A Conscious Choice: Why This Parent Chose Summit for Her Son

On The Summit Sparks Podcast: Payal Patel

Payal Patel

This month on the Summit Sparks podcast we are highlighting Habits of Success, one of Summit Learning’s four student outcomes. This week we talk to Payal Patel about why she chose Summit Public Schools for her only son.

As the Director of Finance and Operations for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Patel works to maintain the organization’s health, efficiency, and sustainability. In addition, Patel serves on a commission for the City of Richmond, California as a public servant promoting health and recreation in her hometown community.

Patel is also an active volunteer for youth, and created Girls Rule Our World to empower young girls as they grow into confident and fearless women. She has worked in after-school programs, as a mentor, and with autistic young people in behavior therapy. She is an active mother to a wonderful young man.

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

Why did you choose Summit Public Schools as the place for your son to start middle school?

There was a multitude of reasons why I chose Summit Public Schools for my son to start middle school. To preface it, I would like to say that I’ve had a lot of experience mentoring and tutoring after-school programs, which is something that I’m very passionate about… and a combination of my own belief system on what education is, seeing what the current dilemma in education was both on a professional level and the student level through my various work, I got connected with Summit.

[Summit] had opened a school up not too far away [from us] … and I went to check it out. I had a friend whose daughter was going there, and she invited me to come check out an orientation and was telling me about it, and her daughter was already [completing] eighth grade classwork midway through her seventh grade year because she was really involved in the self learning process, and I was just blown away by that.

Now that he’s been [at Summit Tamalpais] about a year and a half, what’s your impression so far?

I have been active within the school, and I think there has just been some really amazing things that have happened that I am confident I would have not been able to receive if I was in a more traditional school. Some of that is like being able to work collaboratively with my son’s mentor. That has been such an awesome experience from seventh grade now into eighth grade. Just as a bit of background, we meet with our child’s mentor as a family, so it’s my son, myself, and then his mentor…

We just had a family meeting. It’s called a family goal-setting meeting, and it helped me identify what it’s going to take [for my son] to be successful and help reach his college goal. We were talking about that in seventh grade… and that has also been very exciting because so many students don’t have that opportunity to even be thinking about college in that way and to have someone fully dedicated and supportive and also having your family be part of that conversation, which I think is a critical piece…

…but really what I thought was the big highlight was that we weren’t just talking about school goals. We weren’t just talking about education goals. We were talking about what it would take for him to be happy 10 years from now, what that looks like, how college plays into that of course, but we talked about what he’s passionate about, and it had nothing to do with a school project. It was literally like what makes your heart sing, what are you passionate about, what do you love to do…

My son shared that he was really into photography, and it was really great in that moment. The mentor pivoted and was like, “Well, how can we support that here for you right now? Why wait? What can we do, either opportunities for you in the school that could help you express that passion of yours?” and his mentor immediately recommended [to] join the yearbook committee.

There’s an after-school club for that, and my son’s eyes lit up and he was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great opportunity. I could do something like that,” and just again with all my experience working with youth and in the different capacities, this is a unique experience to me, and I felt so invested in it because I was able to have a candid conversation with my son, and like as we continued on, we cried tears during that meeting. 

I know that the mentors also work with students on setting short-term goals. Do you have any stories that showcase what that’s like for him on a more micro scale, from day to day and week to week, in terms of how he’s doing in school?

I think the first thing to mention in that is that as a parent, I’m able to help monitor my student’s performance. The dashboard (built into the Summit Learning Platform) that’s provided for learning has been such a critical tool and so helpful for me to be able to understand not only what my son is working on, like what type of material he’s engaging in, but also being able to support it; being able to help monitor alongside and provide that early guidance versus waiting until much later where they’ve already formed habits…

Recently, my son worked on this history project… he definitely was struggling early on with that project. Because of the dynamic of education, we were able to help correct it as the project was going along by getting real-time feedback from his instructor… and we were able to see what skills need to be developed more… This is about truly taking the child’s skills where they are and developing them as building blocks, and I think that’s a huge key for me as well in terms of how Summit teaches.

What advice would you give to other parents who are considering enrolling their student at a Summit school, which would include both Summit Public Schools, the charter network, and a Summit Learning School, a school that’s adopted our Program in one of the 40 states that we are in now?

Don’t be afraid. I think that’s probably the first thing because I’ve definitely had parents ask me about my experience at Summit, and there’s always that concern about, “Oh, well it’s self-paced and I don’t know if my child would be successful.” I’m like, human potential is infinite. Allow your child to unlock it.

This is a safe place to do it. You have nothing to lose. You only have things to gain. Allow your child to grow their wings in this beautiful place that’s going to support them socially, emotionally, and educationally, and be part of that experience. Embrace your role as a parent in your child’s life and in their education. This is the right place for that, and go for it.

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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.