Gradient Learning

Teaching beyond academics

Like many kids growing up in the Bluegrass State, Stephane Bebe dreamed of attending the University of Kentucky. But making that 30-mile trek from his home in Frankfort to Lexington wasn’t going to be as simple as getting in a car.

First, he needed to leave behind his current school district and his classmates, many of whom he had known for years. More importantly, Bebe discovered he needed to leave behind any previous notion he had of learning.

Bebe’s desire to attend his preferred college inspired him to seek out Frankfort High and its innovative way of teaching students through the Summit Learning program, which the school has been participating in for seven years.

The nationwide program creates a culture where students are invested in their own learning, and empowered to take a different, more motivated approach to opening a history book, writing an essay, or calculating numbers.

It also helps students, such as Bebe, understand how lessons apply to their lives outside of classroom walls.

“I feel like I have gained more knowledge ever since I’ve been in Summit Learning, which I’ve been in for about a year now,” Bebe said. “I feel like I just learn more, get more knowledge and get more important stuff rather than just stuff I don’t need to know.

“It drives me to be a better person and to get better grades.”

Bebe admittedly is a slow learner, needing more time to comprehend tasks and complete assignments. In middle school, he routinely pulled in C’s along with B’s and a few A’s. In his one-plus years at Frankfort High, Bebe earns all A’s and B’s and has a cumulative 3.7 GPA.

Bebe said he initially was overwhelmed by the learning style and needed help the first month.

“But I eventually got the hang of [it] and I know what I’m doing now,” he said. “I know myself and I’m not very good about expressing myself, especially on paper, like pulling from personal stuff.”

Once settled in, the sophomore said he enjoyed Frankfort High’s one-on-one approach. He said the student-teacher engagement enables him to better understand the subject matter by asking questions. The philosophy behind the program is that students are more than test scores and academic achievement. Taking in varying factors and developmental needs of students impact their experiences, leading to the “whole student” approach.

 “It’s better because teachers can explain it, going more into detail with me, rather than them just sitting up there and teaching the whole class and you not being able to ask questions,” Bebe said. 

Lauren Traylor, an English teacher at Frankfort High, said she gets to know each of her students personally, which helps her to know which assignments are most beneficial. Individual and small group instruction creates confidence and a deeper learning for the student.

“I find that getting to know the students and knowing what’s important to them and where they’re coming from really helps with figuring out how to keep assignments open-ended, how to allow for creativity, how to make sure that assignments are designed a certain way where kids can draw from this experience or draw from their interest,” Traylor said.

“If you have a relationship with them, then you are going to learn a lot more from them because they want to hear what you have to say.”

Traylor, who has been at Frankfort High for five years, said the biggest difference between a regular classroom and a Summit Learning classroom is the information she gets about her students.

“I can use data at every step of the way to decide what I need to spend more time on, what I need to dive in,” Traylor said. “I just feel like the way that the information is organized makes it so much easier for me to see exactly what they need.”

Bebe said that sharing personal details, such as his interest in soccer, his African background, and quiet moods, allows teachers, such as Traylor, to develop a relationship different from the typical student-teacher scenario found in other schools. “If you have a relationship with them, then you are going to learn a lot more from them because they want to hear what you have to say.

“So, I feel like we are both learning more.”

Traylor said research has shown that when teachers know a student’s background or interests, it can lead to better learning. In her classroom, students are grouped by their learning pace and there are not any due dates.

“People learn at different times, and sometimes it’s not all at once,” Traylor said. “I just feel like coming from the more traditional classroom to now, there is more choice in everything that they do.”

Another facet of Frankfort’s approach that Bebe has found beneficial is its post-secondary plan, which is set up on the first day of a student’s freshman year. That plan could either be college or a vocational trade school. He hopes to play soccer at the University of Kentucky and beyond.

“But if that doesn’t work out, I have a post-secondary plan,” Bebe said. “We’re still looking into that and trade school, so I think that’ll be good.”

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