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Heathwood Students Launch Expanded Sally Salamander Tour of Columbia

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Downtown Columbia is an increasingly happening place to be – and thanks to a team of Heathwood students, Sally Salamander is now ready and waiting to show off 20 iconic downtown locations to visitors and locals alike.

Partnering with the office of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and supported by grants from Nephron Pharmaceuticals and the city’s Hospitality Tax Grant, students in Upper School Government Teacher Julie Firetag’s Urban Planning and State and Local Government classes planned and executed an ambitious expansion of the Sally Salamander tour that was originally developed by the Leadership Columbia Class of 2009.

On Saturday, December 8, all the students’ work came to fruition with the official launch of the expanded tour. Students in the current State and Local Government class manned a Sally Salamander booth at Soda City Market, where they provided information about the tour and were joined by Mayor Benjamin in witnessing the mayor’s vision for a more extensive downtown tour become reality.

Bronze replicas of Sally, a spotted salamander, mark each of the 10 original tour locations as well as the 10 new ones chosen by Heathwood students. Because the spotted salamander is South Carolina’s state amphibian, Sally is a natural as Columbia’s ambassador. Those who take the tour can follow her to historic landmarks, notable local businesses, public art installations, and more, including the Columbia Visitors Center, the State House, the Columbia Museum of Art, the Downtown Arcade Mall, Mast General, Sweet Cream, the Hanging Drums, and Richland County Public Library.                

“The expansion and promotion of the Sally Salamander walking tour will further highlight the greatness of our city,” said Mrs. Firetag. “Residents and tourists alike will benefit from the educational and cultural experience, while simultaneously allowing for economic opportunities for Columbia’s local businesses.”

After being approached by Mayor Benjamin about expanding the original tour, Heathwood State and Local Government students spent a full semester researching potential new locations before developing a list of ten that they pitched to Columbia City Council. Subsequent classes worked with Mrs. Firetag to acquire funding to expand the tour, to create a Sally Salamander brochure, and to plan a publicity campaign for Sally.

Heathwood students in Dr. Plowden’s 2017 Creative Writing class also created a children’s book, Sally Salamander: The Adventure Begins, to accompany the tour. Illustrated by Heathwood junior Briana Stanley, the book is currently on sale at Mast General and the Plaid Peddler. Heathwood senior Chris Lou and computer science teacher Tom Simpson also developed an app to accompany the tour, which is available at www.columbiasalamander.com.

“Sally Salamander has been an invaluable lesson for my government students in many ways,” said Mrs. Firetag. “They've had to develop an idea through research and outreach in the community, gain support for a proposal from different levels of city government, and then actually execute that plan, leaving a permanent footprint in our city. This experience surpasses any textbook lesson, or classroom lecture.  It is the epitome of a Heathwood education that is rooted in community-based learning.”

Sally Salamander is a self-guided tour. Those interested can pick up a brochure at one of the various Sally Salamander sites throughout the Main Street District and the Vista. Learn more at www.columbiasalamander.com.

The Sally Salamander project came about through Heathwood’s Columbia Connections program, which connects Heathwood students with leaders in the Midlands civic, business, cultural, education, and nonprofit communities to create unique, hands-on educational opportunities and help students gain a richer understanding of how the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom translate into real-world action.