Bay Area high school experiment aims to create super schools

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A show called XQ Super School Live on ABC7 features educators, entrepreneurs and celebrities who have teamed up to change the way America learns by teaching students using personalized education. (KGO-TV)

A groundbreaking effort to re-invent American high school is taking center stage at 8 p.m. on ABC7 Friday, with a show called XQ Super School Live.

Educators, entrepreneurs and celebrities are joining a call to change the way America learns and teaches.

Bay Area-based Summit Public Schools is a small chain of charter schools at the forefront of education innovation.

Summit recently won a $10 million award from the XQ Institute, funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple Founder Steve Jobs.

The money will help Summit refine and expand an experiment in more personalized education that has already begun at five charter high schools Summit operates in the Bay Area.

Issac Gebreysus is a senior at Summit-Shasta High School in Daly City. He started there his sophomore year and admits he was not a particularly motivated student. Now, he loves school. "I don't know how to explain it. It's just, you feel something different when you come to this school" he said.

Summit Shasta is a public school that accepts students at all levels of achievement. All students take a college prep curriculum, but each works at his or her own pace. The secret sauce is in the laptops that every student gets free.

Christine Taliva'a-Aguerre, mother of Summit student, explains "I sign a piece of paper. They give her (daughter) a laptop for the year and that's it. She can do her homework everywhere."

The online learning program was developed with help from Stanford University and Facebook. Instruction is personalized and students take tests when they feel ready. If they fail a test, they study more and keep taking the test until they master the material.

Students set goals for themselves to make sure they complete the required material. Jason Solomon, a senior director of Summit Schools explains, "students are really what we call self-directed in their work. They essentially learn what they want to learn and what they choose to focus on in any particular day or week.

Summit emphasizes independence, but also collaboration, with a lot of class time focusing on group projects.

Physics teacher Andrew McCarty says a big difference between Summit's way of teaching and more traditional schools is that students get a lot of information outside his class. They study on their own, so when they are in class, McCarty explains, "instead of doing the very basic information, we are doing the kind of higher level thinking skills. So they are modeling, they are interpreting data, rather than learning things like definitions."

Even with the sophisticated laptop curriculum, the program depends on dedicated teachers willing to work long hours.

Gebreysus says teachers have office hours and stay after school for two to three hours. "They just help us in any way possible. That really was helpful last year for sure."

Summit Shasta has a lot of activities aimed at building community, and each student is assigned the same mentor teacher for all four years.

Senior Helen So says the result is groups of teachers and students who consider themselves like families and become very close. Helen is about to become the first person in her actual family to attend college.

Summit high schools have shown impressive results, and most have a lottery to get in. Summit Shasta just graduated its first class last spring, and every senior was accepted to a four year college. In addition to the five Bay Area high schools, Summit also runs three other Bay Area schools that start in middle school.

Like all charter schools, Summit gets about the same amount of money for each student as other public schools in their district. All the extras are paid for with fundraising.

Click here for more information about the show.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

Related Topics:
educationhigh schoolschoolstudentscelebrityteachertestscharter schoolSan Francisco
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