By Aaron Hopmayer and Brett Cancredi

In many school districts, the month of July is reserved for summer school remediation, but that time can be used differently to give a school district and its students a valuable enrichment opportunity. Imagine having more students come to summer school for enrichment than for remediation. This past summer, more than 330 students attended a summer academy at Pine Bush (NY) High School for that very reason.

For the past nine years, Pine Bush has used the summer academy program to offer creative courses that promote student enrichment, character education, and team building while decreasing summer learning loss. Pine Bush High School currently offers six theme-based summer academies: Leadership and Law, Literacy and Education, Aviation, Performing Arts, Science, and Medical Science.

After collaborating with Pine Bush administrators, the Port Jervis (NY) Middle School has implemented a similar Outdoor Leadership Academy for the past two years with more than 80 participants attending. The Port Jervis Outdoor Leadership Academy is an adventure-based learning experience that uses leadership as the overarching theme. Throughout the four-week program, students are exposed to multiple social and educational activities that support the integration of the core curriculum.

Getting Results

One of the major questions that must be addressed is why any administrator would undertake the task and risk of creating, implementing, and managing a summer academy instead of using the months of July and August to reflect, recharge, and gear up for the coming school year. The answer to the question is quite simple: academies offer numerous benefits to students and to the school. Specific benefits of the academy program include reductions in student summer learning loss; significant reductions of student disciplinary incidents; increased student connections to school; opportunities to teach leadership, citizenship, and character education through thematic learning experiences; positive school publicity, increased community involvement; and the ability for students to take academies for college credit at much reduced rates.

Pine Bush academies have had very tangible results and recognition, including a visit from US Congressman Maurice Hinchey and US Assistant Secretary of Education Thelma Melendez in summer 2011. After Melendez spent the day at Pine Bush immersed in the summer academy program, she told the students, staff and community members, and dignitaries present: “This program is among the top 5% of all programs that I have observed as assistant secretary of education, and I have been to many schools around the country.”

To track certain indicators, the Search Institute has administered three different attitude and behavior surveys to Pine Bush students over the last 10 years, and the data show significant gains in assets. The Search Institute’s Asset Development Survey measures 40 developmental assets that influence the choices young people make to help them become caring, responsible, and successful adults. The results of the surveys administered at Pine Bush show increases in asset development across our population. Among ninth graders, our target population, 15 out of 40 assets have shown significant growth.

In addition, nine years of student data indicate that academy graduates have seen increases in academic success, leadership, and problem solving skills. Among those students who have had disciplinary incidents, there has been a 92%–98% reduction in discipline referrals after successful completion of the Leadership and Law academy.

The Academies

Leadership and Law

Nine years ago, in cooperation with a former school resource officer, we decided to create a program to teach students about leadership, citizenship, and character education through the field of law enforcement. This program’s genesis was the result of a partnership between Pine Bush, the Town of Crawford Police Department, and the US Army. The goal of the program is to develop student leaders who will return to school the following year to be a positive influence on their peers. The program is designed to meet the New York State standards for participation in government and in economics; students who successfully complete the summer program receive credit for those classes.

Students in the Leadership and Law academy voluntarily attend class throughout the month of July from 7:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They learn from various instructors employing differentiated methodologies. Topics include forensics, economics, and military-style drill and ceremony. The students also spend time doing numerous team-building activities.

Because we are a public high school of almost two thousand students, it is always a challenge to connect personally with students and help them develop a sense of pride in their school. This program encourages students to work together to earn positions of leadership. In the last nine years, the academy enrollment has gone from 17 students in year one to more than 150 this year. The students range in age from incoming sophomores to incoming seniors and reflect a true cross section of the high school.

Literacy and Education

The Literacy and Education Academy promotes diversity by empowering school community members to open their eyes and minds to the differences around us. By partnering with the State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz, we give our students an opportunity to learn both the methodology of teaching and the practical tools necessary to teach in an increasingly diverse future classroom. The vision of this academy is to lead students to embrace and celebrate diversity with the expectation that students will become both school and community leaders.

Students of the Literacy and Education Academy create and implement both primary and secondary lessons for classes in our summer school remediation program. Their practical experience, coupled with the opportunity to engage in meaningful collaboration with Pine Bush Central School District educators and administrators, creates a unique opportunity for our students to sit on the other side of the desk. Our hope is that we will inspire a future generation of educators to share their talents and enthusiasm as members of our own Pine Bush faculty one day.


