What It Takes To Hear A Middle Schooler Say “I Like School”

What takes 8th graders from nearly failing to ahead-of-the-game? At Chicago Public School’s Lee Elementary, it’s a combination of great teachers, growth mindset, and the Summit Learning Program.

The K-8 school on the Southwest side of Chicago long struggled with motivating their students. Eighth-grader Jacqueline Castro says she would beg her mom to let her stay home from school. When taking exams, Castro would tell herself, “There’s no way I could do this.”

Shifting Mindsets

To motivate students like Castro, Lee’s Principal Lisa Epstein implemented the Summit Learning Program with 80 students and a grade-level team of four teachers this past school year. Epstein says that within just a few months of implementing Summit Learning, students shifted their mindsets and became more engaged in their learning.

Students who nearly failed last year are now excited about learning. “The kids are able to speak about how they’re learning and why they’re learning,” Epstein says.

school bulletin board with high school and college names
Lee Elementary 8th Graders declare their goal high schools and colleges on this hallway bulletin board. Lee teachers say students are more motivated and engaged with the Summit Learning Program.

After nearly three decades in the classroom, Castro’s 8th-grade teacher and mentor, Kathleen Bourret, said Summit Learning is her new favorite thing about teaching. “It’s about kids. It’s about their choice. It’s about taking ownership of their own learning,” Bourret says. The result? Tremendous gains for her students. “I saw kids grow this year like I’ve never seen them grow before.”

From Failing to Thriving

At the midpoint of the school year, many 8th graders in the Summit Learning Program already had met their end-of-year targets for academic growth on MAP tests, which were set by each student as well as the school and the NWEA. Motivated by tracking their progress in the platform, students are determined to master skills and content, even if it takes multiple tries. Teachers have embraced their roles as mentors and students thrive with more individualized attention.

“Now I like school,” Castro says. “I’m able to help other students because I know more than what I’m supposed to know for 8th grade.” Bourret says that empowerment is critical for her students’ motivation. “That idea of ‘I can succeed’ has grown a lot in the kids. You can see it in their excitement, you can see it in the attendance level improving, you can see it in their interaction with each other.”

For Castro specifically, Bourret says, “She is not just looking at herself as ‘smart’ or ‘not smart’ anymore, she’s looking at her strengths.”

The Summit Learning team visited Lee Elementary this past spring to witness the transformation happening in their 8th grade classrooms. Watch this video from our YouTube channel to hear from Castro and Bourret and see first-hand why Principal Epstein calls Summit Learning “the most valuable and uplifting experience of this school year.”

At a Glance

  • School Name: Richard H. Lee Elementary

  • Grades Served: K-8

  • District: Chicago Public Schools

  • Free-and-Reduced Lunch: 94%

  • English Language Learners: 29%

  • Started Summit Learning: 2016-17 School Year

This fall, we will welcome more than 200 new schools into the
Summit Learning Community. The students and teachers from schools across the country are embarking on a transformational journey, one that Lee Elementary experienced last year. This post is the first in a series about current Summit Learning schools. This series will showcase Summit Learning in action and bring to life the mindshift happening in schools across our country thanks to the Summit Learning Program.

About the author

Katie McNeil
Katie is a storyteller at Summit Public Schools, shining a spotlight on inspirational stories from the Summit Learning community. She started her career in journalism, covering K-12 education in the Bronx. Katie won a feature writing award from the Education Writers Association for her higher ed coverage in Utah. Before arriving at Summit, she earned a master's degree in educational technology from Teachers College, Columbia University and a New York State teaching certification.