Every day at Summit is an experience: Finding myself and fostering independence, by Sumayo Hassan


By Sumayo Hassan, Senior at Summit Sierra

I have always been independent. I like to figure things out, and for me, science and math have been the tools I’ve used to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world. Over the last four years at Summit Sierra — a public charter high school in Seattle — I had the opportunity to explore my interests through projects that examined real problems facing our world.

Every day, Summit Sierra offers learning experiences where I am in control.  The Summit model allows you to go at a pace that works best for you. As long as you are meeting the required benchmarks, you can self-direct how you set and meet your goals. Goals can be anything from a simple classroom task to what we want to do in college or career. Whatever the goal, we’re given the time to plan, strategize, and reflect on progress toward it.

Self-directed learning really helped me with one of my favorite subjects — math. When learning on my own, I get to decide how in-depth I want to go with the subject. If I want to move ahead and learn more about things that we'll be covering in the next couple of days, I am given the flexibility to do so. It’s convenient for me because I can get ahead in math and then spend more time in other areas, like college prep.

One of the most important goals for any high school student is applying to colleges. Before entering high school, I thought local universities were it for college, but Summit Sierra prepared me for the entire college application process — from providing resources about scholarships and financial aid, to helping me choose the best-fit colleges to meet my abilities and interests. The college prep is invaluable, especially for a first-generation college student like myself. I’ve applied to Pomona College and Emory University, in addition to local options like the University of Washington and Seattle University.

The biggest benefit to me was actually using the knowledge I gained from my studies and applying it to the real world around me. Summit Sierra gave me the opportunities to accomplish both.

Today’s planet faces many tough challenges. High school has helped me understand that while challenges can be daunting, they can be overcome by hard work and innovation. I’d like to study bioremediation, which is learning how to clean up the environment from toxins that degrade our ecosystem and the organisms that live in them.

One of my most memorable experiences at Summit Sierra was seeing — in real time — the impact bioremediation can have. We conducted an experiment in science class that demonstrated the process of cleaning up radiation from nuclear fallout where we planted mustard seeds. To see this powerful process in person reinforced my interest and determination to improve our environment and that it’s possible to work toward a sustainable and more livable planet.

When I get to college, I know I won’t have my teachers and mentors at Summit Sierra at my side, but the time I’ve spent here gives me the confidence that I will be prepared for whatever comes next. When I graduate, I plan to continue to be engaged with my school. My brother is a junior here, and I want to make sure he receives the same high-quality education I’ve been fortunate to experience.

By cultivating my educational autonomy and giving me room to grow, ask questions, and advocate for myself, Summit Sierra has equipped me with the academic tools and life skills I need for success beyond high school. As I look ahead to graduation, I am taking stock of the skills and experiences here that will propel me to reach my dreams.

Sumayo Hassan is a senior at Summit Sierra – a public charter school in Seattle.