LEWISTON — Last year as an eighth-grader at Lewiston Middle School, Lizzie Chabot struggled.

“I was failing almost all my classes,” she said.

Last year, teachers often spent a week on a concept, “then we moved on.” But sometimes she didn’t understand the concept.

“I couldn’t study,” Chabot said. “Even if I did, I didn’t understand what I was studying.”  

Last year, she didn’t want to go to school.

“I skipped a lot,” she said. 

Things are different this year.

Chabot isn’t skipping school and she’s getting good grades, thanks to a new alternative program called “Star Academy” at the Lewiston Armory next to the middle school.

In its first year, the small program has 44 students who may have passed the eighth grade, but didn’t do well.

Instead of letting them go to the big high school, the goal of Star Academy is to give them more support and a different kind of hands-on learning. This year, they’ll learn both eighth- and ninth-grade subjects.

The goal is that next year, they’ll be caught up and still graduate on time.

Chabot has done so well this year she’s been chosen as one of the program’s ambassadors. She gives tours and explains how Star Academy works.

“Once I got here, I realized it was the most amazing school I’ve ever been in,” Chabot said. “The teachers are super nice. They make sure you’re understanding everything. You’re working at your own pace. We get time to understand what we’re learning. It makes me want to come back here and learn.”

Nathan Ouellette is another Star Academy student ambassador.

“The last two years in the middle school I didn’t do very well,” he said. “I was being lazy. I wasn’t getting the work done.”

Teachers told him he had potential, was smart, but he was too social, too much of a people person.

“I talked too much,” Ouellette said with a grin.

At Star Academy he said he’s more motivated.

“I want to get all the work done,” he said. “It’s more hands-on. Last year, I was just hanging on academically. Here, I’m getting all A’s.”

Chabot and Ouellette, with Star Academy Dean Eric Anderson following behind, gave a tour of the new program. It’s housed on the second floor of the armory in what was unused space. There are four classrooms and four subjects: English, math, science and history.

Classes are small, about 13 students. Students work at individual work stations on interactive computers and often together on projects. The rooms look more like work sites than classes. Lessons are reinforced to ensure students understand the concepts before moving on, Anderson said.

In the science classroom, it’s as interactive as it can get. Students often test theories with hands-on experiments, then go over the results on their computer.

One student was working on a circuit board, learning about electricity. Ouellette was delving into gravity and forces.

“You put the sensors here, and let the car go and see how fast the car goes,” he said as he showed how he documents the speed as a toy car raced down a ramp. “It shows you the speed per second.”

Star Academy Dean Eric Anderson said what’s helping students is the hands-on learning and the students own goalsetting, both short and long term.

By helping students fill in gaps of content knowledge they may be missing and giving them the confidence to advocate for themselves, they will be able to successfully rejoin classmates next year at Lewiston High School, Anderson said.

The program, which can support up to 80 students, is being paid for with an $800,000 federal grant that covers two years of instruction.

The program can be sustained when the grant runs out, said Lewiston Middle School Principal Jake Langlois, since there are fewer students at the high school.

So far, the program is going well, Langlois said.

“It’s not a retention program,” he said. “It’s to get students re-engaged and get them back on track.”


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