The Beaufort County School District will continue developing plans for a Montessori program at Beaufort Elementary School and an Advanced Math, Engineering and Science Academy at Pritchardville Elementary School after a vote Friday by the Board of Education.
Enrollment in the two programs would be voluntary and open to students across Beaufort County.
Both programs are scheduled to begin next school year, after the board's preliminary approval that will allow the district to finalize details and begin accepting student applications.
Principal Jennifer Morillo said a public Montessori program will give parents an option, as much as schools with curricula focused on the arts or science, technology, engineering and math.
"Our education society is moving in the direction of choice," she said. "If you go out and talk to parents, they want to have choice for their kids."
Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said the program is part of a plan to make better use of the district's buildings by filling unused capacity -- about 230 seats -- at Beaufort Elementary. District officials hope the Montessori option encourages some parents of children at crowded schools to transfer their children.
The Montessori method, an educational approach developed more than 100 years ago, is based on a child's desire to learn. The hands-on, discovery approach allows students to work at their own pace, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
Several private schools in Beaufort County and 17 public school districts in South Carolina offer Montessori programs.
The Montessori method uses multi-age classrooms. Two classes are proposed for Beaufort Elementary -- one with students in first, second and third grades; another with students in fourth and fifth grades.
Morillo said the program would be launched with minimal additional cost to the district. She said existing teaching positions would be used to staff the classrooms, noting some district teachers already are Montessori-trained.
Program participants could use the same bus that now brings students across the county to an existing magnet program at the school.
Information presented to the board said the unique furniture and materials used in Montessori classrooms would cost about $15,000, and teacher training costs about $7,000.
Truesdale said the program might be replicated at other public schools if it is successful at Beaufort Elementary.
The Advanced Math, Engineering and Science Academy proposed for Pritchardville Elementary would replicate the existing AMES program at Beaufort Elementary.
The magnet program is designed for academically gifted students and uses advanced science and engineering projects to teach rigorous standards. It would begin with students in grades three and four.
Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief, said scores on standardized tests show the AMES Academy has been successful, with most of its students scoring in the 90th percentile or above.
"The performance at AMES has been well worth our investment," he said.
Alford said the district has received feedback from more than 50 parents who want the program in southern Beaufort County. Nine students south of the Broad River now travel to Beaufort Elementary for the program.
Pritchardville Principal Charles Johnson said space is available at the school and he will not need additional staff for the program.