Summit Country Day Innovates Early Childhood Education


New Lower School Director will Focus on Mind, Brain, Teaching

The Summit Country Day School’s new Lower School director, Kendra Thornton, Ed.D., is translating what she learned in her doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins University into best practices in classrooms this fall for children in grades one through four.

Dr. Thornton’s doctorate in education has a specialization in “Mind, Brain and Teaching.” This specialization builds upon basic and applied research from the fields of cognitive science, psychology, neurology, neuroscience and education.

“We want to develop resilient and divergent thinkers who can collaborate and communicate effectively in our 21st century world,” Dr. Thornton says. “To encourage innovative thinking and creative problem-solving, we want to foster a classroom environment where children can embrace mistakes and use inquiry-based learning techniques to test their ideas.”  

Among changes she has in mind:

  • Growing the mindfulness aspects of the counseling curriculum through increased application of meditative breathing, guided imagery and self-calming techniques. In addition, movement and mindfulness is now formally part of the daily fourth grade schedule.
  • Building on the Scratch coding program, which debuted in the third grade last year. 
  • Introducing a Lego Learning “Lab on Wheels,” a mobile learning lab that will advance spatial reasoning, cultivate critical thinking skills and boost motor development.  
  • Growing from STEM to STEAM, integrating Art into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics applications. 
  • Making greater use of The Summit’s Outdoor Learning Space and Garden for the Good. “Instead of farm to table, we have garden to desk,” Dr. Thornton says.  
  • Updates to the computer lab influenced by the office designs of technology companies. The modifications take into account the importance of novelty and play in creativity. The lab was remodeled to maximize students’ collaboration and communication. 

Dr. Thornton had the opportunity to spend time preparing for her role as director because she has been the Lower School’s counselor since 2009. Last year, after her promotion was announced, she worked for several months with Helen Clark, who retired as director at the end of the year. 

As counselor, Dr. Thornton created accommodation plans, facilitated systemic support for students with learning differences, presented professional development to faculty meetings and taught weekly lessons in The Summit’s signature Character Education and Social Skills programs. Before earning her doctorate, Dr. Thornton received her master’s degree in community counseling from Xavier University and bachelor’s degree in political science/pre-law from the University of Cincinnati. She is licensed by the state of Ohio as a professional clinical counselor. She was published in the Ohio School Counselor Association’s professional journal, OSCA Advocate, and has presented at The Summit’s annual Early Childhood Education Symposium. Since 2006, she has served on the Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Team.    

“Dr. Thornton brings many strengths to this position,” says Rich Wilson, Head of School. “Not only does she know the Lower School well, but her counseling training, expertise in data-driven instruction and experience in providing professional development training have already made her a leader among the faculty. She has a passion for learning the best practices and applying them to daily lessons in the classroom.”


New Montessori Director Links Movement to Cognitive Development

The Summit Country Day School’s new Montessori director, Kathy Scott, is getting the youngest Summit scholars – the 2-year-olds – moving this fall. Building on active movement, already a part of the environment, she has them climbing, crawling, balancing, rolling and stair climbing in the Montessori’s new Toddler Muscle Room.

Development of gross motor skills at this age is crucial to development of major muscle groups, joints, hand muscles, fine motor skills, independence, coordination and cognition. “The Montessori classroom environment is ideal for each child and the need for motor movement; however, developmentally the needs of a toddler differ somewhat from those of older children,” Mrs. Scott says. “Toddlers are continually developing aspects of balance, core strength, climbing, crawling, jumping, rolling and stair climbing, as well as sensory motor skills of spinning and tactile differentiation.”  

The Summit is one of a few schools in Greater Cincinnati applying the Montessori philosophy in an educational program for 2-year-olds. Seasoned educators with advanced degrees and very low student-to-teacher ratios have made The Summit a model for Montessori and go-to place for teacher training. 

“Our classrooms were designed with the Montessori child and best-practice teaching in mind,” Mrs. Scott says. “Large and bright, they are filled with natural light and picture-window views of the outdoors. Every room is filled with an abundance of Montessori materials designed for cognitive development. The driving factor to add a large muscle space was to develop young children holistically, holding true to our school mission to develop children in the five pillars – academically, artistically, spiritually, socially and physically.”

Getting children moving within the classroom is also important. Mrs. Scott notes a 2012 study from the University of Chicago, “Embodied Learning Across The Lifespan,” which points to a close relationship between movement and cognition throughout all stages of life. 

“Very simplistically,” she says, “the process of a child getting material from the shelf, taking it to a workspace, completing it and returning it to its proper place provides movement that researchers have demonstrated increases cerebral blood flow, and this physical activity provides a learning experience that supports long-term cognitive development. The free movement within our classrooms is natural for children, and consequently they benefit from the freedom of movement.”

