Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Students participated in a mock United Nations debate about contraceptives in Advanced Placement environmental science.
Readying students for college is one of the core missions of Summit Preparatory High School in Redwood City and has helped land it on the top of the list of schools that prepare the highest percentage of Latino students for university.
Innovate Public Schools released its second report, with 2012 data, on student achievement in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, “Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley” in December. The report shows many schools in Silicon Valley are not meeting preparing enough Latino and low-income students to be eligible for college, while Summit had the top percentage of Latino students with eligibility for state universities, who also graduate in four years. Latinos make up 38 percent of K-12 enrollment in the two counties’ public schools, according to the report. In the counties, just 20 percent of Latinos and 22 percent of blacks graduate in four years with the credits to attend a University of California or California State University campuses, compared to 71 percent of Asians and 53 percent of whites, the report states.
Three other Peninsula cities also topped the list of schools which a large percentage of the Lation population are eligible for four years colleges. Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy landed at number four with 62 percent of its Latino students eligible for state universities, while Capuchino High School in San Mateo was number 9 with 35 percent being eligible for these colleges. Half Moon Bay High School landed at 10 with 32 percent being eligible for UC and CSU.
With just more than 400 students, the 10-year-old Sequoia Union High School District charter school’s small structure is important so each student can be personally known, said Penelope Pak, executive director of the school.
Students are selected by blind lottery, with 100 added per year and about 550 applying. The school is 49 percent Latino, 12 percent are English language learners and 38 percent are eligible for free or reduced price meals. In 2012, 90 percent of the Latino students at the school graduated in four years and were eligible for the UC or CSU system. High school graduates who aren’t UC or CSU eligible can go to low-cost community colleges, which offer job training and general education courses that can be the start of a bachelor’s degree. Almost 75 percent of college-going Latinos in California and two-thirds of blacks enroll in community colleges, but few complete a vocational certificate or a two-year degree, much less a bachelor’s degree, the report states.
“We set those high college ready standards for every student,” Pak said. “When you set those expectations, they rise up to the occasion. Since it’s a small student population, they have close personal relationships with mentors which allows us to spend a lot of time understanding them individually as students.”
Every student is on an Advanced Placement track, as each student is required to take six of the college credit garnering classes before graduation. Each student must take at least one of the accompanying Advanced Placement tests as well.
“We fundamentally believe every student should have a college preparatory education,” Pak said.
Senior Leslie Aviles of East Palo Alto is currently taking five Advanced Placement classes and said she came into the school really nervous.
“I really didn’t take education seriously,” she said. “I struggled freshmen and sophomore years and learned from that. All the support from mentors and counselors has been really helpful.”
Now, she says she is hoping to go to University of San Francisco to study to become a nurse.
“I have really big dreams now,” she said. “I realized I love helping people and I realized that through the Summit community.”
As a charter school, teachers try to incorporate a lot of project-based learning. For example, 10th graders are now working on a project to connect what they’ve learned in history class about World War II to English class by writing their own dystopic novels. There’s then a robust peer editing process.
Summit is one of six schools in a network of small charter schools in California called Summit Schools. Everest is the next closest school geographically since it’s also in Redwood City. Summit was the first school built in the network, while next newest will open in Richmond during the 2014-15 school year. The East Bay school will house those in grades seven through 12. In 2015, the Summit network will break out of California with a school in Seattle.
Pak said the school has the benefit of giving teachers 40 professional development days over just three days that most other schools’ teachers receive.
Bobby Cupp, a 10th-grade world history teacher, is in his third year at Summit and said the staff development is definitely a perk and he believes the vision of the school really helps students succeed. He previoulsy worked at a traditional comprehensive school and said there wasn’t the core belief in the school that every student could succeed.
“It really does make a difference,” said Cupp, who is advisor to the 12th-graders. “It allows us to improve our craft ... College success starts with the attitude of the school. It’s designed around the idea that every student can go on to college.”
Others schools lack the resources to help students in the way Summit does, he said. He also sees Aviles as a great example of how a school can help a student focus on academics.
“She had this attitude, or belief, that school was just something she wasn’t a thing for her,” Cupp said. “She avoided scrutiny; it’s common in communities without a college culture. Leslie discovered her interest in helping other people here.”
The full report can be downloadedat innovateschools.org/files/IPS_Report-2013_v10-ONSCREEN.pdf.
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