The Summit Academy Curriculum

The courses in The Summit’s curriculum is integrated, unfolding from sixth grade through graduation, so that each class supports another. To carry out this integrated approach, teachers at The Summit are informed by a high view of humanity, they are logos-centric, and they recognize the importance of culture and the value of Western civilization. They believe that man is made in the image of God, that the world was created to be known, and that the great contributions of Western civilization in art, literature, poetry, mathematics, science, and philosophy can inform and inspire students to live great lives.

Upper-school classes are organized by sex and based on Socratic discussion, including in mathematics. The Summit’s courses share a single honors track, and dual enrollment is available to upperclassmen who want to challenge themselves in math and science while receiving college credits. Summit graduates who take advantage of this offering are able to graduate a semester early from Virginia schools. The Summit offers a growth-oriented curriculum for students who share a commitment to intellectual curiosity, hard work, and truth-seeking.

Each year’s studies at The Summit orbit a focal period in Western history: ancient, medieval, modern, and American. In the ancient sequence, occurring in both the sixth and ninth grades, students study the Old Testament, first (in sixth) to establish familiarity with the Word of God and then (in ninth) to engage the text with the seriousness afforded by greater maturity and cultivated habits of inquiry. Sixth and ninth grade encounters with history and theology are complemented by literature: illustrative novels in sixth and the great epics, Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, in ninth. Having completed a formal introduction to logic in eighth grade, Summit ninth graders also trace the origins of scientific thought in The Summit’s “Introduction to Natural Science” course, gradually discovering the antique meaning of επιστήμη (science) through a problems-based tour of the Pre-Socratic philosophers and relevant texts of Plato and Aristotle. By conducting these studies in parallel and with frequent behind-the-scenes communication between teachers, students begin to realize that their distinct classes are meant to awaken a single realization within them: they are created to know and love creation and its Creator.

Students in The Summit’s medieval sequence, occurring in the seventh and tenth grades, focus on the New Testament and the world that gradually received the Gospel. They find the Gospel reflected in the folklore of freshly converted European peoples, in the lives of their saints and teachers, and, in the tenth grade literature course, expressed with sublimity in the work of Dante.

This pattern continues until it reaches the twelfth grade sequence, wherein students are challenged to harvest the fruits of their previous studies and apply them to a focused study of the centuries approaching our own. Whereas the eighth grade curriculum focused more narrowly on Virginia history, providing students with intellectual and imaginative roots in their immediate locale, the twelfth grade curriculum challenges students to broaden their perspectives: they are asked, for instance, to contemplate their place in the Church and the world in their Vocation and Ecclesiology course, and to persuasively articulate the difference between liberty and license, drawing from lessons begun in their first years of study and intentionally reinforced thereafter, in their American Political History course. Although other schools with comparable missions might emphasize these themes, The Summit is uniquely attentive to the way that these lessons resonate within the hearts of individual students.

The Summit’s math and science courses aspire to produce mathematicians and scientists, not merely students who have achieved mathematical and scientific literacy. In science, students are invited to be hands-on participants in scientific inquiry from their first class meetings in sixth grade, onward. The Summit’s middle school math curriculum is designed to prepare students for Phillips-Exeter’s Integrated Math curriculum, taught from ninth through twelfth grade. As in science, these courses trust students with the task of collaboratively governing mathematical experimentation: class meetings are student-led discussions of problem sets that encourage discovery and demand cooperative participation.

Students at The Summit begin their study of classical languages in middle school, completing Hans Ørberg’s Lingua Latina: Familia Romana in three years, achieving an intuitive facility with the language via the ‘natural method,’ and acquiring insight into the domestic life of the Roman people. In the upper school, students begin a study of Latin that emphasizes grammatical precision and Roman political life. In Latin I and II, students complete their study of Latin grammar and begin to read Caesar’s De Bello Gallico. In Latin III, students revisit the drama of late Republican Rome with a focused study of Cicero’s political speeches and, in Latin IV, students return to the Aeneid and explore Latin verse. Students who have completed the middle school curriculum before entering the upper school may elect to continue their studies in Latin V, which offers broader exposure to the history of the language: antique, medieval, ecclesiastical, and modern.

While Summit students experience something of the breadth of Western culture in their courses, The Summit acknowledges the wisdom of Pliny’s adage: multum non multa or “much not many.” Rather than providing a comprehensive survey of history, science, theology, and literature, The Summit regards its curricular materials as both riches to be savored and vehicles for cultivating habits of lifelong learning. The Summit’s Senior Thesis program, begun in each student’s junior year, focused on a great work of literature, philosophy, theology, or scientific inquiry, culminating in a public defense attended by families, faculty, and fellow students, illustrates The Summit’s commitment to the formation of attentive, well-rounded, careful participants in the Great Conversation.

Finally, The Summit’s elective courses allow students and teachers to investigate subjects of mutual interest. Although some offerings recur, each semester’s offerings are different and reflect the desire among students and staff to extend curricular conversations or apply intellectual habits to new topics.