My Journey To College: How Summit Paved the Path


I nervously stood in a circle with my Freshman classmates.

It was my first day at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, California. Out of the 104 students in the Freshman class, I only knew four. Our teacher started the day by facilitating a “step in, step-out” game — for each statement he called out, students who identified with the statement stepped into the circle.

“Step in the circle if you are going to be a first generation college student,” our teacher said, standing on the edge of the circle with the rest of us.

Over half of my classmates stepped in.

In this moment, I understood the mission of Summit Public Schools: “Prepare a diverse group of students for success in college, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society.”

In my family, college was always a given. Both my parents have Master’s degrees and hold my sister and I to these same standards. As far as I knew until that point, this was normal. 

Before attending Summit Prep,  I attended public elementary and middle schools in my neighborhood, with kids from similar backgrounds as mine. In eighth grade, I opted to not enroll in my neighborhood high school where my friends were going, but chose Summit Prep instead. Three years before, my parents chose Summit for my sister because of its emphasis on college prep.

Now beginning my senior year, I am starting to grasp the gravity of my decision to attend Summit instead of my neighborhood high school. Even though early college prep is the norm among my peers, my non-Summit friends brush off the topic of college sometimes saying, “I haven’t even began to think about it.”  It makes me wonder what my life would have been like without Summit Prep. How much preparation would I have gotten if I had gone to a different high school? Would college still be a priority in my life if I hadn’t gone to Summit? These questions that have been on my mind recently as I begin the application process.

How Mentorship Set Me Up For Success

Talia with her mentor, Mr. Kelly, at a recent Summit Prep camping trip. Students meet weekly with a mentor to ensure daily actions align with long-term goals.

Mentoring is one of the most unique aspects of the Summit Learning approach to teaching and learning. In my opinion, mentoring is one of the biggest reasons why Summit’s mission is not just a goal, but a reality.

On the first day of school, groups of students are assigned a teacher to be their mentor. That group of students is called a “mentor group.” Mentor groups stay together for all four years, becoming like a second family. Mentors are like a college counselor, but so much better. Their job, in addition to being a teacher, is to have weekly check-ins with each student in their mentor group about their life, school progress, and anything on their mind.

On my first day of school (right before our circle icebreaker), I sat in awkward silence at a table with three classmates in my mentor group, not knowing what to talk about. Nowadays, it’s hard for our mentor, Mr. Kelly, to keep us quiet because of how close we’ve gotten over the past three years. I feel comfortable with everyone in my mentor group now, and it’s not uncommon for me to go to them when searching for peer feedback on a paper, or even just life advice.

Summit Schools mentor group
Talia, center, links arms with peers from her mentor group at a recent camping trip.

Planning for College In the Platform

Twice a year, students and their parents meet with the student’s mentor to talk about the student’s progress, and review the “college tab” in the Summit Learning Platform, an online platform that holds all of our curriculum and assessments. In the “college tab,” Summit students set college-related goals such as how selective of a college they want to attend, and determine grades needed for acceptance. This goal-setting starts Freshman year so college is always on Summit students’ minds. Personally, Mr. Kelly and I check-in every Monday and create a plan for what my week will look like academically. In these check-ins we come up with specific goals and action items that will set me up for a successful week. During this time of the year, the check-ins are mostly centered around creating a balance of time between my normal school work and working on my college applications.

Preparing for College Applications

Talia with her College Readiness teacher, Ms. Bettencourt. At Summit Schools, juniors enroll in this class to prepare for the college application process.

Currently, I’m working on finishing drafts of my college essays, finalizing my college list and researching potential scholarships. I followed the advice of Ms. Bettencourt and recently did a college trip to prospective schools in Southern California. My top choices are San Diego State and UC Santa Barbara, and I hope to major in Business or Jewish Studies.

Internship Experience

Summit Public Schools Expeditions
Talia meets with the External Engagement team at the Summit Public Schools office in Redwood City, CA at the start of her internship.

I recently started an internship with the External Engagement team at the home office of Summit Public Schools as part of a yearly Expedition. Unique to Summit, Expeditions are two-week breaks from the normal school schedule where students are able to explore potential passions and interests. There are many options for Expedition classes that are offered on-site at school such as Computer Science, Drama, or Sociology of Law. During sophomore or senior year, students also have an option to pursue an off-site internship. My interests in business and helping others led me to intern with the team at Summit Public Schools, where I will be exploring topics like community outreach and marketing, and getting experience in a professional setting.

As part of my internship, I will be writing a four-part blog series about my journey to getting to college and how Summit assisted me along the way. This is the first post in that series. My hope is that parents and teachers entering the college planning process or considering a Summit Learning environment will find this series as helpful as I have found Summit to be in my college process.

About the author

Talia Herzberg
Talia Herzberg is currently a Senior at Summit Preparatory Charter High School. Her interest in business, marketing, and community outreach led her to an internship with the Summit Learning External Engagement team, where she provides an insightful student perspective at the Summit Learning Home Office. In her free time, she enjoys participating in various youth leadership groups, volunteering at a camp for kids with special needs, and traveling. She plans on majoring in business in college.