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Summa Academy to open soon

Private school to emphasize personal growth for both students and parenths


A new private school is coming to town — Summa Academy.

Opening in September, Summa Academy is an extension of the Summa Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 1985 designed to promote awareness of child development. Its original location, on the outskirts of Nevada City, Calif., was closed in 2003 due to a decrease in interest in and funding for personal development.

Now, almost 10 years later, Summa has reborn in South Portland, a welcome development.

Will Fuller, chairman of the Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc. (SWNI) Schools Committee, says, "The SWNI Schools Committee supports having a good range of education opportunities, public or private, for all kindergarten through 12th Grade students in the SWNI area."

To Executive Director Amber Kara, the new location was a no-brainer.

“There is something about Portland: it’s like we’re a city of innovators, people who are not afraid to try to start something new or to come forward with a vision or an idea. They’re actually kind of excited about that and stimulated by it and they want to get involved, and so it seemed like a really good fit that way, because what we’re doing is not mainstream if you will, it’s definitely a little bit different. It’s talking about and looking at children differently,” she says.

Certainly, Summa Academy’s teaching model is unique even compared to other private schools in the area.

“Everything we do here at Summa is founded on the principles of Natural Learning Relationships, which is a child development model that looks at the whole child and how the child develops emotionally, cognitively, intellectually, socially ... and looks at education, parenting, teaching, professionalism with children and families from that perspective and all about what does the school environment, what does the home environment look like, in order to optimally support the development of children, and not just one aspect of their development, but their whole development,” Kara says. “And our premise is that if we engage the whole child, then everybody in that system thrives.”

Yearly tuition to Summa Academy will be $10,000. In its first year, Summa Academy is expected to have a population of 80 to 90, with 5-to 7-year-olds educated downstairs and 8-to-14-year-olds upstairs.

“Even though we could technically have more in this building, because it's only one department, and we're going to utilize the academy as a lab school, which means that it will be a training opportunity for professionals, we want to keep it small and not too unruly,” Kara says.

The school day will start at 9 a.m. with some form of physical activity, followed by what is known as interpersonal curriculum, which revolves around Natural Learning Relationships.

“Teachers will engage with students … and they'll be given opportunity to share, talk, ask questions around why, and explore,” says Ben Grave, Summa Academy enrollment manager.

In the afternoon, all students will engage in what is known as project-based learning.

“A huge part of the project-based learning is being able to see, wow, it's not just about learning this algebra, but here I can take this geometry or this algebra that I've learned on paper and I can apply it to how do you construct a boat so it will float,” Kara says. “That will make the learning a lot more context-based and accessible and meaningful to the kids as opposed to just, it's algebra on a piece of paper and it doesn't really mean anything.”

In addition to the curriculum, another distinctive aspect of Summa Academy is the way the student population is distributed.

Kara explains: “There are four main classrooms upstairs. That group will be broken into four homeroom groups, but the rooms upstairs are subject-based learning labs, so they won't be in that room all day. There will be a lot of movement. so there's a mathematics and music room for example, and in that room that might be…interpersonal activity happening in their homeroom groups. There will be 20 to 25 kids in each group, with two teachers, and so we'll maintain an 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio. Those groups will be broken up, mixed-age, within that group. So they might be like 8, 9, 10-year-olds, and then there could be a group that's 10-11, and then there could be a group that's 12-13, so they'll be mixed ages within each group.”

“If students are mixed-age,” Graves says, “it allows them the opportunity for students who maybe are a little advanced in that subject to learn with other students who are at that level. It also is a great opportunity for, say, our older students to work with younger students, it really helps them build confidence and leadership skills. As you go through mixed ages, you can progress at what your inner potential really is. I think for a lot of us when we're younger, you're more capable of doing some things, and by doing mixed ages, you'll have that opportunity. It also allows us for students who maybe aren't quite at the level of their peers to work within group where they're at developmentally and maybe academically. It also really helps us to…Everything we're doing is focused on the true, inner wisdom of the student. The whole being, the whole student. Doing mixed ages it allows you to really work with the student and bring out everything that makes them whole.”

All in all, Kara says, “Here at Summa, we’ll be educating parents, children and professionals together and we’ll be growing together.”