Community leaders look toward alternate forms of education

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COLUMBIA - More than 30 Columbia community leaders returned from a three day leadership visit to Knoxville, Tennessee Friday, where the group met with leaders from Knoxville to discuss small city development opportunities.

Some of the opportunities they discussed included education, community branding and tourism.

"It [Knoxville] is so similar to Columbia," said Jonathan Sessions, a Columbia Board of Education member who attended the leadership visit. "The visit is great to see where they've been, what they've gone through, and the path they've taken to improve all aspects of their community."

One of the most talked about subjects from the visit was alternate forms of primary and secondary education, like community and STEM schools. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. 

Columbia Public Schools only has one STEM school, Benton Elementary (K-5).

"We have several alternative elementary schools," Sessions said. "We have a performance liberal art elementary school, we have piratical art with the STEM school, we have an I.G.E [Independent Guided Education] program. These are every different elementary schools from the standard model, you finish that and go to middle school, the same standard middle school, then high school."

"We don't have anything with a unique focus that has the engagement of a STEM school, or specifically focused school," Sessions added.

Sessions said Columbia Public Schools has considered implementing a "community school" in to its education system for more than two years. A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. It has an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement.

"Knoxville has eight [community schools], and they're opening four more. It's an incredible tool," Sessions said.

Community schools contain a host of opportunities, giving students and parents a variety of resources for alternate education.

Columbia is still several years away from implementing the program. Sessions said the Eugene Field School is a likely candidate for the first community school.