Summit Learning: The new direction for Cheshire public schools

By Ariana Spinogatti 

The Summit Learning Platform is a free online program the Cheshire Public School District brought into the student curriculum this year. Summit Learning is centered on personalized learning and progress tracking for students. This program allows teachers to customize their instructions to fit student needs and build strong relationships between the teacher, student and his or her family.

Cheshire Public School Superintendent, Shawn Parkhurst, brought in Summit Learning for grades five, six and seven. As of now Cheshire Public Schools is the only district in Connecticut that is using the program. Historically, Summit Learning got together with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, who helped get engineers to build the platform. This program was first used out of a charter school in California and some schools in Washington before going national.

The students from Cheshire access Summit via Google Chromebooks, however, you can access Summit through any computer or tablet. Cheshire does not use Summit full time for every student in every classroom.

   -Doolittle School located on 735 Cornwall Avenue in Cheshire uses Summit to help teach social studies and science. This school’s highest education level is the sixth grade. 

   -Chapman School located on 38 County Club Road in Cheshire used Summit to help teach science and math. This school’s highest education level is the sixth grade. 

   -Norton School located on 414 North Brooksvale Road in Cheshire uses Summit for all sixth grade subjects. On the school’s website they highlight technology as being an integral part of their learning environment. Norton uses Smartboards, Chromebooks, iPads and Google apps for student learning.  This school’s highest education level is the sixth grade. 

   -Highland School located on 490 Highland Avenue in Cheshire uses it for two out of the five sixth grade classes.

   -Dodd Middle School located on 1000 Park Place in Cheshire is just for seventh and eighth grade. Students are broken up into teams by color. The teal color is the only team who uses Summit, especially for math.

Some may argue that Summit is cutting edge and can be personalized to each students needs. Others may say it replaces the teacher role in the classroom and allows for students to have too much screen time. Another argument to investigate is what kind of school districts use Summit. Summit may be used in challenged school districts where achievement is not high. Some schools may offer this charter program for various students who need to do better by taking more responsibility of their learning and adapt skills to be more independent.

Parents in the Cheshire School District have voiced their concerns whether or not Summit is necessary and safe for their children.

One parent says his daughter at Dodd Middle School uses Summit for all her subjects.

“When I talked to the superintendent, who is really responsible for bringing Summit to the schools, he basically said last year in the spring of 2017 he brought it back to the school and talked to various teachers about who was interested about learning about the platform.”

This parent said that he doesn’t think there is a lot of data to support the claims that Summit is a successful program for student learning.

“The schools that are using it are not schools like Cheshire, who have good teachers on its own. I am still on the fence about Summit. I am trying to understand if we really need this yet. It is so new and for next year to potentially have the whole school district using it doesn’t make much sense.”

Summit is divided up into different pillars to how the education system works.

Image from Summit Learning Website

Image from Summit Learning Website

One is personalized learning time. Students work through various modules with learning objectives that has provided content so they can work at their own pace. The module will have notes, articles and YouTube videos  to help them study and understand the material before they take a quiz. To move onto the next section, the student must score at least 80 percent.

Two is mentoring time to help students set goals with a teacher at the school. On Summit the teacher can add or subtract material Summit uses and can even display their own material. Students are responsible to set goals for what they want to accomplish each day or week. This is a way for students to be responsible for their own learning.

Three is the classroom. This is part of the student education geared towards critical learning, complex thinking, project and presentation based learning. The material going on during computer time is supposed to correlate to what’s going on in the classroom setting led by the teacher.

Another parent expressed that she went to the schools informational sessions about Summit. She felt if this program was used properly it sounded worthwhile. She said that “personalized,” and “cognitive learning,” were common buzzwords the district would use to sell the program.

“My first concern was the advertisements,” she said. “A lot of the articles the students use have pop ups from third parties, like Web MD, which is concerning. The school district had to put an add blocker onto Summit. These kids are 10 and 11 and on the side of their articles there are links to other concerning topics.

This parent said that whenever she talks to someone in the community there is a different answer and a different opinion. She also said that she was shocked Shawn Parkhurst did not know that these articles were on the platform.

“The superintendent said he would go through each article to approve it appropriateness,” she said. “It is a concern they didn’t even realize this was a problem in the first place. It is a big waste of time that they have created all of this work for themselves since we had a good curriculum before. It was a mess about how the district put it out.”

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Image from the document Parkhurst sent to families surrounding the myths and facts of Summit

Three parents said that their children have been complaining about the program, saying that it is too much information for them to handle. They said that this program has caused their children to be nervous about going to school in fear that they will not be able to keep up with their peers.

One mother said that she feels the overuse of screen time in the classroom is detrimental to her son’s development.

“Friends of mine who work in education and work with kids think these students are too young to work with this material and filter what is or is not important,” she said. “They need that face to face interaction with other students and their teacher. When kids are still developing socially and emotionally, still forming habits and commination, they need to see things first hand for their development.”

Shawn Parkhurst said he spoke with teachers in the district and has held information sessions with parents when he decided to bring Summit Learning into the Cheshire curriculum.

“We have had personalized learning as a strategic plan for the past 10 years,” he said. “We have had many teachers who are using Google classrooms and Chromebooks in previous years. We shared it with our team and they shared information about it when it was still at its building level. Teachers saw it as a way to enhance what they were doing and move forward. There was an application process to see if they have the minds and philosophy for this. There is also only development with that.”

When we asked Parkhurst how he felt the school should deal with concerned parents, he advises families to not rely on online research and work directly with their children.

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“Regarding the parents feedback, we have been transparent from the beginning that we will provide education night for parents,” he said. Any parent that has requested or reached out to us, we have met with them individually. We recommend that they go to the child itself and to their school instead of researching and finding general information online.”

On Nov. 6 there will be a board of education curriculum committee meeting on 29 Main Street at the board of education offices. The Summit Learning program will be one of the topics covered so attendees can ask questions and have a discussion.