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Want your student to be successful? Look for a school that prioritizes relationships

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When I send my 7th and 11th graders to school, the thing I care most about is, surprisingly, not what they are learning in their classrooms. As a parent and long-time educator at Summit Public Schools, my biggest priority is knowing there is an adult at my kids’ school who truly knows them, cares about them, and guides them. In my over 20 years as a teacher and school leader, I have had the chance to mentor over 54 students. My experience has informed what I want for my kids. My biggest piece of advice? Learn how your child’s school prioritizes relationships.

Being a mentor to high school students was the single most important professional relationship I have ever had. At Summit Public Schools, mentors build authentic and caring relationships through daily interaction with the same group of students from 9th to 12th grade. They consistently check in on a student’s goals and progress, serving as guides as students make decisions about their concrete next step after high school. By the end of this four-year experience, mentors know their students’ family, their dreams, and their challenges. Students are seen for who they are, and they have an adult to turn to when they need support through social-emotional and academic challenges. Nothing has compared to the sense of pride I felt hugging or shaking hands with my mentees as I handed them their hard-earned diplomas. After over 15 years, I am still in close contact with many of my mentees and love hearing about the paths they’ve chosen after high school.

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Pictured here are some special memories over the years with one of my first mentees, Alma Rosas. Alma is now the Director of College Readiness for Summit Public Schools! From left to right: Senior prom, Summit Everest’s Leadership Team (I was the Executive Director, Alma was my first hire!), and with our own kids at Alma's daughter's first birthday party.

These mentor-mentee relationships are not just fulfilling for educators. Our students have validated their importance. In my work, we recently asked Summit alumni about their levels of fulfillment in life. And then we asked: what did we do that helped you achieve your goals after high school? Alumni named mentorship and a strong sense of community as by far the most impactful parts of their school experience. We heard students say that mentors “helped me think beyond what I thought I wanted,” “pushed me to come out of my shell,” and “changed the way I entered college.”

Having seen the impact of one-to-one mentorship firsthand in the classroom, I knew I wanted to send my own kids to schools where relationships are prioritized. Here are some questions to ask and consider when getting to know the school options in your community:

Will your student be known?

When your student is known, it creates the right environment for them to learn. There are opportunities to ensure this happens at a school of any size. When learning more about a school, ask:

  • How is each child supported to succeed academically, social-emotionally, and in reaching their goals?

  • Are students encouraged to explore their interests while learning content?

Dedicated advisors or mentors

In order to help kids grow, we need to expand our support to include social-emotional learning, the development of successful habits and skills, and guidance toward a concrete plan for after graduation. When learning more about a school, ask:

  • What does mentorship look like at school?

  • Does the school emphasize counseling?

  • Are there classes that help students prepare, apply for, and explore post-secondary options?

Embracing a student’s journey

Every student is unique, with varied interests. When learning more about a school, ask:

  • How is a student's interest embraced beyond the classroom?

  • Are there community college partnerships, internship programs, or externship opportunities built into the school?

  • Can students create their own clubs?

  • If a student needs additional academic support, what avenues are available to them?

Strong relationships with families and caregivers

Families are partners in their child’s education. When learning more about a school, ask:

  • How can families be actively involved?

  • What kind of communication will families receive?

My hope is that these considerations and suggested questions help you and your family as you navigate your child’s education. But this is just one step. Every child deserves to be known, and in my role as a mom and an administrator, I will continue to advocate for strong mentorship programs, a personalized approach to learning, and a meaningful commitment to student relationships in every school.

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