STEM charter school near completion after founders tragic death - - Columbia, South Carolina |

STEM charter school near completion after founder's tragic death

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A STEM-based charter school in downtown Columbia is on its way to opening its doors just a year after its founder was killed in a tragic accident.

Nathan Yon, the visionary behind the South Carolina Science Academy, died a year ago Thursday after being hit by a driver who was headed in the wrong direction on I-26.

News 10's Mary King met with Yon just two weeks before that accident and has since followed the school's progress as they have worked to make Yon's dream a reality.

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

Nathan Yon's dreams saw an empty department store at the Richland Mall as state of the art learning facility.

"We're really developing citizen scientists, people who understand the value and responsibility of being a part of a community but also have knowledge to make that impact," Yon said in 2013.

Those who had heard his vision, like social studies teacher and current South Carolina Science Academy Curriculum Coordinator Autumn Perkins, wanted to be a part of it.

"He would call and we would discuss curriculum," Perkins said.

But Perkins said she never expected the call she got while waiting for a meeting at his office last May.

"It was quite instant," Perkins said.

Nathan had been killed in a car accident.

"I felt like I had got hit in the stomach, it was one of the more surreal feelings because I was in his office, and we just didn't know what to think," Perkins said.

She said as they mourned the loss of the school's visionary and friend, they delayed the South Carolina Science Academy's Fall 2013 opening.

"At one point the board had to make a decision because literally without his vision, because his laptops and his information were in the car with him- so we didn't know where to start," Perkins said.

And while they didn't have the physical plans, they did have Nathan's heart. And with a desire to put the STEM based charter school in the heart of downtown, they found a new building to house the school.

"He talked about this industrial open feel and with the light shining in," Perkins said.

Construction is in full swing at what used to be an old mental health clinic on Marion Street.

"Upstairs in that big open space where our science and STEM center will be I really see his vision," Perkins said.

School officials said learning will happen in partitioned classrooms and open learning commons, just like Nathan imagined.

"By having an environment where we have some fluidity, it would allow students to take the lessons and put them into real life," said South Carolina Science Academy Board Chair Dr. Anthony Nyberg.

And there are two people who may be anticipating the school's opening more than anyone...Nathan's parents.

"I'm just happy," Nathan's dad Bill said. "I'm just overjoyed in my heart to know Nathan is still a part of us."

"Believe it or not, he's smiling right now, he is smiling," Nathan's mom, Jennie said. "I think he's just looking down from Heaven and he's like, "Yeah- ya'll do it! It's going to happen."

Enrollment is still open for the South Carolina Science Academy. The school will serve grades six through nine the first year, and they will add a high school grade each year after that it's open.

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