One of the things I was most excited about in the AERO conference was the school visits. There were three visits scheduled, and the first school on the list, Summa Academy, was one I’d been hoping to visit anyway this coming year.
They were in the midst of a end-of-year deep clean when we arrived, so we had a tour of the physical layout but couldn’t get a sense of the actual texture of the space. At the time I didn’t think much of that; but the next school I visited was the Renaissance School of Arts and Sciences (more on that in another post), and I realized the difference. In any case, the space was two stories and open, with a central room (the Heart) upstairs surrounded by four classrooms, and more space downstairs: the entrance, a cafeteria, a huge art room, and a couple more good-sized rooms. They also had a couple of fenced-in outdoor areas. They have about the same amount of students as Village Free School (about 60), but quite a bit more space for them.
As for the logistics: students are divided up into age/development-based groups, but each encompasses at least a couple of years and it sounded as though the boundaries between groups are more fluid than those in mainstream school. Their student:teacher ratio is 11:1. Some of the work done is within those groups, but the school also does large-scale group projects which encompass all ages, from 6 to 14. There are no grades and no tests, and the curriculum is considered emergent — in other words, what happens one week will influence what happens the next, within the framework of a larger long-term goal.
The core of Summa seems to be working within a framework of child development, and meeting the developmental needs of children. This emphasis is so important, in fact, that Summa families are given child development training, and are asked to participate in ongoing engagement with the school to ensure that the parents and educators are consistent in how they interact with the child. Every staff person knows every child, and they spend time reviewing where each child is regularly. They also emphasize self-reflection and social-emotional work.
Ba Luvmor, one of the founders, described their academic offerings as providing fields of engagement: there are boundaries around the field, but lots of freedom within those boundaries. They also try hard not to teach about things, but instead to put kids into the middle of things. So for example, a discussion about freedom and what freedoms the kids feel they have can lead to the question of what you’d do to protect those freedoms, which can lead to discussions of revolution, protests, non-violent vs. violent strategies, etc.
There was clearly a great deal to talk about, and the conversation was still going strong when some of us headed to the next school visit. I took away this quote from Ba, in the context of dispelling the notion that childhood was merely a lead-in to adulthood: “When you’re six you have what you need for six-year-old greatness.”