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‘Leading Edge’ Academy Set for Santa Ana

Santa Ana school district officials Tuesday announced that they will turn a vacant office building into a science and arts academy that will offer dual-language immersion in English and Spanish beginning next summer.

The remodeling of the building at the corner of Broadway and Halesworth Street will begin in January. In August, district officials expect to open the academy to 500 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Once in full swing, the El Sol Science and Arts Academy will instruct as many as 650 children.

Preschool and seventh grade will be added to the single-track, year-round academy in 2002; eighth grade the following year.

“Compared to other charter schools, this is on the leading edge,” said Andrew Coulson, director of educational programs for the Samueli Foundation, which along with state grants will provide funding for the $8.5-million academy.

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The district envisions the academy primarily as a neighborhood school. Even students who are not enrolled in the program will be able to use the academy’s resources after school and during vacations.

No less than 90% of the students will live in Santa Ana. And diversity will be key.

“One-third to one-half of our students will be English-only learning in Spanish,” said Kathy Sabine, who has been developing the school and will serve as its principal.

Beginning in kindergarten, the students will be taught in both Spanish and English, and the core of their curriculum will be arts and music.

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“Art and music [have] been found to play a major role in development,” Sabine said.

And the curriculum will be anything but rigid.

“This is going to be a very viable, working school that will be open to the many ideas that future teachers and parents bring to the advisory board,” Sabine said. “From year to year, we’ll respond to the new ideas and needs that emerge.”

Three teachers will be assigned to each class--one specializing in science, another in art and the third in music. The student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grades will be 20 to 1; fourth and fifth grades will be 25 to 1.

And, Sabine said, education won’t be limited to the classroom.

“The city will become our classroom,” she said. “We can go into the businesses in the community, the courthouse, the Discovery Museum and use those rich, rich resources.”

This is the district’s latest push to diversify its educational opportunities. The district already has dual-immersion programs at Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools and is setting up several magnet programs throughout the district, said school board President John Palacio. A middle college program is available to high school students through Santa Ana College. Perhaps the district’s biggest coup was securing the Orange County High School of the Arts, a countywide magnet program that moved from Los Alamitos to Santa Ana this year.

“The board is very committed to providing parents and students with a lot of choices, and this is one of many opportunities,” Palacio said.

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Parent Cynthia Criollos, who lives near the school, hopes to send her two sons to the academy. Her oldest son is in first grade and attends the dual-immersion program at Jefferson Elementary. While the family is pleased with the program, it’s not like attending a neighborhood school.

“We carpool, and it takes us about an hour,” Criollos said. “It’s a great program, and I would encourage any parent in south Santa Ana to look at Jefferson. But for a parent living in north Santa Ana, it would be nice to have a neighborhood school that had a dual-immersion program. So this is just fabulous.”

In addition to remodeling the 54,000-square-foot building, which has been vacant for about seven years, the district has acquired a Victorian home next to the academy and will convert it to a preschool and playground. In all, the academy will sit on 2.4 acres and, in addition to classrooms and the preschool, will include a cafeteria, administrative offices, a library and play courts.


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