Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School celebrates as construction of addition begins in Hadley

Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2014

HADLEY — Andrea Cummings of Shutesbury sent her son and daughter to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School because she wanted them to understand a second language, but she did not know one herself.

“It wasn’t a gift I could give them,” she said.

Now, she is excited about the opportunity to expose her daughter Libby Hayes, who is finishing first grade, and her son Robbie Hayes, a fourth grader, to the Chinese language through their high school years.

Cummings was among several dozen parents at an upbeat ceremony Tuesday outside the school to celebrate as construction begins of a four-story, 38,400-square-foot addition that will more than double the size of the school, now at 30,000 square-feet.

The addition will also make it the first kindergarten through Grade 12 Chinese immersion school in the country, Keith Barnicle, district representative for U.S. Congressman James McGovern of Worcester, told those in attendance Tuesday. McGovern’s office wrote a letter in support of the $10.6 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development that made the addition possible.

The celebration took place under a tent to shield those in attendance from the hot sun. The ceremony also included remarks from the school’s principal Kathleen Wang, executive director Richard Alcorn and Jonathan “Jay” L. Healy, state director for USDA rural development. The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School chorus — known as the “Dragon Singers” — sang songs in English and Chinese, with verses that included, “We speak and write Chinese in our Charter School where there’s room to grow.” They were directed by music teacher Sally Rogers.

Steffi Crivelli of Springfield, who has a son and daughter at the school and whose daughter is in the chorus, said that she looks forward to the school having a music room after the expansion. The extra space will give the students more opportunities for experiential learning, she said, “not just books.”

If she herself had a second language, Crivelli added, she would have had her children be bilingual “from the cradle.”

The addition will include 15 full-size classrooms, four seminar rooms, a media center, a science room, an art room, a combination music and theater room and four meeting rooms. There will also be additional bathrooms and an elevator to access all four floors.

“We have really outgrown this existing space,” said Alcorn in an interview after the ceremony, holding in his hand a plastic yellow hard hat that was among several given as souvenirs. He said the school had been leasing space in South Amherst for some of its students and that he aims to bring them back to the Hadley campus after the expansion. He also hopes to restore a cafeteria and an aerobics room that were converted to classrooms, Alcorn added.

Lisa Gustavsen of Conway has two children at the school, and said the complexity of Mandarin has helped keep them engaged. She is excited about the extra space. “The kids have been making do, and the teachers, especially have been creative in using the space,” Gustavsen added.

The addition will accommodate students through Grade 12 by 2016, Alcorn has said. Eventually, Alcorn said Tuesday, he would like to have a separate building in Hadley for the high school.


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