Topaz Elementary School sixth graders will be able to spend their seventh and eighth grades at the school, starting next year.


When school begins again in August, Topaz will undergo a name change, and become Topaz Preparatory Academy, and a format change, going from a kindergarten through sixth grade school to a K-7 school. The year after, if all goes according to plan, the school will become a K-8 school.


"This choice hasn't existed in Hesperia until now, K-8," said Hesperia Unified School District math coach Lisa Bloom, who's helping to plan the school's new middle school curriculum.


"It's been almost two years of planning ... exploring what's best for our families," said Principal Karen Prestwood.


What the faculty has come up with is a choice school focused on leadership, including using The Leader in Me (a child's version of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by the same author, Stephen Covey) as one of the foundations of the school's culture.


Each grade will consist of three sub-groups, each of which will be named after a university of the students' choosing. At the 6th, 7th and 8th grade levels, these cohorts will stick together even as they rotate between teachers and subjects over the course of the week.


"So they get the benefit of [subject-specific] teachers, but they move as a group," said Bloom.


Among those subject-specific teachers will be an additional math support teacher -- part of Topaz's attempts to help more students pass the state-mandated 8th grade algebra exam that students across both the district and the state have problems with.


"We're taking the 8th grade algebra [instructional] piece, and stretching it over three years," said Prestwood.


Every other day, students will have a double session of math, and on the other days, a regular length math support class will reinforce what the students learned the day before. Students will also study under the same math teacher for at least two years and video mini-lessons will be posted on the school's Web site.


Topaz Preparatory Academy will also have mandatory uniforms starting next year (they were optional this year), although the uniforms change on Friday: Students will be able to wear jeans and either a Topaz t-shirt or a t-shirt advertising a university or another post-graduation path, such as military service.


To help ease the transition to the upper grades, the school is already establishing partnerships with Hesperia High School and having Scorpions mentor Tigers in various subjects.


"We lose kids in transition [to the higher grades]," said Prestwood. "One of our parents said it best: 'You're basically giving our kids two more years of childhood.'"


Registration for Topaz Preparatory Academy takes place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, until June 24. It begins again after July 15. For more information, call 760-244-4622.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star