New charter school makes working world part of everyday learning - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

New charter school makes working world part of everyday learning

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

For the past six weeks, students grades Kindergarten through 5th have been among the first in Columbia to learn in an environment meant to mirror our every day working world.

While Imagine Columbia Leadership Academy opened at the start of the school year, the new charter school will celebrate its official opening this Friday. Students, teachers and community leaders will gather for a ribbon cutting at the school off of North Main Street which will officially make Imagine Columbia the 18th school in South Carolina's Public Charter School District.

Officials with SCPCSD say charter schools first appeared in South Carolina in the late 1990s, but six years ago the state charter school district was formed. While Imagine Columbia is geographically in the Richland One district, it is technically a part of the SCPCSD.

There are nearly 150 students who are currently enrolled at the school. One of them is 3rd grader Skylar Kennedy. "They were building it, and I was curious about what they were going to do because we heard that a charter school was coming in," said Stephanie Kennedy, Skylar's mom.

Kennedy says Skylar has been to two other charter schools. "I've always been partial to the charter schools because the classrooms are smaller," said Kennedy. Kennedy adds that heavy parent involvement and a unique learning environment are also a draw. "She's learning how to do a checkbook and be a business owner," added Kennedy. That's because the theme at Imagine Columbia is learning in a ‘micro society.'

"Micro society teaches us how to run a business and take care of a business so it doesn't fail," said Skylar. "Micro society is when you get your job," added 2nd grader Za'nyah Boyles.

Grades K through 5 are all a part of a smaller version of our working world which may make the leadership-themed academy sound a lot like a magnet school. However officials say there's a difference. "Unlike a magnet school where you might need to carry a tune or have a special aptitude for something, charter schools are open to all students," said Clay Eaton with SCPCSD.

So what is a charter school? A charter is a legal agreement, and officials say a charter school is usually established by a group of people looking for a unique or alternative school option in their community. "We are perfectly public through every sense of the word," said Eaton. "We are funded only through public sources, and we have accountability and accreditation for our teaching staff that meet all of the state laws and requirements."

Charter schools receive the lowest amount of total funding per student. They also do not receive funds for facilities or transportation. "Because our funding is so low it means facilities are challenging for all of the statewide charter school district schools," said Eaton.

Challenging, but SCPCSD officials say it's not impossible with community support. "It's not something that one person or one small group can do, it's definitely a community effort and the community has helped us every step of the way," said Suezan Turknett, Principal of Imagine Columbia. 

Imagine Columbia Leadership Academy is actually part of a national chain of Imagine Schools founded by Dennis and Eileen Bakke. The chain helped make funding for the Columbia facility possible. While there are currently 150 students, there is enough room for 350, and official say they hope to add additional grades in the coming years.

This coming Friday, Oct. 5, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, State Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais and SC Public Charter School District Superintendent Dr.Wayne Brazell will join students, teachers, parents and community members for the official ribbon cutting at Imagine Columbia at 12:30 p.m.

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