Independent School 5th and 6th Graders | Topaz Class

Ten and Eleven year-olds at Summa Academy

Step into the Topaz room where:

  • Academics are rigorous and students work in autonomous groups with clear and concise instructions.
  • Careful attention is given to the developing sense of self-governance.
  • Transition to high school is mentored with special classes, e.g. test-taking techniques, organizational skills, leadership development.
  • Organization and planning skills are emphasized with openness to letting students discover what ideas work best for them.

Ms. Frensley

Ms. Frensley
(FELLOW, National Academy for Advanced Teacher Education)
Throughout my years as a teacher I’ve always yearned for an educational climate that valued social and interpersonal learning equally to academics. Summa is that place. Here I can design curriculum that brings forth both Academic Excellence and Emotional Intelligence.
I am thrilled and enlivened by the collegial relationships of the Summa team of educators and administrators. We share in the commitment to self-growth as professionals and as humans.
Alexandria comes to us from Nashville, TN where she was lead teacher of the 6/7th grade for the last several years at a Title One charter school. She is moving to Portland this summer with her fiancé who will be attending Louis and Clark Law School in the Fall. They are happy to be moving closer to family and Alexandria can’t wait to meet the students and families.

Academic Excellence

Topaz students are ready for academic challenges. Summa meets them in their need. Language Arts includes reading, writing, and listening. It also includes media literacy, psychological analysis of character, and creative writing. Mathematics studies range from beginning algebra to advanced geometry. Themes dominate humanities. Investigations reflect students’ interests thus ensuring spirited participation.
Topaz students are in a time of developmental transition. Summa meets their needs directly, guiding challenging social interactions while teaching rigorous academics.
At Summa Academy, parents are integral to successful education. Educator and parent collaborate on the Personal Learning Plan at the beginning of the year to ensure strengths and challenges are well understood. The educators track progress with bi-weekly student notes that are shared with parents. Parent/educator conferences focus on a detailed summary assessment of the academic proficiencies accomplished that term. As the year progresses and a student grows personally, socially, and academically, parents see this progress as additional proficiencies are added to the assessment.

Emotional Intelligence

Topaz students embark on a serious quest to develop autonomy. This quest for self-government extends into peer and family relations as well as academic skill mastery. Significant changes in both brain and body herald a new sense of self. New powerful emotions arise. Summa educators, with their great knowledge of child development and brain research, appreciate the strength of these emotions. They foster Emotional Intelligence by creating a classroom of sensitive respect for the ideals and perspectives of each student. Through self-reflective and peer group engagement, students learn to assess their emotional experience. Students realize that growth in Emotional Intelligence is critical to mastery of self, to authentic autonomy.
Successful peer relationships are critical for Academic Excellence and Emotional Intelligence. Topaz students begin each day with a half hour of group interaction designed to increase appreciation of one another. Similarities and differences are explored. Conflicts resolved, strengths noted and ideas shared. Games and activities are introduced that lead to meaningful exploration of values.
Deepening Emotional Intelligence is nurtured and mentored throughout the curriculum. Students journal, exploring the relationship between psychology and emotion, and reflect on the impact of their emotions on decision making. Curriculum topics often bring forth strong emotional responses. Summa educators use these moments as forums for students to clarify their perspective on fairness and justice.

Experiential Learning

Every day Topaz students enjoy experiential learning. They debate, give speeches, role play historical scenarios, and perform scientific experiments. Often creative insights arise in these moments.
portland progressive middle school

Physical Activity

Brain research shows that morning physical activity promotes cognitive and behavioral competence. The entire school does thirty minutes of physical exercise together each morning. Activities vary, and students usually have two activities to choose from, an inside activity (e.g. dance, martial arts) and an outside activity (e.g. volleyball, soccer). Topaz students also have concentration based active stations in the classroom that they can engage between academic lessons (e.g. balance boards).


Every week Topaz students come together to participate in formal art class. Well-known and lesser-known artists are studied and their stylistic innovations sampled. Art projects vary, and technique and creativity are valued. In addition to the formal art class, the budding artists often engage in other artistic projects throughout the week. Using Summa’s large art studio they enhance their skills as they learn by doing. Mediums we explore are range from stone to clay, wood to paint, watercolor to charcoal. With the Topaz students project management is also emphasized as they learn to master the artistic process from conception to show. Students are proud of their work, and are given the chance to display it in the lunch room at the end of each section.

A Day in the Life of the Topaz Student

8:45 Drop Off
9:00 Interpersonal Learning
9:30 Physical Activity
10:05 Language Arts
10:50 Outside Body Break
11:00 Mathematics
11:50 World Language alternating with Music
12:30 Lunch
12:50 Recess
1:25 Science alternating with Humanities
2:15 Project-based Learning (Student Council on Weds.)
3:15 Wrap-up and debrief of the day
3:30 Pick-up