State aims to lessen brunt of charter high school

State officials say Four Rivers Community School in Ontario can keep it's charter expansion for a high school; however, after a recent financial impact analysis, the State Board of Education is putting a formal cap on the number of students it can enroll in its high school.

ONTARIO — Four Rivers Community School is adding a high school component to its kindergarten through eighth-grade dual-language program next fall.

Superintendent and executive director Chelle Robins announced the addition of Four Rivers Senior Preparatory School during a Wednesday Kiwanis International meeting.

“We have had additional community members and parents really pushing to expand kids beyond eighth grade and into high school to allow them to continue their Spanish immersion,” the school’s principal, Raeshelle Meyer, said.

The move to expand into high school has been under consideration for at least six years, since the first eighth-grade class graduated, Robins said.

“We said we want to make sure to never expand beyond what we know we’re really good at and want to be great at that first before we look at expansion,” she said.

The school is accepting ninth-grade applications from any Malheur County student who will have successfully completed eighth grade by June. A lottery will be held March 1 if more students apply than there are seats available.

The high school will begin with grade nine and continue to grow one grade level per year through 12th grade.

According to an FAQ sheet provided by the school, its students are those historically underserved; speak English as a second language; are home-school and private school students; and work best in small, structured settings.

“We will invite other students who are interested in that type of immersion education to be enrolled at this high school,” Robins said. “So it’s not only open to students who are current Four Rivers students, but for those interested in Spanish immersion and STEM-focused curriculum.”

Spanish curriculum at the upcoming high school will be based on immersion, alternating between English one week and Spanish the next. Science, technology, engineering and math are also a focus, in a more interdisciplinary and applied approach than those traditionally done, putting more emphasis on real-world applications.

For students not able to speak Spanish when they get into high school, two tracks will be offered: an advanced track for native Spanish speakers and those rolling into ninth grade from the Four Rivers Community School, and an immersion track designed for new Spanish learners.

The school currently sits on 4.5 acres and is split between two buildings. It is unclear at this time where the new high school will be located.

“We are thinking more of integrating these kids more into the community,” Robins said. “We want them more in a downtown-type of setting so that they can be part of the revitalize downtown Ontario project, so that they can be part of their community and commerce. The closer we are to the organizations and businesses, the more access we have for real world applications for our students.”

The school acquired funds for the high school through a K-12 Biliteracy Pathways Grant from the Oregon Department of Education, designed “to develop and implement model dual language programs,” according to the Oregon Department of Education website.

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