In 2016, I attended the Idaho Middle Level Association Conference and it changed my life. For months prior, my teaching team at Rocky Mountain Middle School had been having serious conversations about how to better reach every student in our classes. We walked into a workshop at the IMLA conference in March 2016 and listened to four teachers from Western Idaho talk about exactly that.
The educators leading the workshop shared how they were reaching every student and preparing them with real-world skills like time management, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, productive struggle, and how to be an appropriate help seeker. They were doing all of these amazing things through Summit Learning – a model that focuses on teaching real world skills through hands-on projects and that includes a mentoring program for every student. We were riveted by the presentation. We immediately scheduled a time to visit their school and asked a million questions. With the support of our administration and school board, we decided to bring real, meaningful, project-based learning to Rocky Mountain Middle School. In August 2016, we opened our doors to a new way of teaching, and we haven’t looked back.
We have been blown away by the success our students have had. Our state test scores have risen, students are engaged, and they are learning skills that will help them in high school, college, and beyond. We have record attendance at student-led conferences, and we are finally reaching every student. If you were to visit one of our classrooms, you would see some variation of teachers leading whole classroom instruction, holding small-group instruction or one-on-one coaching; you would see student-led study groups, peer tutoring, individual studying, and lots of conversations between teachers and students about progress being made.
As a teacher, Summit Learning has been a game changer. However, I’m also in the unique position to have experienced how our program affects students as a parent. I am the proud parent of two daughters who have gone through the program, and they are polar opposites when it comes to their learning styles.
One of my children has always struggled in school; she’s an introvert and has often had to work harder than most to complete her schoolwork. She immediately relaxed when she realized she could take things at her own pace. School was no longer a race with everyone else, as all that mattered was the progress she was making. I watched her go from a shy, apprehensive student to an outgoing, confident learner. By the middle of the year she was forming her own study groups and saying things like “I don’t understand it yet, but I will.” She is now the poster child for perseverance and grit. She left Rocky Mountain Middle School with an arsenal of skills she can use to navigate high school.
My other daughter is a social butterfly and learning has always come more naturally to her. She has a lot of confidence when it comes to school, and quickly realized that with Summit, she’d have to do more than memorize facts in order to succeed. She really struggled at first. She was so used to being spoon-fed information that she didn’t know how to learn on her own. She had to re-learn how to learn, and had to figure out where to get information and when to ask questions. After realizing what she needed to do to succeed, she dug in and got to work. She soon felt empowered and knows she is in charge of her own learning.
It is amazing to watch my daughters thrive and to see them develop skills they didn’t have before. As a mother, I love seeing my girls become advocates for their own education and work on important skills they will need throughout their life. A parent rarely gets to see those day-to-day changes take place. The two years they spent using Summit at Rocky Mountain Middle School have shaped them into better students and stronger people.
As a teacher, Summit Learning has allowed me to help every student reach their full potential. As a mom, it has given my daughters the confidence and knowledge that they can succeed at anything.
Written by Jami McLing, a teacher Rocky Mountain Middle School.