location but it’s just something I’ve noticed.”

Zigorin explained his reason for attending Summit Academy. “It has helped me be able to come in, assess how I’m feeling that day, and see what work I can get done,” he said. “If I don’t feel like I can be productive that day, I know there is a space where I can go where I can work through what’s going on.”

Garret Day, a social studies teacher, believes the relocation of Summit is a positive change, too. “Being able to work in a smaller classroom makes it a lot easier to make good connections with your students,” Mr. Day said. He loves the creativity he sees in his students and enjoys seeing them express themselves in their projects for his classes.

One of Mr Day’s favorite parts about the job is staff communication. “We communicate with each other and know when students aren’t feeling their best. In the classroom we can offer them different things to help them, like letting them go to the student support room,” he said.

“As teachers we should be here to offer knowledge and support,” said Mr. Day. According to all interviewed that unique combination is what Summit is all about.