A School Founded by Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
The words "Notre Dame" carved in the stone arch above Summit's front doors capture the essence of what the school stands for. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, who founded the school, had a unique philosophy about how children should be taught. Their educational philosophy flowed directly from the teachings of St. Julie Billiart, who started the Order in 1804. These principles of education are very much alive in Summit classrooms today. So what separates a Sisters of Notre Dame School from other schools?
Educating the Whole Child
Sister St. Julie was concerned with educating the whole, individual person. She believed that the best education was one that was based on personal knowledge and understanding each child. She challenged teachers to find the right psychological insight to help each child to blossom. "To a teacher, the individual matters most," said Upper School English teacher and school historian Pat Kelly. "My job is to figure out what is going to work best for that individual. St. Julie believed that the wholeness of the person must be respected, loved, and nurtured so that it can fully flower."
She believed in teaching whatever is necessary to prepare a person for a satisfying and productive life. She taught by the principle of encouraging the full range of formative work to develop the gifts which God gives to each child. Summit's mission to develop the academic, physical, religious, social, and artistic facets of each student is a direct result of her convictions on the nature of education.
Expectation of Excellence
Another important principle of the Sisters of Notre Dame was "the expectation of excellence," Mr. Kelly said. "The idea was that the highest levels of math, the highest levels of science and every other subject area could be handled by students with the tenderness and attention that the Sisters provided."
Even today "there's always that expectation that you're a good thinker and a good writer," said Mr. Kelly, "and that we're going to help you become an even better thinker or writer, or scientist, or mathematician."
Father Phil Seher, School Chaplain, reiterated this point. When asked about why parents should care whether or not their children go to a Notre Dame school, he explained, "They should care about the outcome in the sense that if they understand what a Notre Dame school is, they have to challenge us to the excellence that Sister St. Julie demanded. It gives them the ability to challenge the school to be what we claim to be."
Father Seher also noted that it is the job of every teacher to "pull out the potential" in each child. Sometimes that's not easy to do, but patience and persistence are hallmarks of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
The founding sisters encouraged each student to aim high -- to become the best version of themselves they could be. Beyond building the school at the highest point in this area, the sisters named the school The Summit to remind all in the community of the heights of humanity to which all should aspire.
Kindness and Caring
In contrast to the stereotype of nuns being harsh disciplinarians, the Sisters of Notre Dame believed that kindness and caring were the best ways to help children develop. They emphasized that the dignity of each child had to be respected.
"It's important that faculty and staff ask themselves, 'Do students feel we care about them,'" said Dr. Pat White, whose 15-year tenure at The Summit included stints as College Counselor, interim Head of School and Upper School Director. "The philosophy is that every child that comes to The Summit is a gift to the school. It's a privilege to have each person here."
"Sweetness and gentleness" characterize the culture of Notre Dame Schools, according to Mr. Kelly.
Helping children appreciate the joy of living was an important principle of the Sisters. "This was a happy order of nuns," said Mr. Kelly, "Sending your children to a place that has happiness as part of its basis is a good thing."
St. Julie was constantly reminding her teachers that children are not miniature adults. They can't concentrate for long periods of time. They need variety, recreation and play in their lives. These aspects of development can be as important as their academic development.
That's why the faculty and staff constantly look for ways to bring fun and joy into the classroom. Learning shouldn't be drudgery. Summit wants its graduates to be lifetime learners. Ensuring that joy pervades the classrooms, halls, athletic fields--everywhere students spend their time during the day--is critical to kindling each child's love of learning.
Reaching Out to the Less Fortunate
"St. Julie's special care for the poor, particularly the most neglected, must be an important part of a Summit education," explained Dr. White. She said that all members of the Summit community should remember the quote from St. Julie: "Good will alone is not enough; it must also be put into practice."
Outreach to those in need is evident in all grade levels. Middle School students participate in Make a Difference Day; Upper School students can be involved in a plethora of activities set up to assist the needy, such as Homework Club for disadvantaged students, and Key Club, an organization where service projects are carried out. The twelfth grade Social Justice course encompasses both instruction and community action.
"The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur founded The Summit as a school for people who are most likely going to be leaders-the movers and shakers," said Mr. Kelly. "As Jesus said, 'To whom much is given, much is expected.' Because students whose families can afford this type of education often come from privilege, the expectation is that we need to train them and help them to see how they can lovingly exert that privilege when they go out into the world as adults."
Dr. White added, "The sisters founded this school with the knowledge that its students would be well equipped to make decisions for society-the people who will make a difference."
Keeping the Sisters of Notre Dame tradition alive without the Sisters' physical presence in the school is an important objective. "The Notre Dame spirit is something that is not in the flesh of an individual person," explained Father Seher. "You need teachers who live the ideals of Sister Julie Billiart every day. As long as people are committed to St. Julie's principles, that's what keeps it alive. It requires a conscious effort of administration, faculty, the Board, parents, and students to want to keep that alive."