“They don’t have to be great at math,” he said. “If it’s a C and they’re doing their best then I’m just as proud of them as someone who gets an A. It’s OK to make mistakes. My quote here is, ‘Mistakes allow things to happen.’ I show them that I make mistakes. Then, how do we get around it? How do we learn from that? As long as they believe that they can do it when they walk out of the classroom, that’s what I want. I care about their grades. I care about their scores. But again, a C for a student might be great for them. I just want them to feel good about themselves when they leave this class every day.”
Suyama’s first stint at Burton Glen began in 2000. He left to teach at another school for five years, then came back to National Heritage Academies (NHA) sister-schools Detroit Premier Academy and Warrendale Charter Academy, and has been back at Burton Glen for about six years.
Suyama said his current tenure at Burton Glen, which outperforms the local district in all subjects, is his longest at a school. He pointed to Burton Glen’s commitment to engagement and collaboration as its strengths.
“I just really like the way that the staff interacts with each other, and I include administration in the staff,” he said. “We’re focused. We know what we’re here for and everyone is on board at the school. We’re focused on what needs to get done. We work as a team together, and we enjoy doing it working with each other and the students. That’s what I really like about the school.”
Suyama said Principal Aaron P. Williams has helped Burton Glen teachers believe in their goal of transforming students’ lives since arriving in 2017, which has led to students being more confident academically.
“If you give them some confidence, you see their faces light up and that’s what it’s all about,” Suyama said. “Even as I teach seventh and eighth grade and every day, if I can get someone to just go ‘I can do this’ when they didn’t believe in themself, that’s what I’m finding.”
Having taught at different NHA schools has helped Suyama appreciate each community’s distinct culture while being guided by a Moral Focus-based curriculum.
“I like the way that NHA gives us our own schools and we can work within those different than the cultures,” he said. “It lets us decide what that culture is. I really like that aspect of it.”
Suyama said the stability and commitment of Burton Glen’s staff has resulted in improved test scores for the past several years, in particular last year’s PSAT. It all started with instilling confidence in students.
“I was pretty proud of that with the students because at the end you could really feel them looking at their test scores and going ‘Hey, I can do this. I’m smarter than I think I am,’” he said.
Keep up the excellent work, Mr. Suyama!
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Burton Glen Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Burton, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.