Program & Philosophy | Summa Academy

Our mission in education…

Our mission is to nurture children’s natural love of learning and to cultivate Academic Excellence and Emotional Intelligence by building confidence, creativity, compassion and inquisitive minds.

We support our students by developing and being responsive to each child’s growth in optimal well-being. Learning at Summa is an interactive process that values imagination, creativity, and the joy of life. We draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning is the best it can be—an enjoyment driven by curiosity.

Summa’s educational approach is grounded in the best theory and practices developed by leading educators, past and present. Our methods are child-centered, experiential, emergent, project, and inquiry-based. Emphasis is placed on the learner’s relationship with his or her world, on whole-child development, customized learning, and developmental appropriateness.

Families are supported at Summa, and families support Summa Academy. Strong family relationships promote resilience and success in students.

Our Program…

The four goals of Summa Academy

Here’s how we accomplish this…

Community—Summa unites family development, education and research through an unprecedented child-centered, family-supportive learning community in which inspiration and wisdom emerge.

Personalized Learning—We relate to each student as an individual, teaching to his or her strengths and creating opportunities for development in areas of his or her greatest need.

Multi-age—In multi-age classrooms, students move from easier to more difficult material and from simple to more complex strategies according to their capacities and learning styles. We view and respect students as individuals. Students are required to produce ideas, integrate knowledge, and complete tasks that have real-world applications. Students who are motivated to learn do very well at Summa Academy.

Experiential Learning—Ambitious and creative shared projects allow students to address community issues, deepen communication skills, interact with people of all ages, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. Experiential learning excites students as they engage new skills and enjoy the satisfaction of a completed work.

Whole Child Approach - Summa Academy is Portland’s only Natural Learning Relationships school. Education is most effective when it nurtures the physical, social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual development of its students. That is why we maintain these 4 goals of education, while many other independent schools focus primarily on the first goal.

Pyramid of Academic Excellence

Parent Support via the BRIDGE Program - Students thrive when parents and educators understand and support one another. The BRIDGE Program allows us to build a strong bond between home and school, providing the cornerstone for student success.

Knowledge of child development and brain research - Seven year-old students have different capacities than ten year-old students. Relating to each child as an individual assures that students of each age achieve his or her academic and emotional potential.

Knowledge of each student’s strengths and challenges - Work from a student’s strengths and he or she becomes more available to take on challenges. Summa educators use their comprehensive knowledge of the students to maximize strengths and support challenges. 

Developmentally Precise Curriculum - Summa educators draw upon a wide array of curricula resources to match the developmental capacities of each student. Summa educators provide the right material, at the right time, in the right way. 

What we mean by Emotional Intelligence - The ability to be aware of and experience all of our feelings, identify those feelings, and fear none of our feelings. The ability to monitor, navigate, self-regulate, and discriminate between different emotions is learned from experience with caring trustworthy guidance to engage and express feelings appropriately. Emotional Intelligence relies on self-trust.

Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy. —Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

Our Philosophy…

A core philosophy permeates Summa Academy—Natural Learning Relationships. Natural Learning Relationships is a map of the child’s inherent wholeness.

Natural Learning Relationship Logo

Natural – the essential qualities or inherent capacities with which we are born
Learning – movement through life to gain knowledge, appreciation, or mastery
Relationships – mutual respect in which inspiration and wisdom emerge

Thus Natural Learning Relationships describes our essential qualities or inherent capacities (natural) that move us through life to gain knowledge, appreciation, or mastery (learning) nurtured by mutual respect in which inspiration and wisdom emerge (relationships).

Natural Learning Relationships draws upon extensive child development research and brain research, particularly in the field of interpersonal neurobiology. Supported by Natural Learning Relationships students develop their ability to self-reflect. This builds confidence, creativity, compassion, and inquisitive minds.

Is your child 0-7? Look here for information on the BodyBeing stage of development: BB_Stage_Poster_-_Half_Page_2015.pdf

Is your child 8-12? Look here for information on the FeelingBeing stage of development: FB_Stage_Poster_-_Half_Page_2015.pdf

Is your child 13-18? Look here for information on the BodyBeing stage of development: IB_Stage_Poster_-_Half_Page_2015.pdf

Is your child 19-23? Look here for information on the BodyBeing stage of development: RB_Stage_Poster_-_Half_Page_2015.pdf

This is Natural Learning Relationships

A Comparison Table: Summa Academy, Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia

For over 30 years Summa’s holistic child development approach, Natural Learning Relationships, has been used by schools of all types (including many Waldorf and Montessori schools), parents, and social service agencies to improve academic excellence, emotional intelligence, and family relationships. In 2013, Summa opened this Natural Learning Relationships school in Portland Oregon. Many parents have asked us how our approach differs from and how it is similar to other educational approaches. We have taken a table that already existed online and added Summa Academy to it (we have not changed the Montessori, Waldorf, or Reggio Emilia sections in any way). Download the table here: Summa_Montessori_Steiner_Comparrison_Table.pdf