Charter school plans to open at Richland Mall

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – The former Parisian building at the Richland Mall may look empty now, but a group of school developers have plans to open a charter school there this August.

It's called the South Carolina Science Academy, and school director Nathan Yon he's been dreaming of the school for seven years. "It's actually the convergence of three different movements. The 21st century school movement, the STEM Education School movement and the Charter School movement," said Yon. "We actually became a charter school because we were a school of innovation."

While the space is currently empty, Yon says in three months it will transform into the nation's first ever blended STEM-centric academy for 6th through 8th graders. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

"It's a 21st century school that doesn't confine students and separate them from each other to work together toward positive goals," said Yon.

Alexa Nyberg is a rising 7th grader who is planning to attend the academy. She's one of nearly 100 students already enrolled, and on Wednesday she got a sneak peek of the school.

"It's pretty empty right now, but I think with a lot of work it will be just like a regular school," said Alexa.

Alexa and her dad say it was the STEM focus that led them to the new school. "As a parent of a child who loved school… and this year that enthusiasm is not quite there still, we were trying to find anything that might spark that again," said Alexa's Dad, Anthony. "And the vision that Nathan has suggests that it might be that."

"I'm excited that it's going to be a hands-on approach to learning," said Alexa. "We'll do group projects where we'll try to figure out solutions to problems in our world today."

Teacher Autumn Perkins also attended the walk through on Wednesday. She says in the school's first year she'll be a Social Studies teacher. "I think of it as the biggest challenge, but also probably the most engaging opportunity that I've had as a teacher," said Perkins. "Very few times are you told, 'Let's open a school'."

Yon says because 62% of all jobs require STEM skills (according to the Dept. of Labor), he believes the academy will prepare the next generation of innovative leaders.

"We're really developing citizen scientists," said Yon. "People who understand the value and responsibility of being a part of a community, but also have knowledge to make that impact."

Yon says while it looks like there's a lot of work to be done inside the building, he says most of it is superficial and the school is scheduled to open by August 19th.

He says while nearly 100 students are enrolled, they have space for 240 students at the school. Yon adds that they plan to add an additional grade level each year the school is open.

This Saturday the school will hold a STEM mini-camp inside the old Parisian building at 1pm. For more information visit:

Yon says the school has signed a 5 year-lease with Century Capital Group, LLC who owns Richland Mall. The general manager of Richland Mall, Joe Walker says they're excited to have the school as a tenant. Walker estimates it's been nearly eight years since the Parisian store was still operating in the space.