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Santa Monica's Olympic High Offers Second Chance  


By Melonie Magruder
Staff Writer

May 14, 2012 -- Olympic High School’s Food Truck Thursday has all the elements of a great neighborhood block party. Youngsters shoot hoops, the aroma of freshly-grilled steak sliders waft over the crowd, and a local high school band rocks some heavy bass.

Chynna Summers flanked by her parents Gerry Summers and Sabrina Mack (Photo by Melonie Magruder)

It serves to showcase the talents of Chynna Summers, who growls through 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite.” The Olympic High senior only recently developed her surprisingly strong voice, according to her father, Gerry Summers.

 “She found this amazing singing voice and she is a member of the TELA (Teen Education in Liberation Arts) group and recently put on a play (a first of it's kind audience participation),” Gerry Summers wrote of Chynna in an email to The Lookout

Summers’ is not just typical parental pride. Two years ago, Summers felt he was in danger of losing his daughter to “drink and drugs” and was desperate to help her.

Then he found Principal Dr.Janie Gates and Olympic High, the Santa Monica - Malibu Unified School District's (SMMUSD) alternative school for students short on credits and in need of creative learning methods.

“There is such a powerful human story behind this kid's life and were it not for Janie Gates and (Olympic’s) support staff, I would have lost this wonderful daughter to the streets," Summers wrote.

Like "many of these kids, she carried a very dark secret for many years and I had been helplessly watching my child descend into utter darkness. She was broken and in the 11th grade with no real chance of catching up to graduate on time.” 

Things have changed.

Today, Chynna is a young woman of poise and ambition. She is the student representative for Olympic High to SMMUSD and assiduously attends board meetings. Her grades are good.

She is looking to enter Santa Monica College in the fall to “take care of all the basic credits” before she applies to Boston University or Brown or maybe the University of Sidney. She wants to see the world.

“I want to study music and business,” Chynna says. “My dad’s a businessman, and he wants me to take care of myself.”

Chynna arrived at Olympic in bad shape and in danger of dropping out. But she responded to the Olympic approach to education, even though she knew of its reputation as the “troubled school.”

“People have such misperceptions about Olympic,” she says. “But we’re really just one big family here.

"It’s not like SAMOHI where everyone has cliques. Here, everyone knows each other. They come here and see the atmosphere and they totally get it.”

Olympic teachers say they work to find creative approaches to education that might not be as readily available at larger high schools.

“Olympic is about learning and you need to find what works for them," says Marcia Gecht, who teaches English, Government, Health, Economics and Criminal Justice at the school. "It’s about caring. And here, they find their voice.”

Chynna says that the feeling of inclusiveness and respect is what changed her view of school and learning possibilities, and she credits her mentor, Dr. Gates, for creating the environment that allowed her to bloom.

“There are no racists or homophobes here,” she says. “We don’t have any problems like that. You never have to ask for respect here from anyone. So we love our teachers – and we love the students.”

Gates sees the Food Truck evenings as an opportunity to raise funds for Olympic High, as well as a way to foster fellowship amongst the students and their families “We don’t have a PTA,” Gates notes regretfully.

The Food Truck events will be held throughout the summer, when warmer weather might bring out a mightier crowd. Chynna laughs at the suggestion that the crowd was a bit thin.

“I know,” she says. “It’s Olympic High! We’re kind of like misfits here.”



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