Students set to graduate from Central Christian School (CCS) focus on leadership, self-awareness and service that stems from a love of God and other people. They maintain lockers, keep track of books and other study materials, teach younger classmates and perform service projects.
All of those activities fall under the umbrella of the Summit, a rigorous program designed to celebrate the accomplishments of fifth- and sixth-graders and prepare them for middle school.
Fifth-graders Gabi Moore and Davis Worley, and six-graders Rachel Rothrock and Cameron Robinson, recently shared their experiences in the program and their impressions about what middle school will be like.
"It's not easy," Robinson said about middle school. Rothrock pointed out that they get a lot of homework now, something that probably will continue.
Worley admitted he's been forgetting to bring certain materials such as workbooks and study guides to class, but it's a work in progress.
"It's a lot of stuff to remember," he said.
Moore agreed. She said it feels as though she's bringing a lot of materials to class, including workbooks and a pencil box.
Robinson also said he and his classmates set goals both for the classroom and for home, "so you know what you're going for."
Other exercises also are meaningful: All four of the students smile when reflecting on the time they spent decorating their lockers.
Jennifer Whitmer is the school's director of assessment. She said the Summit name developed out of faculty discussions about the mission of the program. It suggests that life is a mountain range and that the end of elementary education is one peak moment within that period.
"They've climbed, and we want to celebrate that," Whitmer said. At the same time, students are encouraged to be good examples, helping younger generations navigate up to the mountaintop.
Part of the process involves helping children understand who they are. In fifth grade, students take inventory of their spiritual gifts and their talents, Whitmer said, with an eye toward helping the community. In sixth grade, students take a young-adult version of the StrengthsFinder assessment to identify who they are and what they like to do.
Some students might be gifted communicators, for example, while others might relate well to others.
These kinds of assessments are held early on for students at CCS, Whitmer said. The mission is to develop kids with a zeal to serve others, focusing first on the example of Jesus and then on the needs of others.
"How do we care for people in the best way?" Whitmer said.
That same care permeates teachers' work with Summit students. The goal of the program is to provide a safe learning environment in which students can experience components of middle school—think block schedules and special classes such as music and Spanish—while becoming thought leaders, Whitmer said. Middle school can be emotionally chaotic and academically challenging, so developing confidence and independence is important.
Four teachers guide students through the major subjects in the Summit. They are Johanna Roberts for social studies and Bible; Caroline Canessa for literacy; Katherine French for math; and Debbie Barham for science.
Roberts wrote a lot of the social studies curriculum and loves history. Canessa majored in English, and her master's program bent toward young adult literacy. French previously taught junior high math and is excited to have found a job teaching at the elementary level. Barham is in her 17th year of teaching and her first year at CCS.
Barham loves hands-on science projects and maintains a rigorous curriculum: Recently, her sixth-graders learned about DNA translation, replication and mutation. She didn't enjoy science as a child, so she's made every effort to cater her instruction in a way that gets kids excited about the subject.
Canessa is in her ninth year of teaching. She enjoyed seven years in public schools but hasn't looked back after coming to CCS, where she can combine her faith with work and translate that into education.
"It can't get any more holistic than their hearts and little spirits," she said.
Teachers are excited to be doing their jobs, French said, and class sizes make it possible to help students individually.
Roberts said the entire approach to the Summit is to prepare students and give them necessary organizational skills for the future.
"It's a bridge," she said. In her classes, that means understanding how to learn and discussing difficult subjects such as the Holocaust, wars and slavery in the context of Christianity.
Canessa uses English classes as an opportunity to help students consume information, process it and share it in a fresh way. Students must back up assertions with evidence from text. They will have to speak and write in middle school, and they must be flexible.
French aims to help students prepare for middle school by improving study skills and problem-solving.
In the end, Barham said, each Summit teacher is invested in every student in the program. Their students travel among classrooms, and the four teachers meet as a group for parent conferences.
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