During High Hampton's recent redevelopment, the organization gifted Summit Charter School with gently-used fitness equipment that needed a new home. Last spring, after a group of high school students learned of this donation, they dreamed of adding a fitness center to promote health and wellness at the school and help further develop the school athletics program. Tenth grade students at the time Jazmin Barranco, Sarah Betty, Chloe Crawford, and Edward Marquina approached the Summit Charter School Foundation about their dream of a new fitness facility to house the equipment. As a public charter school, Summit is unique. The school is indeed a public school, but does not receive public funding for building or maintaining its facilities. The school relies on private donations to bridge the funding gap for capital improvements. "When the students approached us, we all agreed it was a wonderful idea but we had other funding needs that had a higher priority for the Summit Charter School Foundation at the time. However, we also recognized the importance of physical and mental health, and were especially inspired by the students' drive to help the school. As such, we tasked the students with taking ownership of the project. They researched the importance of exercise, designed a floor plan, identified a case for support, and created a donor presentation and video," explains Melissa Hudson, Summit's development director. Citing the students' research, Edward Marquina shared, "Healthy students are better learners. According to the CDC, more than 80% of the world's teenage population is insufficiently physically active. Physical activity ensures healthy growth and development in young people." The students came up with many other reasons behind their dream to build a fitness center. Personal reasons why they believed it would benefit the school included having an accessible and free source of exercise for those who don't have access to one, offering an environment that is a self-esteem booster and stress reliever for both students and teachers, and increasing motivation and commitment for student athletes. As the students worked on the project, parents and board members were assembling behind-the-scenes. As is a tradition at Summit, donated products and services also help the school tackle its funding challenges. Parent and community businesses that were willing to help offset construction expenses include Cashiers Firewood, Sweetwater Builders, Mark Rogers Grading, Beni’s Construction, Cashiers Craftsmen, Inc, Cashiers Excavating, Roman’s Roofing, Zoller Hardware, Highlands Technology Group, High Hampton, Mountain Stone & Marble, OG Painting, Cashiers Pump & Plumbing, Sunshine Storytime, Alex’s Siding, Scotlyn Yard Landscaping, and DiscoverTurf and Native Grass, Inc. As an example, Sweetwater Builders is the general contractor and has waived 100% of the builder fee. Furthermore, their intern Zach Russell, a graduate of Summit's inaugural Class of 2022, worked with the students on the floor plan, elevations, and 3D renderings. "With the student pitch ready and a good sense of our expenses, it was time to approach potential donors," explains Josh Crawford, chair of the Foundation at the time. It took one in-person presentation to secure the students' first donation toward funding the fitness center. The donor explained that they would give an additional donation if Summit could find a matching donor. A few days later they received a match and the students' dream of a fitness center became a reality. "We are extremely proud of our students and are very grateful for the many donors and businesses that have made this project possible for our school. A fitness center will be an important asset in developing a successful and safe athletics and wellness program," said Kurt Pusch, head of school. Construction of the fitness center broke ground at the end of 2022 and will be completed over the summer, open for the 2023-24 school year. Taking place right now, a new sign decorated by students and parents is on display each week thanking donors. "Partnerships with our parents and the community are the heart of our school. This project is a great demonstration of our culture and educational philosophy," concludes Mr. Pusch. Summit Charter School is a K-12 public charter school. The school is tuition-free and currently serves over 285 students, representing the school's largest enrollment since it opened in 1997.
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