LEWISTON — Thanks to an $800,000 state grant, Lewiston Middle School is getting a new program to help students catch up academically and graduate from high school on time.

The new program, Star Academy, will be held in four new classrooms being built in the Lewiston Armory next to the middle school, Superintendent Bill Webster said Monday.

The new classrooms will not affect Lewiston Senior Citizens programs on the first floor of the armory, Webster said. Star Academy classrooms will be on the second floor in space little used or not now used, Webster said.

“It’s a program that’s going to work for a lot of kids,” Principal Jake Langlais said.

He is sending an informational letter to parents about the program soon.

Star Academy will have 80 students. Some will have completed the eighth grade but are struggling. Others would learn better through hands-on programming.

“This doesn’t have to just be something for students who didn’t make the grade this year,” Langlais said. “This program can be for students who made the grade but they’re struggling. This is an opportunity to learn differently.”

Instead of going to Lewiston High School when some students aren’t ready academically, the accelerated program will be tailored to help them catch up on eighth-grade work and complete the ninth grade both in one year. They will then attend Lewiston High School as sophomores.

“I’m very excited about what Star Academy can bring to Lewiston,” Webster said. “We’re going to see a higher level of student engagement, more students graduating in four years because of what this program brings.”

In addition to more hands-on learning, students will get coaching on goal-setting and taking charge of their learning.

“Our visits to Mississippi and Alabama showed us programs where students who might not otherwise be able to sit and focus did so independently,” Langlais said. “It shifted the atmosphere from ‘Do as I say,’ or ‘You need to do this and this,’ to students self-regulating. That’s a huge component.”

Star Academy programs exist in other school districts and have worked, Webster said.

Of 45 school districts in the country that have Star Academy, 70 of 80 students who completed the program graduated from high school on time, Webster said. Most of those districts are in the Southeast.

The grant will provide startup costs and new equipment for the four classrooms of 20 students each, Webster said. The classrooms will resemble work environments. Students will work in pairs at stations and bounce ideas off each other to solve problems, Webster said.

The classroom will be highly computerized, the teacher in the class will be more of a facilitator. In addition to learning academics, students will learn life skills.

In a report to the School Committee on Monday, Webster said he first learned of Star Academy from Tom Desjardin, the former Maine Department of Education commissioner. Desjardin told Webster he learned of the program at a National Governors Conference.

Last year, Lewiston teachers and principals visited Star Academies in Mississippi and Alabama and were impressed. Earlier this month the Maine DOE informed Lewiston it would be awarded the $800,000 grant for the program.

“This doesn’t have to just be something for students who didn’t make the grade this year. This program can be for students who made the grade but they’re struggling. This is an opportunity to learn differently.” — Lewiston Middle School Principal Jake Langlais


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