MONCKS CORNER — Over-age eighth-grade students who have previously failed one or two years of school in Berkeley County could have a chance to catch up with their classmates next year.

The Berkeley school board Tuesday night approved the district's request to apply for a grant that would bring the Star Academy Program to Berkeley High. The Star Academy is a dropout prevention program that engages overage students in career-focused classes. The goal is to accelerate students' progress so that they stay in school and complete both the eighth and ninth grades in one school year.

Bringing the program to Berkeley would cost nearly $900,000, but district officials are confident they'll receive state grants to cover almost two-thirds of that cost.

The state Department of Education is so invested in the program that officials gave 16 Palmetto Priority schools access to $3 million in funding last fall to establish their own Star Academy programs. Four low-performing Charleston schools included on the Palmetto Priority list received a piece of the funding.

Roughly 400 overage students are enrolled in Berkeley middle schools as part of this year's seventh-grade class. Officials said interested students who meet the program's criteria can apply for one of 80 slots, and those students with accepted applications will enter into a district lottery if there's a high demand for the program.

It would be modeled as a choice program, with interested students given the option to apply.

Superintendent Chester Floyd said students who are currently struggling aren't the program's targets.

The primary purpose is to provide a catch-up mechanism for students who had to repeat some elementary grades but have demonstrated an ability to succeed since then, Floyd said.

A student who continues to fail middle school classes might not have the capability of accelerating through two grade levels in one year, officials said.

Jimmy Hinson, the only school board member to vote against the program, said he's not sure how many repeaters also could be characterized as motivated students. "You are going to have to gamble on some kids," Hinson said.

Other board members questioned if the district could come up with a similar program designed to help students failing middle school grades.

Star Academy students will provide their own transportation unless they already live in the Berkeley High attendance zone.

If the district does not receive the sizable state grant, the Star Academy program won't be offered, said Archie Franchini, the district's secondary schools director.

Reach Mindy B. Hagen at 937-5433 or mhagen@postand courier.com.