In 2000, A Group Of Parents From Silicon Valley Asked:

“WHAT HAPPENED?” WHAT HAPPENED
TO THE AMERICAN PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL?
AND WHAT CAN WE DO TO FIX IT?

Aukeem Ballard

Summit Prep
Redwood City, California

Subject: Social Studies

Education: MA in Teaching, Lewis & Clark College
BA, Lewis & Clark College, Rhetoric & Media Studies, Minor in English

WHO WE ARE • TEACHERS » Aukeem Ballard

Why Summit?

Before I began at Summit, I was in graduate school. In the application for the program, I was asked where I saw myself in five years. I wrote that I saw myself teaching in a classroom in which I was sitting in the back learning the lesson from a student. Now that I’m at Summit, I see how the pieces can come together for me to be able to do that.

I decided to teach at a Summit because of the focus on project-based learning and mentoring. Summit allows teachers to think critically about the job we’re doing and to ask ourselves hard questions about the efficacy of our teaching practices and our school model.

How would you describe the students at Summit?

I have come to believe that no student has a bad relationship with learning or education. Some students, however, do have a bad relationship with school. At Summit, students have good relationships with learning. They have a good relationship with school. Students feel that they belong here even when they are struggling academically or demonstrating some off-task behaviors. 

What makes Summit different from traditional environments?

The classrooms at Summit build positive relationships instead of neutralizing negative ones. I think that’s a dynamic that is not found in many schools. This is what is built for students here.  The mentoring program is another differentiator because it provides students a point person with whom they can unpack the school experience. Lots of schools miss this. At Summit we have decided that giving students individual support is so important that we structure the student’s actual school day around it.

How would you describe teacher collaboration at Summit?

At Summit, I’m pushed and challenged to not only be effective in my classroom but also to support others in doing the same.  We meet regularly in a  number of differently composed teams.  One team is our Course Level Team (CLT) in which we meet with other teachers across our entire network who teach the same course.  Meeting with other Social Studies teachers means that I can leverage the expertise and partnership of my colleagues and dramatically reduce time spent developing curriculum.

In our CLTs, we often go beyond just meeting with one another.  For example, a fellow teacher and I worked together to shape what the beginning of our academic year would look like.  We brainstormed ideas for how to intentionally build community in the classroom and have that translate into student outcomes.  She pushed me to think in a more structured way that is tied to the curriculum and I pushed her to identify ways we could bring student’s experiences into their coursework.

Where do you see yourself in another five years?

Two years ago I would have said being taught by students, and now I’ve been able to do that at Summit. I’m very lucky. I get to do what I love for a living. I know I will be working with kids in five years in some capacity. Eventually, I want to complete a PhD program that allows me to research the intersection of Rhetoric and Education/Pedagogy/Instruction.  I want to look at how deficit frameworks translate into instructional practices and how those practices impact student development and learning. 

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