A veteran of The Summit’s Montessori classroom since 1999, Mrs. Scott plans to install a nature scape on the Montessori’s rooftop playground. Her first goal is to develop relationships with families, create parent education opportunities, facilitate family engagement events outside school hours and smooth the transition into Lower School for Montessori families.   

Mrs. Scott was named Montessori director last year at the end of a nationwide search, replacing Phyllis Schueler who retired. “We cast a wide net to make sure we found the right person to lead our Montessori program into the future,” says Rich Wilson, Head of School. “Among all the candidates locally and across the country, Kathy’s Montessori teaching expertise, administrative and professional development experience, leadership and knowledge of The Summit culture and community put her well ahead of the rest.” 

Mrs. Scott designed The Summit’s Early Enrichment Program for 3- and 4-year-olds, which provides in-depth exploration of topics such as geography, anatomy and biomes. She was the coordinator of Summer Exploration, which offers Montessori summer classes for ages 3 to 6, day camps for ages 3 to 8 and a wide variety of sports camps for age 3 to 18. She was the administrator for Before Care, Extended Day and After School Specials. She has been a leader in developing professional development opportunities for faculty and has facilitated the Ohio Praxis Entry Year program at The Summit for many years. She has a Master of Education in Early Childhood with Montessori 3-to-6 certification through Xavier University and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Webster University in St. Louis.


Visitors see Innovative Programs

Visitors this year at The Summit Country Day School will witness the spirit of innovation.  

“Following last year’s celebration of our 125th anniversary, we have a lot of energy directed at strengthening our future through innovation, professional development and new spaces,” Kelley Schiess, Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Special Projects, says. 

Visitors at this year’s preview days and open houses have a lot to see already.  

  • Innovative new leadership in Montessori has already resulted in a new Toddler Muscle Room and soon will add a nature scape on the Montessori’s rooftop playground.
  • The new Lower School director’s expertise in brain-based learning has led to a Lego Learning “Lab on Wheels,” greater use of The Summit’s Outdoor Learning Space and Garden for the Good, building on the Scratch coding curriculum that debuted last year, a computer lab modeled on office designs of technology companies that emphasize collaboration and creative thinking.  
  • Best-practice literacy and math-teaching techniques.
  • Proven programs in character development and social skills across all grades.
  • This year, STEM became STEAM in the Lower School by integrating Art into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics learning. 
  • A new innovation space will give students opportunities to explore their own innovative ideas.
  • This summer, renovations of the Upper School were completed. In the first phase, summer of 2015, science laboratories were renovated and a new wing was built to create more space for a new art studio, a high-tech library reading room and additional classroom spaces. 
  • Last year, our Middle School STEM lab was renovated. 
  • The Science Research Institute is unique in Cincinnati.
  • Integrated faith and consicence formation is carried out across all grades.

Parents, grandparents and alumni who are considering enrolling new students in The Summit are welcome to attend one of our upcoming preview events.


Early Childhood Education Symposium to Address Early Parenting, Gender

Dr. Leonard Sax, MD, Ph.D, a physician, psychologist and author, will deliver the keynote speech focusing on parenting, specifically on early childhood parenting, and will present a session on “Why Gender Matters in Early Education” at The Summit Country Day School’s Early Childhood Education Symposium on Saturday, November 5. 

After completing his residency in family medicine in 1989, Dr. Sax opened a family practice where he treated adolescents and adults from 1990 to 2008. In 2001, Dr. Sax began meeting with parents’ groups and visiting schools. Since then, he has toured more than 380 schools in multiple countries. He has also appeared on nationally syndicated broadcasts including NBC’s “Today Show” and on FOX News. 

Dr. Sax’s keynote presentation will center on his recent bestseller, “The Collapse of Parenting,” specifically early childhood parenting. Throughout the past decade, levels of obesity, depression and anxiety have risen among young people. In his book, Dr. Sax uses data that he believes helps prove that this escalation is a direct result of parents allowing their children to “run the show.” His book describes why children need parents to take control in order to be successful. During this program, Dr. Sax will discuss the ways in which parents can regain control.

In an article published in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Sax discusses how his research led him to the understanding that parents must emphasize the idea of respect during youth. He writes, “Require respectful behavior at all times. It’s OK to disagree. It’s never OK to be disrespectful.” 

Dr. Sax will also present a session on “Why Gender Matters in Early Education,” the focus of his first book. During his speech he will discuss the way in which he uses scientific data to uncover the ways that boys and girls learn differently and the best ways to help them to excel. 

Helping children succeed, both at home and at school, is important to The Summit. This is the ninth year the school has opened its doors to the public to host this free community-wide symposium.