PLEASANT GROVE — Perhaps the Lincoln Academy, a new charter school in Utah County, is most different from traditional public schools because students are divided into different "ability groups."

It also has a curriculum for character-building.

The school's founders and administration celebrated Thursday evening in a new 33,000-square-foot building with a ribbon cutting. The school opened its doors this fall but met in an American Fork office building until the building in Pleasant Grove at 1582 W. 3300 North was finished.

About 480 students attend the school, comprised of an elementary school for grades kindergarten through five and a middle school for grades six through eight, said the school's director, Mark Dennison.

M13 Construction, owned by State Sen. Mike Morley, R-Spanish Fork, built the school. M13 has constructed a handful of charter schools throughout the state. A group of investors owns the building. The school's board leases it for $40,000 a month. The board hopes to eventually secure a loan and purchase it from the company, said Mark Bishop, the school's chief financial officer.

Charter schools receive money from the Legislature for each student who opts out of traditional public schools and must follow the state's core curriculum. Governing boards, comprised mostly of parents, can determine other aspects of the curriculum.

At Lincoln Academy, students use Saxon Math instead of Math Investigations, the curriculum offered in the Alpine School District.

Students are tested at the beginning of the year and placed into ability groups ranging in size from three to 12 students. Each class consists of three to five ability groups.

"The whole purpose of ability groups is to allow the student who's behind to get caught up," Dennison said.

Dennison concedes dividing students according to ability can impact self-esteem, but he believes the school's emphasis on emotional intelligence prepares students to accept their strengths and weaknesses.

While emotional intelligence is an over-arching philosophy, the character-building program has an actual curriculum and night classes for parents who want to reinforce it at home. Characteristics taught to students include integrity, honesty and making positive contributions at home and in society.

The "Character and Competence" curriculum was developed by psychologist Lynn Scoresby, who also was involved in developing the dating service

"For example, integrity," Dennison said. "At the fourth grade, it's comprehending. (In the) fifth grade, it's a deeper level of what integrity is about."

Parent Marc Walker, whose wife was one of Lincoln Academy's founders, said his elementary school-aged child learns Spanish because the day lasts 30 minutes longer than the school day at a traditional public school.

He believes his child receives more attention at Lincoln Academy than at traditional public schools. Each classroom has a full-time teacher and a full-time teaching assistant, he said.

"Class sizes are about 25 kids per grade," he said.