Deshaii Ward, left, and Jack Stent use the technique of piping to decorate red devil cupcakes, during Brattleboro Union High School’s Summer School
Deshaii Ward, left, and Jack Stent use the technique of piping to decorate red devil cupcakes, during Brattleboro Union High School's Summer School in 2013. (submitted photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- This summer, Brattleboro Union High School is offering a rich summer-school experience for a few students entering ninth and tenth grades. The five-week session will feature hands-on introductions to the Windham Regional Career Center and visits to college campuses and area businesses as well as coursework in math, English, and science.

Students do not have to pay for summer school, which runs from 8:30 to 1:30, from Monday, June 30, to Friday, Aug. 1 -- except July 4.

"We provide both breakfast and lunch, as well as transportation for all off-campus visits, free of charge," said Summer School Co-Director Rhonda Winegarner, a BUHS counselor.

BUHS Principal Steve Perrin said that the program is open to all entering ninth-graders and rising tenth-graders who may have been struggling academically. Entering ninth-graders can get a head start on earning high-school elective credits.

"'Introduction to High School' is designed for students entering ninth-graders from all of our sending schools," he said.

"They can earn two elective credits," Winegarner added. "Rising tenth-graders can recoup credit for English, math, or science."

She explained that after Algebra, English and Career Center courses, students have a variety of activities every day, including team-building games, a nature walk, and hands-on career activities.

"One of our own BUHS graduates, who now owns Top Tier Bakery, came and taught them to decorate cupcakes," Winegarner recalled.

One purpose of the program is to take students to college campuses.

"We expose them to campus life," she explained. "They experience the cafeteria, academic offerings, and extracurriculars at each of the colleges, and meet with students and people from the admissions office."

Last year students visited University of Massachusetts in Amherst and Greenfield Community College, both in Massachusetts, Keene State College in New Hampshire, and Southern Vermont College in Bennington.

"We make sure students see a small campus, a medium-sized one and a larger one, a private institution and a public one , and a community college -- so they get to see a range," Winegarner said. "This year we're considering an overnight trip, adding Vermont Tech and colleges in the Burlington area."

Perrin noted that some of last year's students had never visited a college campus.

"I think for a lot of the kids, it was the first time on a college campus," he said. "What I heard during the visit was, ‘I'm going to college,' and one student was adamant: 'I'm going to Keene State College.'"

"When we arrived at Keene State, we had to wait a moment and the students talked about their goals," Winegarner added. "One student wasn't sure about what he wanted to do, and then we saw the Innovative Lab program, and it dovetailed exactly with what we were doing. When we walked out, he said, "I know what I'm going to do -- I'm going to Keene State.'"

"The other purpose of the program is to expose students to the Career Center offerings and potential careers right in the community," she added. "We want to show them what they can access through a robust high-school education that involves both BUHS and Career Center classes."

Meghan McLoughlin, Co-Director of the summer program, said that the students learned about Career Center courses first-hand.

"They viewed the Career Center house under construction," she said. "The automotive teacher was a guest speaker, on-site in the automotive shop."

The program takes students to visit area businesses and industry.

"We want them to see what skills and talents employers are looking for," Perrin explained. "Rhonda has done a phenomenal job of getting to a wide range of businesses, ranging from tech-based businesses to organizations such as Rescue, Inc. and culinary businesses in the area."

He said that the benefits of the program are clear.

"The ninth graders who took it for credit-recovery last year are doing very well this year," he said.

Winegarner agreed.

"We saw a really strong increase in academic performance," she said.

The program will be limited to 15 entering ninth graders and 15 rising sophomores.

"We are out in the community and we want to be able to concentrate on the enrichment of each student's experience," Winegarner said.

There is a strict attendance policy: a student who misses more than one day - for any reason - is asked to leave the program.

"It's so compressed, and we do so much that it's really important to build the community at the beginning and follow it through to the end," Perrin said.

Interested students or parents can contact Rhonda Winegarner or Meghan McLoughlin at BUHS, or counselors at any of the middle schools that send students to BUHS.

Maggie Cassidy teaches French at Brattleboro Union High School.