Summit Learning gives students freedom, teaches responsibility

Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa. - The Summit Learning Academy is not your traditional school. It gives students the power to choose what, when and how they learn.

"Never let your education get in the way of your learning," said Rob Heinrich, the Academic Academy Principal at Greater Johnstown High School.

The Greater Johnstown School District launched the learning platform at Johnstown High School this fall, after receiving a grant through the Summit Public Schools program in California. The grant provided the curriculum and training for teachers, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, for free.

Instead of grades, students get feedback. Instead of formal classes, students can work alone, in small groups or one-on-one with teachers.

"It's not just, this is the assignment. It's, this is the goal, this is what you do to work towards that, now you make it happen," said Tracey King, and English teacher.

Teachers said letting students take charge of their education, helps them become more passionate about learning. Students also learn skills they'll need beyond high school, like critical thinking, self-motivation and time management.

One-hundred and twenty 9th through 12th graders joined the program this year. The transition was difficult for some students and teachers.

"At the beginning, it was a lot of transitions of students who didn't want to be in it who we thought would benefit from it, and students who wanted to be in it who weren't in it. So, we had to work all of that out," King said.

The curriculum is rigorous, yet flexible. It lets students choose their classes and learn at their own pace.

"In a normal classroom, I had to wait for everybody to know what they're doing. Now, I get to go ahead if I already learned what I needed to learn," said Katrina Mauersberg, a 12th grader.

Other students who struggled in a formal learning environment, do well with the new-found academic freedom.

"The Summit teaches us how to learn, instead of what to learn. Knowing what to learn is important, but knowing how to learn is probably the most important tool that we need in the real world," said Miles Hill-Cashaw, a 12th grader.

Heinrich wants to expand the academy next year.

"What I'd like to see is this model be expanded throughout our district and become the way we teach period," Heinrich said.

He said the platform can change learning as we know it and better prepare students for their future.


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