Jayla Foster had a tough start to high school, attending three different schools and ultimately repeating her sophomore year. When she reached Summit Atlas, a new public charter school in its second year, Jayla found her stride. Embraced by a supportive school community, she uncovered her passion and voice as a student leader, ultimately becoming student body president and dedicating herself to helping her peers achieve success.
When she transferred to Summit Atlas to restart her sophomore year, Jayla shared that she lacked academic confidence and believed she was simply terrible at school. She was surprised to learn that she was completely capable of succeeding. “When I came to Summit Atlas, I heard things like ‘Jayla, you can do it,’ or ‘you can do better, and we’ll help you.’ I went from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. I was happier and I wasn’t just dwelling on what I couldn’t do.”
Jayla credits this shift to the unique mentoring program at Summit Atlas, which provides every student with consistent, one-to-one support throughout their entire educational journey. “Having an individual mentor was really helpful. I could go to them whenever I needed. It’s really important as a teenager to have that support.”
Even if they were not her assigned mentor, her teachers would also consistently encourage Jayla and dedicate time to support her to truly master content she was struggling with. “Oh, my goodness, Ms. Smith, my math teacher, is so dedicated and willing. Whatever it is, she will go over the subject with you a million different ways until you understand. Teachers at Atlas cater to multiple styles of learning.” That constant personalized support and encouragement – knowing there was always a team who believed in her-–was the game changer that made Jayla’s experience at Atlas totally different from her academic experiences in the past.
Learning how to utilize these support systems has been a key to Jayla’s independence. Today, Jayla is proud of her ability to seek help when she needs it. She isn’t afraid to reach out to her mentor, to seek social-emotional support from a trusted adult other than her parents. During one-on-one meetings with her mentor, and office hours with her teachers, Jayla shared that she can open up and talk about anything.
Recognizing the huge positive change Summit Atlas made for her, all Jayla wanted to do was give back to the student community. Her principal recognized this in her and encouraged Jayla to run for student body president. She did and she won. As president, Jayla took pride in founding a chapter of the National Honors Society. She carefully named the chapter Fostering Atlas Scholars with the goal of disrupting exclusivity culture and creating a welcoming space for anyone to join. “It’s not all about being at the top, it’s about cultivating and growing,” she said.
In harmony with Summit Atlas’ emphasis on collaboration, Jayla was able to lean into motivating her peers in every way she could. If she saw someone struggling academically, she jumped in to help. “I would tell them we’re not just going to pass, we’re going to go as high as we can go. I know what this feels like and I’m here for you.” This response came to Jayla naturally.
“That’s community,” she stated, “that’s what Atlas teaches — to be in community.”
The legacy of community Jayla has created at Summit Atlas in its most formative years is apparent. Her English teacher, Jeffery Stein, enthusiastically recognized her as “an absolute standout academically and as a school leader. Jayla regularly volunteers to help other struggling students succeed in her free time, even working last year during summer school with students.
Now, as a member of Summit Atlas’ first graduating class, Jayla is preparing to attend California Lutheran University to study business administration. When asked about the college application process, Jayla responded, “it was actually extremely easy, and you won’t hear many seniors say that.” Summit Atlas offered personalized support, including intensive guidance narrowing down schools, planning applications timelines, and working through financial aid.
After college, Jayla dreams of starting a music or fashion nonprofit that works alongside communities in need of support to make a positive impact. Her creative drive is inspired by her family and strengthened by a music production elective at Summit Atlas, through which she collaboratively produced a song about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I wasn’t dreaming at all before but now I want to do something with my life. I’ve grown in character; I care about people and want to see them succeed too. It’s cool to see people thrive.”
As a soon-to-be Atlas alum, Jayla is leaving current students with a few pieces of advice:
- Utilize your mentor, utilize your teachers – they’re always there to help you.
- Try to be a part of your community.
- Don’t limit yourself or your opportunities, you can do anything.
Learn more about Summit Atlas here.