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The Summit School in Nyack Finds New Ways to Improve the Student Experience

The school has taken hard steps to improve staff conduct and professionalism by adopting a stringent qualification system for new hires

The Summit School in Nyack, New York serves children and their families with the primary goal of helping children with social-emotional difficulties become successful students and discover and achieve their professional and life goals into adulthood. The school provides academic services under the New York State Board of Regents – in addition to education in itself, the school’s team of special educators provide recreational programming to make the learning process fun, constructive parent communication to keep guardian(s), students, and faculty aligned on health and educational goals, and vocational counseling as well as college preparation and transition planning to prepare students with the life skills they need to successfully move into adulthood:

“I feel that students leave Summit with a well-rounded sense of what makes them who they are. We offer so many opportunities, such as the work program, animal care, and after-school programs and trips, that allow students to gain a better understanding of what makes them happy in life.” -Samantha Legath (Summit School Special Educator and Math Department Team Leader)

 

While each of these activities contributes to making the Summit School vibrant and successful, it is important to ensure that staff is qualified to lead activities in and outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, a number of students have brought up issues with staff from the past. A recent article from the Mercy College Student Newspaper, The Impact, has brought a number of accusations to light. Former student Rocky Martinez is quoted as saying:

“One physical education teacher who was in charge of the after-school activities would take students on different trips. Martinez says that often in these trips, the teacher would choose a young female student and separate himself from the rest of the students.

‘It was all the time, there was a lot of flirting involved. It was odd, it was like he was grooming her for when she left Summit. There are credible sources who said that he and the young girl were dating during her time in the school around 2001-2002.’”

This type of behavior is completely unacceptable and it looks terrible on the school that this could even potentially be a reality. At the Summit School, every teacher is a certified special educator by the New York State Education Department which requires a thorough background check and prohibits all staff from grooming students for a romantic relationship. In addition to the NYS regulations, the Summit School prohibits faculty and staff from having a romantic relationship with any student, and the school has processes in place to prevent and report suspected activity of that kind.

Another allegation from The Impact article comes from Megan Lane:

“In addition to staff members allowing her to smoke, Lane said she was bullied by teachers who used nicknames when referring to her.

‘The teachers would call me nicknames that would catch on. So, I was called Hollywood for an entire year. There was one staff member who said that I smelled and did not brush my hair enough. She also told me that I did not wash my “coochie.” Yes, I remember that.’

Lane went on to further explain that she was also constantly body-shamed by a member of the staff.

‘My English teacher said that I was overweight and that I should wear clothes that fit me better. She suggested that I wear clothes that accentuate my body type rather than ones that make me look bigger and she said it in such a mean way. This was not a one-time thing that occurred. She repeatedly told me that. She even mentioned that she was going to call my parents and tell them to buy me new clothes because my clothes made me look like a ‘heffer.’ I didn’t even know what heffer meant at the time.’”

This type of conduct is completely unacceptable and the Summit School has taken steps to investigate this incident. The school specializes in working with students who struggle in educational settings, thus making accusations of inappropriate conduct from staff commonplace as students look for ways to get out of trouble. That being said, the school has the policy to investigate recurring claims from students of any staff member who does not show “flexible, compassionate, creative, and collaborative” attributes in their day-to-day interactions with students. School leadership takes any accusations from alumni seriously as it is their hope that the majority of their alumni who have negative things to say about their experience are speaking out in good faith. In addition to requiring that all teachers are certified special educators, the school’s policy of reviewing and investigating claims from students and alumni fosters a culture of accountability that is enabling new students to experience the best version of Summit School each and every day.

Stanley Gatero is a writer at Disrupt Magazine. He covers topics concerning technology, entrepreneurship, news, and sports. He is an avid traveler.

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