World Language Academy fifth-graders can now continue their bilingual studies, thanks to a charter amendment approved Wednesday.
The Georgia State Board of Education Charter Committee approved the school's effort to add sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
It will be Hall County's first pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in at least 20 years, Superintendent Will Schofield said.
"We were praised by the state board for doing this, for listening to our community," said World Language Academy Principal David Moody, adding the idea came from parents. "Everything you hear reads that total language acquisition takes five to seven years and the middle school years are critical for students to gain language skills. This gives us more time."
The academy was chartered to develop students who are bilingual in English and Spanish. The school will add the sixth grade this coming school year and seventh and eighth grades during the next two years.
"The immersion piece means content is taught in both languages," Schofield said. "They start to outpace their peers."
Schofield said for academy students who are really invested in the curriculum, attending a nonimmersion middle school would mean they needed high-school level language courses to continue their bilingual development.
"This way they could keep the immersion model," he said. "At the high school level, we could possibly steer them toward college-level classes."
Schofield said discussions on how to handle bilingual middle school students began about two years ago. He said the education model was based on ones seen in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., district and others in western states.
In November 2010, the immersion middle school plan was presented to Hall County, and the academy began preparing.
The middle school immersion program is intended for students already enrolled at the academy, but Moody said students could come to the academy for middle grades because as a charter school — not a magnet school — the academy does not have entrance requirements.
"We do sit down with parents and talk about where our students are in terms of language," he said.
For those who do not wish to continue their middle school years there, Schofield said students could attend their home school or another charter middle school.
There are 43 students enrolled in sixth grade at the academy. Moody said that was not a large enough number to affect other Hall County middle schools.
The rising fourth-graders will be the first to go through all years of immersion there, Moody said.
Implementing a sixth grade will only involve one additional hire for the 2011-2012 year, Moody said.
He said many of the academy teachers are certified to teach middle school, so the school will use "creative scheduling" to give students the classes they need. Students already switch teachers for certain classes, similar to a middle school environment.
There are no plans yet for extending the academy as a K-12 school.
"The reality is, there's so many unique opportunities for kids," he said. "We feel confident working with the high schools now — they've already asked us what type of opportunities they're going to need to provide for these kids when they get there."
The charter committee also approved a $375,000 charter implementation grant for Spout Springs Elementary School, which will become an enrichment school in August.
"The grant money has to be spent in the first two years," Spout Springs Principal Steve McDaniel said.
"The majority of our spending will be on technology and professional learning."
McDaniel said the grant money will be used to purchase laptops, flip cameras and other resources for student research, to help teachers get gifted endorsement and to expand schoolwide enrichment in accordance with the new curriculum model.
"They actually sped up the process (for grants)," McDaniel said. "Sometimes in the past it's been several months before schools have access to grant money. As I understand it we'll have access to these funds in early fall."