‘Sense of joy’ pervades classrooms at one of area’s top AIMS schools

Kathy Covert doesn’t want to sound boastful, but it’s hard not to. In its latest release of academic data, the Arizona Department of Education revealed that, once again, third through eighth graders from Summit School of Ahwatukee, where Covert is admissions director, did exceptionally well in the statewide AIMS Dual Purpose Assessment.

For example, Covert said, 94 percent of the school’s third graders met or exceeded the math standards, along with 100 percent of the fourth through seventh graders and 95 percent of eighth graders.

In reading, the results were similar: 94 percent of third graders met or exceeded the standards, as did 100 percent of fourth through eighth graders. Ninety-five percent of fifth graders and 100 percent of sixth and seventh graders met or exceeded the writing standards.

But as Covert knows quite well, these numbers and plethora of awards the school has won over the years prove much more than the students’ proficiencies in various areas of study.

For Covert, the statistics also show what can happen when a devoted and caring faculty work together with committed parents and students who are motivated and encouraged to learn.

“There are so many things that go on here every day that help our students succeed,” she said. And it’s those things that lay the foundation for high AIMS scores.

“For example, we have very small class sizes, with a maximum of 18 students per class. This way, nobody gets lost in the shuffle. Teachers know their students, and vice versa, and they do everything they can to make their students feel comfortable.”

In addition, Covert said, Summit uses a what it calls a Character and Respect Education development program, which strives to teach the students honesty, integrity and respect.

“When we catch kids being good, we issue what are called Care Tickets,” she said.

“Last year alone we issued over 20,000 of them. By building an atmosphere of kindness and cooperation where everyone can feel comfortable, kids want to do well and they want to achieve.”

Covert also sings the praises of the school’s staff members, who she said can rise to their full potential as educators at Summit and know they are truly making a difference.

“I have so much respect and admiration for our teachers, I can’t even explain it,” she said.

Rather than spending their days teaching rote memorization from books, Covert said teachers use hands-on learning opportunities with their students.  From preschoolers who are learning about architecture by building models to kindergarteners who are working in science labs, Covert said students get multiple chances to learn by doing. This, she said, translates into better, more comprehensive learning, which are then reflected in the school’s test scores.

For example, the fact that nearly all of the third graders tested so well in math doesn’t come as a surprise to Covert. During the year, the same students were learning about perimeters by getting on the floor and building a fence for pretend animals.

The students’ abilities to achieve outstanding science scores—97 percent of fourth graders and 100 percent of eighth graders met or exceeded the AIMS standards last year—began years earlier at the school, Covert said, when as first graders they learned terms like viscous, translucent, foamy, bubbly and transparent.

“We are very heavy in hands-on learning, which helps students learn, grasp and remember things better,” Covert said.

“They get to experience things rather than just try to learn and memorize from a book.”

Covert is also impressed by the level of commitment that parents show, both to their own children and the school.

Although tuition assistance and private school tax assistance can help many families afford to send their children to Summit, Covert said she knows that some parents still struggle financially.

“We have an amazing group of highly committed parents who partner with the teachers and who are invested in making this a great educational opportunity for their kids,” she said.

Covert was delighted when a parent recently told her that the students and teachers are as happy and energetic at the end of the day as they are at the beginning.

“They are not tired or exhausted. In fact, when you walk through the campus you can truly sense the joy around here. The love that the teachers and students have for the school is tangible—you can truly feel it.”

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