Heathwood Teachers Strengthen Their Columbia Connections Through In-Service Expeditions

Thursday, August 18, 2016

There are countless ways Heathwood students can contribute to the Columbia community. And there are countless ways the community can contribute to our students’ education.

Those are just two of many takeaways for Heathwood faculty and staff who participated in Columbia Connections In-Service expeditions on August 10.

Heathwood’s Columbia Connections program extends our learning environment by providing unique educational opportunities with leaders from the academic, cultural, scientific, non-profit, and business communities in Columbia. Faculty have opportunities to integrate community leaders, activities, and locales into their curricula in many ways, and the goal of the in-service day was to provide an in-depth look at some of those options.

To that end, Columbia Connections Director Donnie Bain put together eight themed expeditions, followed by a panel discussion with community leaders at the State Museum. Each faculty member chose an expedition, and then all reunited for the panel discussion, which featured Mayor Steve Benjamin, Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites, S.C. State Museum Director of Education Tom Falvey, Central Carolina Community Foundation President andCEO JoAnne Turnquist, and USC Deputy Provost Dr. Helen Doerpinghaus.

Expedition options included:

  • Manufacturing/Distribution:  Nephron Pharmaceuticals and Amazon Fulfillment Center
  • Technology:  IT-oLogy and McNair Center for Aerospace Research
  • History:  Historic Columbia driving/walking tour
  • Business/Commerce:  ZVerse, SC Economics, Darla Moore School of Business, RumbleLab
  • Science/Environment:  Gills Creek Watershed Association, Sustainable Midlands, City Roots, Congaree Riverkeeper
  • Fine Arts:  Columbia Museum of Art, Nickelodeon Theatre, One Columbia
  • College Athletics:  USC Athletics Williams Brice Stadium, Rice Athletics Center, and Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center
  • Public Venues:  Richland County Library, Columbia Fireflies—Spirit Communications Park

The goal, said Donnie Bain, was to spark creative thinking about how the larger community can become an extension of the classroom, and to build new connections between faculty and community leaders who have already expressed interest in being involved in the Columbia Connections program.

Faculty responses at the end of the day suggested the in-service accomplished all of that and more. Upper School English teacher Elise Hagstette, who participated in the Fine Arts tour, said, “I had no idea how much great work is going on at Nickelodeon Theatre. Of course I have seen movies there, but their education outreach is impressive. They are going to help me teach my students ‘how to read a film’ when I begin my Literature and Film class in the spring.”

Upper School chemistry teacher Laura Slocum echoed the sentiments of many faculty who found that experts in the Columbia community are even more willing to share their knowledge and insights with Heathwood students than anticipated: “I was really impressed with how openly McNair Aerospace shared with us, and with their willingness to work with us and our students,” she said. “They really welcomed this opportunity.”

Members of the panel of community leaders talked about their own educational experiences and their varied career paths. They noted that the Columbia Connections program’s emphasis on building ties to people beyond the classroom and thinking in interdisciplinary ways about how to solve community problems helps develop the “softer” skills that are so critical to personal and professional success: collaboration, communication, creativity, knowing yourself and being able to get along with others, knowing how to inspire and motivate others, and understanding your community and knowing how you fit into it.

The excursions and the panel more than fulfilled Donnie Bain’s expectations.

“Columbia Connections is about connecting to people, places, and real-life experiences related to what we do in the classroom,” Bain said. “It really offers a different kind of educational experience, an opportunity for Heathwood to redefine itself as more than just a traditional content provider. Our faculty came away from the in-service day with lots of ideas, both big and small, for how to connect students with community leaders and how to use the community as an extension of their classrooms. And the community’s response to what we’re doing has really exceeded our expectations. It’s been exciting to reach out to people all across the Midlands and discover how enthusiastic they are about partnering with us.”

About Columbia Connections

With the recognition that students learn better and are more engaged through direct, hands-on experiences that are relevant to them, Heathwood Hall has launched the Columbia Connections program.

Heathwood’s Columbia Connections program enhances student learning by providing unique educational opportunities with leaders from the academic, cultural, scientific, non-profit, and business communities in Columbia. Columbia Connections serves as an extension of the core academic curriculum and supplements it by providing meaningful, real-world experiences. By working with diverse members of the community, and exploring a range of issues, challenges, and opportunities using different tools and resources, students gain a richer, more in-depth understanding of how the skills and knowledge they acquire in the classroom translate into real-world action.

While schools may be at the center of students’ educational experience, they are not the only centers for learning. Museums, labs, courtrooms, art studios, manufacturing centers, and more can all have a dynamic place in the learning system. Columbia Connections is about opening these learning environments up to Heathwood students more fully and creating opportunities for our students and teachers to connect and engage more fully with community life.

Basic skills development and knowledge acquisition remain a constant and important central focus of Heathwood’s curriculum. Columbia Connections allows our students and faculty to go beyond the basics by connecting what they’ve learned in the classroom to their surrounding communities.

