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UMass Amherst- Chinese language school lands $1.5 million U.S. grant

HADLEY - The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School observed two milestones Monday: Parents toured its new quarters at the former Kidsports in Hadley and organizers announced the school has received a $1.5 million Foreign Language Assistance Program grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The first public or private Chinese language immersion school for elementary school-age children in New England, according to its principal Kathleen Wang, the school opened in a tiny Pomeroy Lane strip mall in Amherst.

Forty-two kindergartners and first graders, hailing from Greenfield to Springfield, learn in Mandarin Chinese 75 percent of time. The goal is to expand the school by a grade a year, until there are eight grades serving 300 students.

The school was one of only eight school districts and the only charter school to receive the foreign language assistance grant of 135 districts that applied - and was ranked the third highest by the Department of Education.

Wang said the school will use the grant money to expand its overall program.

It has formed partnerships with the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and Boston and the University of Oregon to offer professional development opportunities for teachers.

Wang's husband, Richard Alcorn, chairman of the charter school's board of trustees, said the Department of Education enhanced its grants to foreign language programs, this year, offering five-year instead of three-year grants.

Receiving the grant is testimony to the hard work that organizers and parents have put into the school, Alcorn said.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal presented the grant on Monday at its new location in Hadley.

"I believe the PVCICS provides families in western Massachusetts with a unique and exciting educational opportunity," Neal said in an email message. "By teaching both English and Chinese, combined with a core curriculum, the program provides elementary and secondary school students with a comprehensive educational framework and helps them learn a foreign language."

"He's been aware of the importance of Chinese language programs for a while," Alcorn said of Neal.

Last Friday, organizers signed a five-year lease for the former Kidsports building at 317 Russell St. and are planning to pursue trying to buy the building, Alcorn said.

Parents touring the building "like it a lot," Alcorn said. "It gives us enough room to grow into."

"It will be good to settle into a place that is big enough to accommodate the growing school for the foreseeable future," he said. "It's been very difficult to look for space, and to do that every year is very challenging."