Summit wraps up unpredictable-milestone school year

Summit Charter School wrapped up the 2019-20 school year with a drive-thru pep rally on May 28. Head of School Kurt Pusch said it was an unprecedented year with both challenges and milestones.

In September 2019, Summit held the grand opening of the new high school building and the Summit Center. Summit also launched the first high school basketball team and first middle school volleyball team, which Pusch said demonstrated remarkable leadership among student-athletes.

Third grade student Charlotte Bumgarner and mother Katie Bumgarner.

Academically, 100% of Summit’s 10th-grade class completed their first AP course, and each student was able to take the AP exam this spring despite the disruption of COVID-19.

Pusch said students across all grade levels also dedicated hours of service in the community, which is an integral aspect of a Summit education.

Head of School Kurt Pusch greets Summit families as they arrive at the pep rally.

But most importantly, Pusch said Summit students, families, teachers, and staff showed remarkable resolve in carrying forth the school’s mission through the last quarter of the school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it was an experience that challenged everyone, but also revealed the strength of Summit’s family.

“I am extremely proud of our teachers and staff for how they rose to the challenge of the last several months,” said Pusch. “They worked hard to adjust and build new skill sets to teach under entirely new circumstances, and continually adapted to best reach and support our students and families throughout. I think we’ve all learned and grown as educators through this experience.”

Students Savannah Dement, Charlotte Miller, Thomas Miller and parent Christine Dement at the drive-through pep rally at Summit Charter School on May 28.

Remote learning was a challenge that teachers and staff accepted and worked hard to stay connected with students in the final months of the school year.

Summit 3rd-grade Teacher Chrissy Hughes conducted a Science Investigation at-home project. She mailed each student a package that contained the supplies necessary for them to start at home and supported students with different activities and forms of learning, including videos and online learning. For one project students explored the germination process by watching seeds grow and recorded observations in journals. Hughes and students would then discuss their findings online via Zoom.

From left are rising freshmen Ashlyn Yaskiewicz, Jazmin Barranco, and Sklar Yaskiewicz.

“The goal is continued authentic learning through experiences at home and with the assistance of technology,” said Hughes. “It is also a way to connect us because we are experiencing the same things together even though we are in different homes. The Zoom Meetings are a way to check in, see one another, and have fun.”

Melissa Hudson and Kaylee O’Dwyer on hand to support Summit’s end of the year pep rally. During the pep rally, each student was given a Summit Summer Bag, which included a variety of educational and fun goodies. The bags and contents were donated by the Summit Charter School Foundation and the Cashiers Literacy Council. The Cashiers Farmers Market also donated a pint of strawberries to each student. Each Summit staffer that passed out the bags during the pep rally wore a mask and gloves during the bag distribution. 

Summit 3rd-grade Teacher Emily Taylor said while Hughes “rocks out” on science and math, she was focused on reading and social studies. She sent students home with novels to read and were quizzed after each chapter. Taylor recorded videos of herself reading each chapter aloud and posing review questions, just as she would if she were in the classroom. At the end of the week, students would send in their responses and everyone would review and discuss any questions or predictions they had during their weekly Zoom meetings.

Summit third grader Nikol Palcko is all smiles in the back of her father’s vintage truck during the school’s Drive Through Pep Rally on May 28. Nikol’s father is the owner of Roman’s Roofing, a local roofing business that serves western North Carolina.

Taylor added that she had to shift her thinking of hw to assess the students’ comprehension. Under normal circumstances, she could do a quick check in the classroom to gauge student understanding, but virtual learning put a kink in that strategy. Taylor used the website Kahoot ( to assess student learning, which works as an online game.

She created questions with multiple choice, true/false, or open-ended answers for any topic she wants to assess, such as irregular verbs.

Kindergarten student Senna Sherrill gives fair warning…

Once all of the kids have played Kahoot, the website provides a report that lets her know how many they answered correctly, which questions the kids had trouble with, and if any of the kids didn’t finish all of the questions.

She said this is a great solution because she gets the data she needs to determine understanding, but it’s given in a fun-interactive way that the kids can complete at home. 

“I agree with Chrissy that our overall goal is continued authentic learning through experiences at home and with the assistance of technology,” Taylor. “In addition, I think our 3rd-grade goal is to provide lessons that would uphold our expectations that we would have if we were in the classroom. We’ve been providing lessons with the same rigor and academic value remotely as we would have if we were still able to learn within our classrooms.”

Art Teacher Gretchen Kapity and High School Principal Lauren Bennett.

Art Teacher Gretchen Kapity conducted weekly Zoom art classes for elementary students. Activities include drawing 3-D letters and cartoons, how to make paint, and create origami. She also posted ideas for at-home art activities on her classroom Instagram account.

“Arts are an important part of emotional and mental health and provide a fun activity for kids to just let go of some of the stress and anxiety they may be feeling because of all of this,” said Kapity. “They are sad and miss their friends and teachers, so being able to talk to one another via zoom has been fun too.”

Fourth Grader Paula Longinos gives a smile at Summit’s pep rally.

Kapity added that one of her assignments for students was to draw how they feel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is going to be that big even for those kids, one that defines their generation,” she said. “Their 9/11, their Challenger shuttle, that big event that changes history and the world as they know it. It is our job to help them through and hopefully we will all come out as better people and on the other side.”

From left are First-grade Teachers Sutton Turner, Maggie Sowell, and Kate Qemali

It’s not only teachers who are stepping up during remote learning. Summit School Nurse Zandra Wingfield said since the shutdown/quarantine began, she sent out health updates pertaining to COVID-19 and wellness in general, and answered comments and concerns from parents in a timely manner.

Third Grade Teacher Evelyn Hughes.

Wingfield worked with Summit School Counselor Janna Laughridge to put out weekly Health and Wellness Newsletters for Summit Families to read. Topics included Living Our Virtues and Giving, Self-Care, Tips for Healthy Sleep, Tips for Managing Seasonal Allergies, etc.

“We want our families to be informed even though their children are not physically at school right now,” said Wingfield. “We also want them to know that we are still there for them, we still care, and we will continue to be a resource for them during a time of uncertainty. Hopefully, sending out frequent communications lets them know that we are available and ready to help in any way that we can.” 

Music Teacher Bart Gilleland and Middle School Social Studies Teacher Trey Brown.

Laughridge said she misses connecting with all the students the most during remote learning. She wants them to know they matter, and she misses the smiles, hugs, and all the wonderful ways she has the privilege of interacting with them. 

In an effort to stay connected, she wrote and mailed postcards to all students to let them know she is thinking about them as well as the Wellness Wednesday newsletter.

“My main goal is to try and stay connected, but I also want students to know that I am still here and available to them,” said Laughridge. “I have interacted with several parents who I talk to often when we are physically at school, but I have also talked with many whose students typically don’t need support, but during this time of remote learning are finding themselves with challenges. I also want all families to know that we are all experiencing changes in some form or another, and that seeing differences in a child’s behaviors is common.”

Sisters Lydia and Evelyn Hughes digging Summit’s pep rally.

Pusch said he is proud of teachers, staff, students, and parents for coming together during the final months of the school year.

“I have immense respect for our students and families in how they responded to this unprecedented situation,” said Pusch. “Families have faced new challenges, balancing parenting, working, and the new responsibility of teaching from home. And our students have persevered through dramatic change and uncertainty to continue their education. We are incredibly proud of our students, and deeply grateful for the support and partnership of our families.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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