School on Saturday? Thompson Elementary teachers say low-key atmosphere makes it fun

VIDEO: Thompson Elementary Saturday School

Kids and teachers at Thompson Elementary in Spanaway have spent Saturdays learning together. Teachers use games and movement to keep kids connected with learning.
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Kids and teachers at Thompson Elementary in Spanaway have spent Saturdays learning together. Teachers use games and movement to keep kids connected with learning.

One boy likes learning about clouds. A girl loves writing essays. And another boy is happy he’s learned to multiply.

“When I was little I used to do plus and minus,” said Nolyn McCord, whose favorite subject is math. “But when I got into third grade, I didn’t know what the ‘X’ meant until Miss Reynolds taught us all. So now I don’t have to do repeated addition. I can just do multiplication.”

Nolyn and more than 100 other students at Thompson Elementary in Spanaway are at school. On a Saturday. And they’re loving it.

Classmate Zakyla Thomas-Haskins explained: “It’s not like regular school. It’s a little more fun.”

Teachers recommended extra Saturday instruction for her brother. But when she heard about what was happening at her school every Saturday morning, Zakyla asked her parents if she could tag along.

“We invite the kids who need a little extra bump,” said Thompson Principal Ralph Wisner. But others are welcome as well, even if they don’t need extra help. He said about 120 second- through fifth-graders attend the Saturday School Learning Club from 9 a.m. to noon each week.

The experiment, hatched by teachers and funded by federal Title I dollars that flow to the school because of its high-poverty status, began in February and ended May 21. But the big finish is yet to come.

As part of the program, students read a book titled “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs,” by Betty G. Birney. The book tells the story of a boy who yearns to see the Seven Wonders of the World. But as the story unfolds, he discovers that there are lots of wonderful things right in his own hometown — if you know how to look for them.

As an end-of-the-year project, the Saturday Club kids are asking the public to tell them about some of the Seven Wonders of our South Puget Sound area. They are making a special appeal to News Tribune readers. Teachers will sift through suggestions sent to Principal Wisner (email They plan a field trip day June 6 to take in some of our local wonders.

If somebody wants to come to school on Saturday, am I going to turn them down?

Teacher Dana Reynolds

Saturday Club lead teacher Dana Reynolds, who teaches third-graders, said putting in an extra half-day in the classroom doesn’t burn her out.

It’s energizing, she and others say.

“If somebody wants to come to school on Saturday, am I going to turn them down?” she asked.

Kids and teachers alike say they are more relaxed when they come to school on Saturday. Kids are welcome to sit on the floor if that’s where they’re more comfortable. There’s snack time, and even recess. One day, there were scooter races in the hallway, just for fun.

Reynolds, who also works in Thompson’s after-school study program twice a week, says she can tell the difference between kids who are tired after a full school day and those who come in well-rested on Saturday morning.

“The pressure is off,” Reynolds said of her Saturday students. “And we’re fresh on Saturday morning.”

Stepping into Reynolds’ class, it’s easy to see what the kids are excited about.

She’s animated, walking around the classroom, acting out adjectives and verbs, leading kids in hand-clapping games to get the blood pumping and brains focused.

“You’ve worked so hard, your brain is sweating,” she tells them.

Silly sentences are OK with her, as long as they include nouns, verbs and adjectives.

“When you’re writing, you have to have a picture in your mind,” she coached. “It makes a difference.”

Parent and grandparent volunteers help out on Saturdays as well.

“I love the fact that these kids are here because they want to learn,” said volunteer Lisa Humphrey. “They are excited to learn. They are using different methods to help kids learn through games and music.”

Second-grade teacher Christine Lugenbeal wore a bright green T-shirt with a picture of a frog. On the back, it said, “Teacher: Making a difference, one tadpole at a time.”

“I choose to be here,” Lugenbeal said. With only 15 students in her classroom, she has more time to give them one-on-one help.

“They get in line, and they’re smiling. They come in and give you hugs,” she continued. “They know we truly believe in them. A lot of it is building their confidence. Then, the learning will come.”


Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Help Thompson plan a field trip

Students in Thompson Elementary’s Saturday school want News Tribune readers to help them find the Seven Wonders of South Puget Sound so they can visit some of the locations June 6. Send your nominations to Principal Ralph Wisner at