Russell Clark

As the academic year comes to an end, I want to take a minute to celebrate a wonderful alternative school in the Mat-Su Valley: Burchell High School. Our mission is to provide hope through education. We are a community supported, trauma-sensitive school.

Our students earn high school diplomas through personalized learning and one-on-one mentoring in a supportive environment. We are educating kids and doing our part to serve our community.

Summit Learning is the core curriculum program for incoming freshman and offers a performance-based, personalized approach to education. Teachers build cognitive skills with project-based education, enabling students to reach academic success with their close mentorship with teachers.

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Burchell is the first school using Summit in Alaska, and we are completing our second year using this approach.

After our first year of implementation, Principal Jason Marvel reported that freshman learning with Summit had the highest rate of growth in reading in among all of the high schools in the district based on MAPS test returns. This is a remarkable change.

“We have a great climate, students love going here, they are safe, there is predictability, there is structure...and we’ve doubled our graduation rate” rattles off Principal Marvel in the middle of a busy Monday.

“I like Summit, because I can go home and study exactly what I need to pass the test the next day” says Deonta, 10th-grade Burchell student

Burchell’s Summit Learning classrooms are always filled with energy. Students often are working on different subjects, at various places on their projects.

We have found that no one student learns the same way, at the same rate, ever. We personalize learning and work with each student so we know exactly what they need to succeed.

The project-based learning component mirrors what the real world of work might be like for our students.

As teachers and mentors, we support students who are struggling, while also providing plans and opportunities for those students who are moving swiftly through the units. No one is static. No one is doing the same thing. Learning is personal.

The teacher’s role has expanded to better enable learning. We still lead the classroom, and we take on additional roles as mentors to serve students’ individual needs.

On a recent Friday, I was volunteering in a second grade Waldorf classroom, and a student was having trouble spelling the word “encyclopedia.” The student asked me, “What is an encyclopedia?” I replied, “Ask your parents to take you to a museum and show you what a set of encyclopedias look like.”

When I receive these types of questions from my students, I am reminded that they belong to a world that is leaving the old ways of learning behind. At Burchell, we are preparing students for this ever-changing future.

Russell Clark has been an educator in Alaska for the last two decades. He is currently a Summit teacher at Burchell High School. Mr. Clark supported a performance-based system of levelized education both as a teacher and school leader in rural Alaska for the first seventeen years of his career. Prior to his assignment at Burchell High School, he taught elementary students in a Waldorf public charter school, he loved learning the whole child teaching techniques. Mr. Clark has always believed that caring and kindness count and is looking towards the next two decades with hope and excitement.

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