Specific Goals:

  • Utilize Columbia’s organizations, museums, universities, and neighborhoods to create authentic and challenging learning experiences
  • Take advantage of local experts who can visit the school or meet with students to give presentations, participate in panel discussions, or mentor students working on major projects
  • Provide our faculty with ways to enhance the concepts being taught in the classroom and connect them to personal, first-hand experiences and familiar examples in the community
  • Provide ways for the school and community to develop stronger relationships, increasing understanding of and support for Heathwood and the learning experiences it provides
  • Establish purposeful connections between what is being taught in the classroom and the surrounding community and its local issues, contexts, and concepts
  • Create new opportunities for content mastery and skill development in areas such as leadership, collaboration, and innovative thinking.

Approaches and Outcomes

  • Community-based learning typically takes place across four primary channels:
  • Instructional connections: Teachers make connections between the material being taught in the classroom and local issues, contexts and concepts. For example, the workings of a democratic political system may be explored in terms of a local political process.
  • Community integration:  Educators utilize local experts by inviting them into the school to give presentations, participate in panel discussions, or mentor students who are working on long-term research projects.
  • Community participation: Students learn, at least in part, by actively participating in their community. For example, students may undertake a research project on a local environmental problem in collaboration with a scientist or nonprofit organization.
  • Citizen action: Students use what they are learning to influence, change, or give back to the community in some meaningful way.  For example, students may write a regular column for the local newspaper or heighten awareness about an environmental program.

Additional Faculty Responses to the Excursion

Third Grade Lead Kim Bain:

I learned that the library is not just for checking out books anymore! The new 21st century library is a state-of-the-art outreach center with endless possibilities. When the main library construction is finished, it is a place you will want to visit often and tell all your friends about the many services they provide!

Spirit Communications Park is not just about baseball either! Supporting the team is critical to community, however, they offer a plethora of services as well. They host corporate events, weddings, parties… Also, the park is open to the public from 9am - 5 pm every day. You can walk the “track” or even have a picnic. 

Seventh Grade English Teacher Sue Swick:

I am thrilled to have a great connection to the art displays to bring them via request for the images to be shared digitally!

Middle/Upper School Librarian Nancy Reeder:

It was a great opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” look at the changes at the public library and learn about the Fireflies baseball park and to discover the programs and resources offered by both to students and to the greater community.

Early Childhood/Lower School Librarian Jennifer Falvey:

I was so impressed by what the Richland Library is doing to support growth and learning in our community across many, many platforms: print, digital, visual, physical—even sartorial!—and their eagerness to partner with the larger community.

I was chatting with Jane Beach on the way back to campus yesterday, and she and I were both happy to find that the things emphasized by our community panel are the same things we consistently talk about as educators at Heathwood.  As Mayor Benjamin said, educators must focus not just on technical skills, but also on developing empathy, compassion and generosity of spirit.  So although we are always looking for ways to “do what we do” better, it feels good to know we are all working toward the same goals.  To steal a phrase from the national stage, we really are stronger together!

Columbia Connections makes me feel we can directly engage with educational partners in our city, develop programs which will concretely affect students’ learning, and reinforce our shared commitment to excellence.

Middle School Head Suzanne Nagy:

Having been to Williams Brice stadium and learning about what it takes to put on an SEC football game, I have a greater appreciation of all the work that goes into planning and executing such a huge undertaking. From the parking arrangements to the color of the grass, no one does it better than USC!

Middle School Art Teacher Brian Rego:

I was a part of the tech group that visited ITology, and the McNair Center for Aerospace. Both places were interesting and beneficial, but I was most impacted by the significant levels of research and dedication demonstrated by the students and professionals at the McNair Center. It is essentially a research lab with an emphasis in production in order to raise funding (which they amply do) for their research. I am amazed at the high degree of efficiency and expediency with which they identify a demand and create a supply for that demand. I find it akin to the process I use in my own work, though yielding different results in painting and the development of perception. I am inspired and grateful for the experience.

IT Specialist Ryan Novak:

I visited Nephron Pharmaceuticals and Amazon’s Fulfillment Center, and I was amazed to see the diversity in career paths and opportunities that these companies offered. Rather than a pharmaceutical corporation or distribution center focusing on a single discipline, they both employed a diverse range of employees and job skills: microbiologists, chemists, machinists, welders, computer programmers, mathematic and analytic positions, logistics, and a vast number of other skill sets coming together to move these companies forward. 

Assistant Athletics Director Andrew Richardson:

Our Columbia Connections group was treated to outstanding presentations from several staff members from the University of South Carolina Athletic Department.  Whether learning about the process of maintaining the playing surface at Williams-Brice Stadium from Donnie Lindler, understanding the growth of the department from the development of the SEC Network from Charles Bloom, or observing some of the after-college life skills taught from Erica Nelson, the Gamecock staff were always engaged and informative!

Athletic Department Speakers:

Bridgett Tabor, Academics
Erica Nelson, Life Skills
Eric Nichols, Marketing
Charles Bloom, SEC Network
Steve Fink, Media Relations
Jim Petrus, Football Gameday Parking
Shawn Burke, Event Management
Donnie Lindler, Facilities & Turf Management
Ray Tanner, Athletic Director
Kristi Davis, Asst. to the Athletic Director