Fan mail for the IRS isn’t the only thing with an April 15 deadline. In Beaufort County, parents hoping to get their young students into one of the public school district’s new choice programs have until tax day to deliver applications to the Office of Student Services at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort.

Under the choice programs, students may apply for and, if accepted, attend a school for which they are not zoned. While fulfilling all of the state’s educational requirements, students are expected to benefit from concentrations in specialized fields such as the creative arts, advanced math and science, early college, language immersion and Montessori.

Some choice programs previously have been available in a few schools. Pritchardville Elementary School has conducted the Advanced Mathematics Engineering and Science (AMES) Program since it opened in 2010.

This is the first year all schools will have choice programs.

“Students are involved in an atmosphere and environment where they have a propensity to learn more efficiently and effectively” said Superintendent Jeffrey Moss. “That will have an impact on other classes.”

The number of seats in each program will vary from school to school, Moss said, and is dependent upon the space available in the school. “The Chinese language immersion program, for instance, will be capped by the number of students in that classroom,” said Moss, “and they do not take students into the program past the second grade.”

If there are more applicants for a particular program than spaces available, a lottery will be held. Attendance at a school offering a special program does not guarantee inclusion in that program.

According to Moss, early application returns show “quite a bit of interest in the River Ridge Academy,” while the rest of the schools have an even amount of interest.

That means plenty of competition for Victoria Noyes, a parent volunteer at Red Cedar Elementary School. Noyes has applied to have her daughter, a fifth grader at Red Cedar and her son, a sixth grader at Bluffton Middle, to attend the new Bluffton school for the Montessori program that will cover students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We came from Florida and they offered school of choice,” said Noyes. “The benefit is that you have an opportunity to really hone in on your child’s needs. Whether your child is gifted, has needs, is extremely athletic – whatever your child’s needs are, you have the opportunity to kind of narrow down and get them in the right school.”

Noyes can apply for programs on Hilton Head Island, in Bluffton or in Beaufort. The self-paced Montessori approach is what she’s aiming for, but her choice has nothing to do with the schools her children currently attend.

“These are great schools. We are not unhappy at Bluffton Middle School. My son’s experience has been awesome,” she said. “When you consider choice, it’s not because you don’t like a school. You like the choice because it is more fitting for your child’s style. What they’re trying to do is instead of fitting a school to a child, they are trying to fit children to school programs instead of one size fits all.”

If Noyes’ children are accepted, they will meet River Ridge’s Principal Gary McCulloch.

In addition to the Montessori program, the academy will provide school-wide Project Lead the Way, a STEM choice offering science, technology, engineering and math modules.

“The modules are developed into interdisciplinary projects for students, themed areas for students,” McCulloch said.

The River Ridge Montessori has 120 seats for three levels: lower, for first through third grades; upper, for fourth through sixth grades; and middle school, for seventh and eighth grades.

The school has a capacity for 1,100 students. McCulloch said 785 letters went out to families who live within the school’s zoned district, which leaves the remaining 200 seats available for more Project Lead the Way students.

“It’s going to be a unique school,” McCullough said. “Parents have that anxiety moving from elementary to middle school, and to have that same core value all the way from kindergarten through grade eight, I think it’s advantageous for academic development.”

Moss said parents will be notified by May 1 if their student has been accepted into one of the choice programs.

All applications must be postmarked no later than April 15 or hand-delivered before 5 p.m. April 15 to Carolyn Bostick in the Office of Student Services, 2900 Mink Point Blvd., Beaufort.