The culture at Thompson Valley High School can be described in one word: inclusive. When interviewing students I found that unlike many high schools there was an absence of “clicks”. Students aren’t divided into standard social groups by athletics, grade level, race or economic standing. Looking out at the students gathering in the auditorium students happily greet each other and talk moving freely around the room as groups intermingle. During my initial interviews I found that students were very open and willing to talk with us about their school, classes and clubs they were involved in, future plans and general attitudes about the school. One student spoke about her experience transferring from another high school to Thompson Valley as a sophomore. This student described her experience as great and talked about how inclusive Thompson Valley is, saying that she had an easy time making friends and fitting in and that she is happy that she transferred. One group of students talked about their plans after high school. While many of them had plans to attend college, even naming Universities that they were interested in, students that didn’t intend to go to college still demonstrated that they had thought about what they would like to do and other plans they had. Most of the students I spoke to were also very involved in the various clubs offered at Thompson Valley; from anime club to choir and sports teams most students were involved in more than one out-of-class activity. Looking at the students, Thompson Valley is a thriving school where the general feeling is that students are happy to be there.
At Thompson Valley twenty-two percent of the 1225 person student body is non-white, seventeen percent is special education and thirty-seven percent is a part of the free and reduced program. There has also been an increase in ESL students as well as those who identify as LGBT and questioning. Speaking with the administration they are happy with the demographics of their school and the inclusive culture that they have created which allows for such growth in areas such as LGBT and questioning students. This attitude is confirmed in students, some of whom have transferred to Thompson Valley because of the inclusive culture which allows students to feel safe and at home. The athletic department at Thompson Valley is also thriving; with seventeen state championships the school is proud to offer all sports in-house, with the single exception of hockey. Students are not only thriving in athletics but in academics as well. In 2014 sixty percent of graduates went to college and 203 students took 350 AP exams. Thompson Valley also offers special programs such as manufacturing and agriculture; as well as a welding certification and 150 concert classes. In addition to the many athletic and academic programs offered the school also provides a program called academy, for ninth and tenth grade students which is an effort to provide support to students and ease them into their transition from small middle school to large high school with targeted teacher teams. Academy also aids in student tracking which predicts a ninety percent graduation rate for this year’s freshman class. Thompson Valley also provides additional support to students through advisory in which teachers stay with their students throughout their time at school, furthering their goal of every student, every teacher.
Overall, Thompson Valley provides many avenues to include and support each student. From athletics, to academics and special programs the staff at Thompson Valley is focused on not only providing quality education but also an environment where students feel free and safe to learn and explore many subjects and activities. The teachers, administration and student body work together to create an inclusive culture, which benefits everyone, particularly the students. Speaking with students makes it clear that the culture of Thompson Valley is a huge draw for better participation and success at school. Furthermore, the culture and opportunities provided for students demonstrate the staff’s dedication to their goal of reaching each student.
The room itself is large with five wood-topped worktables and stools. This classroom is also used for metals classes and so there are both metals and ceramics equipment around the room such as kilns and a soldering station. The classroom also leads to a courtyard where students go to work with aerosolized materials. The course is divided into three projects based on techniques and materials. In the first project students hand-build with clay to create functional water fountains, the second project consists of hand-building and the potter’s wheel to create a tea set, and in the third project students work with concrete and found objects to build a sculpture.