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Hats Off to Sunnyvale’s Summit Denali For Growing Its First Graduating Senior Class

This school year is special for Sunnyvale’s Summit Denali (denali.summitps.org) because the school’s first senior class will be receiving high school diplomas in June.

Summit Denali enrolls students from 6th to 12th grade and according to its website, “serves the diverse communities of Santa Clara County — from Palo Alto to San Jose — with a particular focus on families living nearby the Highway 101 corridor.”

“Summit Denali is a countywide benefit charter school authorized by the Santa Clara County Board of Education that opened in 2013 with a founding class of about 100 6th graders,” said Kevin Bock, Executive Director of Summit Denali High School. “We’ve grown by one grade every year, and those founding students will be Denali’s inaugural graduating class this June. We are also looking forward to the completion of our new Summit Denali High School Campus on San Aleso Drive in North Sunnyvale, which will be ready to welcome incoming students in Fall 2020.

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“Summit Public Schools founded its inaugural school, Summit Prep, in 2003, after a group of parents came together who wanted to create a high-quality public school option for the communities of Redwood City,” Bock continued. “Summit has opened schools in communities with a similar need for additional high-quality public school options, including Summit Denali.”

Anica Bilisoly, Executive Director of Summit Denali Middle School, explained how the Summit Denali program creates a tight-knit school community and promotes the development of cognitive skills through project-based learning.

“Our mentoring program is one way that we intentionally build community at Denali,” Bilisoly said. “When students enter our school, they join a small, diverse group of students led and mentored by one of our teachers. Every week, mentor groups engage in a structured community-building activity called Circle where they do a centering or meditation activity, check in on their emotions, and then have the opportunity to share ‘work.’”

“Students engage in real-life, relevant projects where they are assessed on cognitive skills, such as their ability to write an argumentative claim and select relevant evidence to support that claim,” Bilisoly continued. “These projects allow for a lot of student choice and a lot of collaboration with other students. Currently, our eighth graders are wrapping up a project where they are listening to the podcast Serial, a popular podcast that focuses on a real-life murder case. The students listened to the podcast, collected evidence from the script, and wrote a persuasive essay about whether they think this main character is innocent or guilty. They also had discussions within the class where they were able to debate their claims with their classmates.”

Mari Mizota, 11, who just started 6th grade at Summit Denali, discussed some things she has been doing at the school.

“We have something called SMART goals, which is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based,” Mizota said of the goal-setting approach she has been applying. “In each of my subjects, I’ve started a project where I can learn information and achieve a goal. In science class, we’re growing bean plants. We have groups separated by our tables and each table grows three bean plants and changes a variable in growing their plants.”

“My group is growing the plants with worms added to the soil,” Mizota continued. “Other people water their plants with different liquids, like vitamin water or Gatorade. My Science teacher is growing his plant as the ‘control’ plant. Every three to four days, we observe the plants and we take notes on an observation table on the computer. At the end of the project, we’re writing a lab report on how the variables affected how the plant grew.”

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