Summit Learning with a 504 Plan: A Teacher’s and Parent’s Perspective

On the Summit Sparks Podcast: Tammy Penney and Chris Ivens

This week on the Summit Sparks podcast, we speak to Rocklin Academy Gateway teacher Tammy Penney and parent Chris Ivens about how Autumn, an 8th grade student diagnosed with ADHD, learned to take initiative for her learning using the Summit Learning approach. In this interview, Penney also shares her best practices for making the most out of Personalized Learning Time in her classroom.

The transcript below has been edited for clarity and is a condensed version of Penney’s and Iven’s full interview. Find this and all episodes at

Tell me about your daughter Autumn as an individual and as a learner.

Chris Ivens: When she was a little girl, her nickname became “Autumn-ation.” Not because she worked in a factory, but because she would never stop moving. She was hyper. She would just move and learn, and she would come home from school and immediately she would drop her backpack and go out in the backyard. She’s a kinetic learner and has a lot of energy…

Her curiosity and her positivity and responsibility was very high, but she did not have the ability to follow through naturally to do what she wanted to do. There was a real big disconnect. She has a 504 plan. She has diagnosed ADHD. So, it was a struggle throughout elementary school.

Tell me about Autumn as a learner when she first entered your classroom.

Tammy Penney: At the beginning of the year last year, it was [Rocklin Academy Gateway’s] first year with Summit Learning… some of the things [Autumn] came into seventh grade with were a few struggles with organization and some struggles with knowing how to keep organized in such a way that she could keep pace with her classmates and not fall behind. She struggled a little bit with homework; with understanding what she needs to do and to bring back the next day to be ready to go.

What shifts did you see in Autumn in seventh grade when she started using the Summit Learning approach?

CI: Initially, she was very anxious… [but] we had a good attitude and we talked to her and said, “Let’s just take this day by day.” Every year, we have a 504 plan meeting. We stuck close by Mrs. Penny and she was instrumental in that transition over the first few months — mostly in the beginning, of helping Autumn to manage her anxiety. 

We saw a big change in her, overall. I would even say through the whole year, looking back big picture, her motivation for learning went from being external — relying on my wife and I, or the teacher, for telling her to do certain things — to internal. She took responsibility. 

How has Summit’s platform changed the way that students learn and what has remained the same?

TP: The shift for kids is that all of a sudden they’re the ones doing the hard work and they’re responsible for their learning. That’s something that they have to learn throughout the year, and it’s interesting to watch that shift throughout the year with kids in their first year of the Summit Program…

One example I have specifically about Autumn — she was taking a test, and I was mentoring another student; I looked over and in the corner of my eye, I saw Autumn. I saw her close her Chromebook, look up, and her face just lit up. And I just thought, “Oh, she can’t contain it. Wait for it. It’s coming.”

She just stood and threw up her arms and just went, “Yes!” And she ran over to me and gave me a big hug. She was just glowing because she passed her test, but not only that — she worked hard for that and she learned the content that she needed to learn. And she felt such a sense of achievement and success and pride in herself that she had done it.

I know that Chris had mentioned that some of the accommodations that were in Autumn’s 504 plan were naturally built into the platform. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CI: In times past, [Autumn] would have these big projects and she would come home excited about them, and then two weeks later, “Oh, Mom, Dad, my mission project is due tomorrow.” Wait, what? She could not chop things up in manageable chunks in her head. And Summit automatically does that. The Platform automatically shows, “Here’s step one. Here’s step two. Here’s step three.” And that was part of her 504 plan that is obsolete now because Summit and the Platform does it naturally.

From a teacher’s perspective, what is the balance in terms of students learning content on the platform and being active learners?

TP: We have such a great schedule here at Rocklin Academy Gateway. We’ve set up Summit Learning in a way that the kids have their core classes and their electives on a block schedule and then they have a Personalized Learning Time for 75 minutes [every day]. 

504 plan Summit Learning
Rocklin Academy Gateway seventh graders present their projects to fourth graders.

The schedule is set up such that the kids have a lot of variety of different things that they’re doing… we’re doing several projects in my classes right now. I teach English and history, and we just completed our Medieval Europe project.

What would see and hear if we came into your classroom during Personalized Learning Time?

TP: Some of the different things you’d see if you walked into my classroom during that time: You would see me sitting in my mentor corner and I would have a student with me, you might see kids who have decided to work independently for part of their time… they could be creating flashcards, making a poster to hang on the wall about the content, or making a keynote or a slideshow about what they’re learning. You might see some small groups of students who are collaborating together… 

Yesterday I was working with a small group on an English focus area and I looked up; right across from me is my whiteboard. I noticed that three boys were standing at the whiteboard, and they each had a marker and they were putting math problems on the board.

One boy would put a problem and the other boy would work on solving it. And then they would stop and they would talk about the problem and they would look again. They must have spent 25 minutes working through problems and talking together using the whiteboard. I had to stop and look at that for a minute and just ponder how great that was, you know? That they’d made that decision that that would be helpful to both of them. 

You saw some improvement in Autumn’s organization, for example, when she started using the platform as a tool. Where there other behaviors or skills in which you noticed [a change]?

CI: A couple of years ago, my wife and I, in thinking and talking about Autumn’s future and the possibility of college — it was more of the possibility and the likelihood of yes or no, but maybe not. Not that everyone has to go to college, but we wanted her to be able to have it as a viable option, not as an obligation. At her core, she seemed like she just wanted to throw a backpack on and hike across Europe. To get out of school, get out of the classroom. But now? I can’t see her not going to college.

Tammy Penney

Tammy Penney is a 7th grade English and History teacher at Rocklin Academy Gateway in Rocklin, California. This is her 11th year teaching and her second year using Summit Learning in the classroom. This summer, she was a Summit Learning Fellow and was able to support schools and teachers in Northern California implementing Summit Learning in their classrooms. As a teacher, Tammy’s passion is helping every student to reach their full potential, and to gain confidence as learners. 

Chris Ivens

Chris Ivens is a veteran of creating and managing youth ministry curriculum to build thriving and cohesive communities. Chris spent 18 years on staff at two churches, and is now endeavoring to grow a new church in his community. He is also the parent of two Rocklin Academy Gateway students, a 6th and 8th grader.

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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.