The Pine Bush Aviation Academy, in collaboration with Wurtsboro Airport and the Air National Guard, provides students with a basic knowledge of the equipment and operations of a variety of aircrafts. Students learn the fundamentals of aviation, including operation of airplanes, meteorology, instrumentation, avionics systems, communications, human factors, and flight simulation. Students also learn the many mathematical topics associated with aviation, such as glide ratio, weight and balance, compass readings, time conversions, density altitude, barometric pressure, and many other applicable math topics.

During their time in the Aviation Academy, students prepare to take the written exam for their private pilot license. This program is taught by a certified flight instructor, who provides students numerous hours of ground school and accompanies students on glider flight lessons. A certified math teacher integrates the numerous mathematical topics that are associated with aviation. Students benefit from an array of guest speakers in a wide variety of aviation fields: helicopter pilots, medevac team members, SWAT team members, military personnel, mechanics, private pilots, airport terminal operators, maintenance workers, and operations workers. This course not only provides math enrichment, but will prepare students for a range of job opportunities in aviation.

Performing Arts

The Performing Arts Academy is designed to give students in grades 9-11 a “summer stock” theater experience. Students learn elements of acting, singing, and dancing as well as the technical and business skills needed for a production, such as lighting, sound, costumes, and publicity. Fieldwork at Forestburgh Playhouse, a professional regional theater, is also part of the academy experience. The culmination of the Performing Arts Academy is a full musical production performed for a live audience. This is done in only 16 days, making it a rigorous yet rewarding experience for anyone interested in the field of performing arts.

Those students who want further enrichment may enroll in Voice for Theater I, which is offered through a partnership with SUNY New Paltz. These students receive three college credits for fulfilling the requirements of this college course in addition to the Performing Arts Academy.


The Science Academy offers two weeks of intensive science investigation and has a competitive acceptance process with a prerequisite of the successful completion of a higher level science course (Chemistry, Physics, or AP or IB Biology).

The first week is conducted at Pine Bush and centers on learning about some of the ecosystems in the Hudson Valley. The second week involves an intensive field study at SUNY Cortland’s Outdoor Education Center in the Adirondack Mountains. Students who successfully complete the requirements of the field study receive three college credits in Field Biology from SUNY Orange.

The objective of the Science Academy is to give Pine Bush students the opportunity to discover the delicate balance within the various Adirondack ecosystems. The hope is that the students will develop an environmental awareness and be inspired to learn more about and use alternative energy sources and new green technologies.

Medical Science

The Pine Bush High School Medical Science Academy is a two-week course designed to introduce students to various medical fields. Professors from the New York Institute of Technology and the College of Osteopathic Medicine who specialize in physical therapy, occupational therapy, the physician assistant program, nursing, mental health professions, and osteopathic medicine provide students with firsthand knowledge of those fields and the opportunities that each presents. The Medical Science Academy is run through a partnership between the New York Institute of Technology and the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Pine Bush science department.

Port Jervis Outdoor Leadership

The Outdoor Leadership Academy is a four-week, adventure-based program that runs during the month of July. It teaches leadership and other skills vital to the success of a middle school student through outdoor education activities and tasks that are aligned to the core curriculum. Students entering grades 7, 8, and 9 are eligible to participate in this program. This academy has run for two consecutive years with a 60% increase in enrollment. Strategic partnerships include the New York YMCA Camp, National Park Service, US Forest Service, and the Orange County Youth Bureau.

A Final Word

As school leaders prepare for dramatic shifts in education with the implementation of the new Common Core State Standards, future related assessments, and new teacher evaluations that will use evidence-based observation and value-added components as part of the evaluation process, we must lead from the front. The summer academy program gives students learning opportunities that are grounded in the kind of common core instructional shifts that support and align with those new initiatives. Although on the front end, there is additional administrative work and responsibility, ultimately the culture and climate created by offering summer academies will minimize disciplinary issues and create a climate conducive to student learning and community building.

For More Information

Pine Bush Academy Videos

Aaron Hopmayer ( is the principal and summer academy director of Pine Bush High School (NY).

Brett Cancredi ( is the assistant principal and academy director at Port Jervis (NY) Middle School.