Summer school can be a lot more than toiling away in a classroom, Thompson Middle School Principal Christopher Scott decided. It doesn’t even have to be called summer school – especially if that archaic title no longer fits.

Scott and the Thompson Middle School staff embarked on a complete re-imagining of the summer program this year and re-launched it in July as the Thompson Middle School Learning Academy. Still offering academic support to students who need extra help, the academy also branched off into new areas – specifically a wide range of languages and in addition, offering opportunities to enhance their study skills.

Thompson students had the opportunity this summer to study Chinese, German, Latin, French and Spanish through the academy. They also learned study skills that will make the school year a lot more productive: test taking, note taking, writing and presenting. From this foundation, Scott hopes to expand over the next few years to offer even more diverse subjects and attract more students.

“The challenge is in finding what appeals to them as individuals – each one has unique interests. There are kids who like drama, arts, science, and math. As we find out more about what they want, we have the faculty and staff who are eager to offer them opportunities,” he said. “Also, because the program runs half days, it doesn’t take up their whole summer. They can come to the academy and still have plenty of time to do other things. It’s flexible for them and their families.”

Summer with a twist

The previous summer program offered solid assets to build on: a meal program, transportation, and a dedicated staff. This year the summer staff consisted of Summer Director Judy Perkins, teachers Steven DiFormato, Laura Stefanski and Mary Monahan, media specialist Mary Aubin, and paraprofessional Cindy Consiglio. A meal program and transportation continued to be offered to students. Breakfast and lunch were offered through a collaboration with the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group to offer nutritious meals during the program.

“The free meals and transportation were important in being able to keep the program free and convenient for working families,” Scott said. “We’re very grateful for the support TEEG gives this program.”

The Learning Academy is built around three basic tracks: summer support for students who need extra help; credit recovery for those trying to stay at their grade level, and Virtual Summer Camp, the language and study skills enrichment program.

The teaching staff worked with support and credit recovery students in small groups and through computer-based instruction. The academy offered its language and study skill programs through an online learning platform called Edgenuity. The platform provided the learning content while staff members provided support and direction.

“It’s fully virtual learning through the online platform,” Scott said. “We’re teaching with 21st -century tools because we want the kids to develop 21st -century skills.”

Last year’s summer program attracted 36 students. In its pilot year, the Learning Academy notched a modest increase to 41, 14 of them for the enrichment program. Scott is buoyant about the academy’s future because it grew even though he had little time to promote it. He expects to attract more students next year when the word gets out and parents learn what it offers.

“The study skills are a big draw. Parents are always asking for us to spend more time on skills like note taking and testing. Now we have something to offer them,” he said. “I feel that if we offer more opportunities to students, then more students will come. Long term, I’d love to see at least a third, maybe more, of our students come to school over the summer.”