Backers of a proposed charter school in St. Mary's County announced last week that they have been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Education.

The Chesapeake Public Charter School Alliance said in a statement announcing the grant that the support will help it move closer to opening the school in time for the fall 2006 semester.

The grant will help pay for final planning of the school's curriculum and assessment procedures as well as securing a building to house the school. The group will also hire a project coordinator to oversee curriculum development and fundraising.

Over the next year, organizers said, the group of volunteers who make up the alliance will design the charter school's curriculum. The school will also canvass the community for donations of money, equipment and volunteer assistance.

This year, the St. Mary's County Board of Education turned down the group's proposal to open the charter school for the current academic year. The group will have to go back before the board to try to get approval for its proposal for next year.

Charter schools, which are independently run public schools, have spread across the country and are common in the District, but they are still mostly new to Maryland. A few have started in the state, but dozens of others have been proposed or are being planned.

For the past couple of years, a growing group of parents, teachers and others in St. Mary's has been talking about starting a charter school. They envision a kindergarten through eighth-grade program.

Alliance members want the charter school to have a longer academic year and emphasize active learning with many field trips and projects. The school year would run from August to June, with a summer break in July and other vacations during the year.

Some of the 15 to 20 people committed to creating the Chesapeake charter school are former county teachers who want a more intimate learning environment for their children. Alliance members envision an enrollment of about 200 students and class sizes of 15 to 20 students.