Summit Students Own Their Learning at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy

On The Summit Sparks Podcast: Kourtney Bauswell

Kourtney Bauswell Milwaukee Collegiate Academy

This month on the Summit Sparks podcast we are highlighting Habits of Success, one of Summit Learning’s four student outcomes. Our first conversation on this topic is with Kourtney Bauswell, the Director of Personalized Learning at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy (MCA).

Prior to this role, Kourtney served as a Dean of Instruction, Director of the Freshmen Academy, and started her career as a high school social studies teacher at another local charter school. She became interested in Summit Learning when her leadership team visited Summit K2 several years ago.

During the visit, Bauswell was floored by the number of students talking about what, how, and why they were learning specific concepts. She felt students truly owned their learning and wanted the same for students at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy. In the 2016-2017 school year, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy implemented the Summit Learning Program with its freshman class. Now in its second year of using the Summit Learning Approach, Milwaukee Collegiate Academy students have shown personal and academic success. Bauswell says the number of students reading above the 50th percentile (according to NWEA MAP data) nearly tripled.

The transcript below is a condensed version of Kourtney Bauswell’s full interview. Find this and all episodes at

Tell us about Milwaukee Collegiate’s goals in joining Summit Learning.

In talking to representatives from Summit Public Schools, we really fell in love with idea of making students self-directed learners, helping students internalize the Habits of Success, while also putting forward a curriculum that was rigorous and that would help us close gaps for students.

Tell us a story that illustrates the changes you saw in freshmen from the beginning to the end of that first year with Summit in terms of mindset shift?

I think I’ll talk a little bit about just students owning their own learning, which is probably one of the coolest stories that I have to share…

We bought these Mardi Gras beads, these fun little necklaces that kids would get when they completed a focus area or content assessment.

And so when they pass a content assessment, they got these beads from their advisor. It was just a cool visual for students to be able to hold onto and for other kids to see. And even other teachers around the building, you know, being able to call that kid out. Like, you know, “Hey, nice job, I see you passed three content assessments. Great job.”

…Right around that semester mark, we started seeing in kids this mental change, a mindset shift in them, about I don’t need the beads anymore. Like, I’m going to just pass it…I just want to learn. I just want to meet expectations and I want to earn my credit and pass my classes.

Have you seen that type of self-direction and growth mindset transfer from ninth to tenth grade with those students?

Yeah absolutely… we now have two grade levels [in the Summit Learning Program]. Our sophomores who’ve done Summit for a year now and our freshmen. And so we’re doing the bead thing again with our freshmen, so they’re really pumped about getting those and showing them off and showing off their successes.

And at this point, our sophomores, they don’t even question. You know, I thought in the beginning, they might say, “Well why don’t we get beads?” But we didn’t have that at all. In fact most of them are coming up and telling you they’re passing assessments and they’re excited to do well, but they don’t need that extrinsic motivation anymore. So many of our kids ended the year on a strong note.

What has been Milwaukee Collegiate’s experience in implementing weekly mentoring with students?

Every Wednesday, our students have… an adult in the building who is talking to them about their personal life, checking in on what’s going on, what happened this weekend… and then also staying on top of them academically.

So, helping them prioritize their time, helping them reflect and think about if they didn’t meet a particular goal, why was that? What can we do differently? And just being an overall advocate for that student in the building, and giving every kid an adult who knows them, you know, academically and personally. That’s been a huge part of our success as well with the [Summit Learning] Program…

There’s also a few kids whose mindset just changed about themselves as a learner and how they saw themselves in terms of academics…

And I think I would relate that mindset directly back to the mentoring that happened. I think that on one hand, there is one level of support that you can offer as an academic teacher — seeing your kids in class day after day; but this mentoring piece is having someone who’s going to push you, who’s going to believe in you, who’s going to help you when you’re down, who’s going to encourage you, who’s going to tell you why doing your best on the test is really important.

What kind of feedback are you hearing from families or stories about how they’ve seen students potentially grow or develop in terms of mindsets, behaviors and skills since implementing the Program?

…Even last year as freshmen, [parents] were like, “Wow. They’re coming to school way more than they used to. My child didn’t have great attendance in middle school or they just didn’t like going to school, and now they really enjoy it.”

That was incredible feedback to hear… I think for many of them, prior school experiences led them to be off-track at the end of the year in terms of finishing everything that they needed to and getting the grade they needed to pass by the end of the year. So they ended up being in summer school. And for so many kids that was a light bulb that clicked for them…

This particular boy comes to mind, I wasn’t sure it was going to be possible for him to finish everything over the summer… I thought he might be taking freshman classes again. And once the summer hit, he realized, “Okay they’re not lowering the bar. They’re not going to let me off the hook. I want to be at Milwaukee Collegiate Academy.”

…For this student who was often off-task in having several parent phone calls home about his behaviors in this year, I actually got to do a positive phone call home for him last week… and mom was really excited to have him pass on to tenth grade after the last conversation in summer school… that didn’t often happen last year. It was really exciting.

If you could provide a piece of advice to schools who are adopting the Summit Learning Program for the first time, or thinking about doing so, what advice would you give?

I would say to engage all of your stakeholders in making this Program a success. We did a lot of work on the front end to engage our staff, our board, our students, and our families in this new instructional model.

We took a lot of time leading up to the start of this school year to explain why we were making shifts in our instruction and our curriculum, to explain what those shifts would be, and to make sure that families understood how things might look differently, and making sure they were on board with it; letting them ask questions and voicing any concerns that they had, and doing the same thing with our staff and students.

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About the author

Lauren Faggella
A storyteller and former educator, Lauren Faggella is dedicated to turning the Summit Learning community's stories and ideas into great content that informs and inspires a range of audiences. Prior to joining Summit Public Schools, Lauren was a professional freelance writer and third-grade teacher in Rhode Island. She earned her MEd from the University of Rhode Island and BA in English from Elon University.