Sommer Garman, principal, Bellefonte Area Middle School
Sommer Garman is what you would call a natural leader. That’s what helps make her the ideal person to oversee Bellefonte Area Middle School as its principal – a position she started at about seven years ago after what she said was a “curvy path” to get there.
“I love administration and being the one responsible for helping people figure out what to do and how to do it and offering advice,” Garman said. “I kind of see it more as a coach, and working with students and teachers and parents. I feel I have a bigger impact in this role than I would in my own classroom.”
Garman, who grew up in Curwensville, graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and minor in Spanish. Thinking she’d be an elementary Spanish teacher, she took an internship in Mexico where she taught fourth grade. But her early path in education led Garman to instead work for a private company in alternative education to teach at a residential treatment facility for disruptive youth in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve had my hair ripped out, been stabbed with pencils, seen a student come in with bullet holes through his body – it was just an eye-opening experience, and I fell in love with these kids,” she said. “They were just kids with tough lives and difficult situations at home with little to no one taking care of them, and my heart went out to them.”
After two years working in the group home, she headed back to central Pennsylvania with her husband Matt Garman, and landed a job with the same company – this time to serve the Huntingdon Area School District. That led her to being program director and then head of the district-based alternative education program before becoming an assistant middle school principal in Huntingdon and eventually at Bellefonte Area School District – first in administration at the high school and then in her current role at BAMS.
“This is my favorite age level,” Garman said about those in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. “They’re not so dependent, but also not so independent, so it’s nice to work with them at a time when they’re still a kid. For them, I just want school to be a fun, enjoyable place, especially at middle school because I think it’s the toughest time in life.”
Garman is also the principal of the Bellefonte eLearning Academy – the district’s cyber education program, and leads the district’s Professional Learning campaign that provides staff with professional-development-type opportunities facilitated by fellow staff members.
Garman, the mother of two daughters, is working on her doctoral degree from California University of Pennsylvania. She also has a love for the game of rugby after playing for, and captaining, her college team at IUP.
At the start of this school year, Garman shared a quote with her staff. Mr. Fred Rogers once said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'it’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."
This is something that Garman said she fully believes in – “that we are all here to help our students learn and grow to be the best version of themselves” – a team effort, and one that she said she’s proud to be a part of.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD