Indianapolis study abroad program to relaunch as a four-year school in Arlington

An Indianapolis program that enabled students to study abroad will relaunch. Thrival Academy, which took a year-long “pause” to overhaul its approach — will reopen as a four-year high school on the Arlington Middle School campus.

Thrival ran a small pilot program in 2017-18 before officially launching last year as a one-year school that sent juniors from Indianapolis Public Schools to study abroad in Thailand. Beginning next year, it will instead accept about 75 ninth graders with the aim of becoming a full-fledged innovation high school.

Instead of heading to Thailand, the students will study abroad in the Dominican Republic as juniors, a logistically easier option that also fits with students learning Spanish in Indianapolis, said Jamie VanDeWalle, who oversees innovation schools for the district. Students will also take a short trip to Costa Rica when they are sophomores.

The new design of the program was approved 4-2 by the Indianapolis Public Schools board Tuesday. The two board members who voted against the plan — Elizabeth Gore and Taria Slack — said the school should remain a program.

Thrival will be one of several smaller campuses opening on the east side of the district after Indianapolis Public Schools closed two high schools in the community in recent years. District officials said the location was a good fit because Arlington Middle School, which formerly housed a high school, has lots of extra space. And India Hui, the school’s principal, is from the east side and has close ties with the community.

Superintendent Aleesia Johnson described Thrival as an opportunity for students, which is “unlike anything we have in the district” and said that locating it in Arlington is an example of how Indianapolis Public Schools can be fiscally responsible about using existing space “to still grow programming.”

The expansion plan aims to make Thrival more financially sustainable and eliminate the need for students to shift back and forth between Thrival and other high schools — potentially disrupting career-training programs. As an innovation school, Thrival has its own board and is run independently, but it is still considered part of Indianapolis Public Schools.

As a four-year school, Thrival will have significantly more students and consequently more funding to support study abroad programs, though it will also look toward philanthropy to help cover costs. Because students will enroll in the school throughout high school, the program will be designed around their trips abroad.

Sterling Moore, a senior at Shortridge High School who attended Thrival, said the program exposed students to a new place and broadened their minds: “There’s no other curriculum or program quite like this one.”

Correction: Oct. 23, 2019: A previous version of this story misstated the study abroad locations. Juniors will study in the Dominican Republic and sophomores will study in Costa Rica. It has also been updated to clarify Gore and Slack’s reasons for voting against the school. They said they oppose making it a school rather than a program.