Thetford Academy opened in February 1819, and was chartered by the State of Vermont on October 29, 1819. The constitution of Vermont called for free elementary schools in each town, a school in each county for studies above the elementary level, and one university for the state. The terms Grammar School and Academy were used interchangeably to describe the second level of a three-level system. These schools prepared students in classical languages, mathematics, “natural philosophy,” and the arts for entrance into colleges and universities, and careers in ministry, law, medicine, and teaching. By the time Thetford Academy was founded, girls were being admitted to some academies (usually in the summer term) for studies which were advanced beyond the common schools, but which were not intended to prepare for college. Thetford Academy admitted both boys and girls from its founding.
“The government of the School is intended to be mild and generous, but firm and decided. An effort will be made to excite in the mind of the pupil a love of study, and a determination to act, and to act aright, and the presence of those who are not, and cannot be influenced to be, thus inclined, is not desired, and will not be tolerated.”
—1864 Thetford Academy catalog
Early descriptions of the school describe its founding principles and extol the benefits of its rural location. “Thetford Academy is situated in the pleasant and quiet village of Thetford, Vt., two miles from the Connecticut and Passumpsic Railroad. The location is remarkably healthy, and free from business, excitement, and every temptation to lateness and dissipation. The society is characterized by intelligence and morality, and a deep interest is felt in the welfare of the students and the prosperity of the school.”
“The School is divided into two departments, English and Classical. Instruction is given in the Elementary and Higher English Branches, Latin, Greek, French, Drawing, Painting, and Music. Students are fitted for College, for professional teachers, or for business. The regulations require the students to regard all the proprieties of a sober, industrious and enlightened religious community. The teachers aim not to teach a sectarian creed, but to inculcate the great principles of morality and religion.”
In 1906, Vermont passed a law requiring all towns to provide advanced instruction either by maintaining a school or by paying tuition for their children to attend schools which already existed. The new law went into effect in April, 1907, and Thetford Academy appears on a list of approved Secondary Schools published the following year. From this time on, the Academy gradually changed its curriculum to meet the broadening needs of a larger segment of the town’s young people.
The Academy’s survival and growth in this century have largely been due to the dedication and lifelong effort of Carl Anderson, principal for 36 years (1925-1961), his successor Ruel Barrett, who served for 16 years (1961-1977), and Frederick G. Torrey, head of school for 12 years (1977-1989). After the loss by fire of the original building, they rebuilt and expanded Thetford Academy to include the seventh and eighth grades, constructed the Arts Building, initiated a commitment to computers, and developed educational programs to serve the needs of the children of the townships which had designated or used the Academy as their high school.
The 1967 by-laws state: “The school shall be known as a ‘Junior-Senior High School’ and shall provide an adequate course of instruction for the proper education of students at the Junior High School and Secondary School levels.”
Into the Twenty-First Century
Under Head of School Martha Rich (1990-2010), Thetford Academy’s enrollment grew and its programming expanded, as the Town of Thetford became more diverse and the school began to attract more students from sending towns. Late in her tenure, the school underwent a capital project to build a new and/or renovated gymnasium, theater, and science facility. The state-of-the-art Martha Jane Rich Theater is indicative of the quality of Thetford Academy’s arts programs, of which Martha was an avid supporter.
Current Head of School William Bugg came to Thetford Academy in 2012, after two one-year interim heads. In the last six years, the school has added some 24 elective classes in six departments, purchased a 10.4 acre property just south of the Academy, taken over the management of the 177-acre Thetford Hill State Park contiguous to the Academy to the southwest, and launched the Thetford Outdoor Program (TOP).
Thetford Academy is committed to diversity and strives to build, maintain, and promote a culture of equity and inclusion. The curriculum challenges students to examine issues of diversity and encourages them to engage in active learning. Students reflect critically on social problems as they develop the skills to succeed in an environment where diversity is acknowledged, respected, and celebrated.