Western MA Chinese Immersion School May Expand

Massachusetts education officials are recommending that the Board of Education approve five new charter schools across the state and expand eleven existing programs. That could mean another alternative high school for one rural Massachusetts town.

The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley has been adding one grade per year over the past six years. They now serve kindergarten through eighth grade students. But the school’s executive director — Richard Alcorn — says since it opened in 2007, one major concern parents have had is where  kids will go once they reach ninth grade.

“Whether the kids wouldn’t in a sense fall off a cliff. They would have years of immersion language training and then there would be no program for them to continue in.”

Alcorn says if the expansion request is approved, the immersion school would introduce a rigorous International Baccalaureate high school curriculum. He says the school would eventually educate 584 students, up from 300 — which he says would require buying another building. Charter school facilities are funded in part by money the school receives from the state. But Alcorn says he expects some help from an unexpected source, the US Department of Agriculture. USDA rural development grants helped the school buy and expand the building it’s in now.

“Part of the reason the federal government  was interested in our school is that most immersion, most Chinese immersion programs are located in cities. And we’re sort of unusual in that we are able to serve a rural population.”

The expansion requires approval by the state Board of Education, which is due to meet next week. If approved, Alcorn says the program will be the first K-12 Chinese immersion charter school in the US.