Raleigh, N.C. — Inside the old Thompson School on E. Hargett St., students filled the hallways and classrooms Monday for the first time in more than 40 years. The old building was abandoned as a school in 1971 and is now occupied by the Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy.
The young men attended classes in a temporary facility last year while the old Thompson School underwent $3.5 million in renovations for its 236 new students.
The Wake Young Men’s Leadership Academy opened last year, along with a young women’s academy at 303 Ashe Ave. – Wake County public schools’ first single-sex schools. This year, nearly 500 students are enrolled at the two academies, which serve middle and high school students.
Classes are smaller than in other Wake County schools and have about 25 students on average. The men’s academy retained 90 percent of its students after its first year, according to Principal Ian Solomon, and every teacher returned except for one.
“(The smaller class size) enables our teachers to develop meaningful relationships with the kids,” Solomon said.
The all-male middle and high school model allows for more camaraderie among classmates, according to supporters.
“Last year was the most successful year I've had in school, and I do think that's because of less distractions,” said sophomore Seth McGann.
State test scores won't be out until next month, but Solomon says the men’s leadership academy is on par with other district schools when it comes to common exam scores in world history, geometry and English I.
“As always, we're about continuous improvement, so we want to be at the top,” Solomon said. “We really emphasize drilling down to each and every individual student.”
The school has a waiting list of teachers and students who want to be part of the men’s academy. Longtime educator Robin Dixon applied to teach at the academy last year and finally got in this year. Dixon says children, especially boys, benefit from the single-gender approach.
“What I notice is there's that leadership piece in young men walking up to me and introducing themselves to me and engaging me,” Dixon said. “I really believe in what they're doing here.”
Next year the school plans to partner with a local college or university to eventually allow students to graduate with college credit. The first class is expected to graduate in 2016.