Lucas Vance Staff Writer
September 5, 2013
FAIRFIELD COUNTY — The Midlands Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Institute has been granted a charter by the S.C. Public Charter School District and will open in 2014.
Nearly a month ago, the S.C. Public Charter School District authorized MSI as the newest charter school in the Midlands. It will be based in Fairfield County but a location has not been determined.
The first year Midlands STEM Institute will offer instruction for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. A grade will be added each year until the 12th grade is offered in 2021. The school will be available to students in Fairfield County as well as Richland, Chester, Kershaw and Union counties.
District Superintendent Wayne Brazzell said the new school will focus on science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM curriculum — with an emphasis on healthy lifestyles.
MSI will be a tuition-free public charter school with a mission to produce STEM proficient and physically fit students.
“Our goal is to prepare youth for the future by equipping them with the skills they need for gainful employment and healthy lives,” said Kevin Thomas, chairman of the MSI board.
At MSI, students will have learning opportunities that help them set courses for productive futures. The STEM curriculum will go beyond regular school offerings, according to Thomas, and open avenues for students in a variety of fields.
A public charter school does not have admissions requirements. Parents and students choose public charter schools, which are tuition free for students of public school age.
“Students at MSI will learn through engaging and challenging experiences that focus on problem-solving in real world settings as well as STEM and core curriculum,” Thomas said. “MSI’s health and fitness program will provide students with the skills needed to establish healthy lifestyles.”
The board is comprised of seven members, made up of educators, parents and business leaders. Thomas believes the board has a good mix of skill sets. New administrator and board member Marie Milam has played a vital role in helping MSI through the authorization process.
MSI will offer traditional classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math as well as core classes such as English, reading and social studies.
Each grade will have 27 students with an 18-1 student to teacher ratio. For example 18 students in the kindergarten class and 18 students in the first grade class. The nine students left over from each grade will combine into a K1 class totaling 18 students. The same system will be used to group second and third grade, and fourth and fifth grade, essentially creating two grades with three teachers.
Thomas was motivated to provide another education option in Fairfield County after attending and assisting in Salkehatchie camps during recent summers. Salkehatchie focuses on making homes warmer, safer and dryer.
During the camps, Thomas noticed several families in Fairfield County living in poverty. He said the only option to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty is with education.
“I just want to give parents another education option that is free as well,” Thomas said.
Even though MSI got its approval three weeks ago, the vision began nearly 20 months ago. Thomas met with the superintendent of the public charter school system, and was encouraged to pursue the idea of opening a STEM school in Fairfield County.
MSI applied last year, but began late in the process and went through an administrator who is no longer with MSI. Thomas said last year the board did not get enough signatures or letters of intent to enroll.
Thomas said they were more aggressive and attended local festivals and community events to collect signatures. The first year, MSI will have 161 students, nine teachers, an executive director and a STEM coach who will float between classes to offer extended assistance to students.
Thomas believes MSI is set apart because of cutting edge curriculum not offered at other schools.
He said his vision is for a child to attend MSI, go to college and come back to Fairfield County to work for the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, which has struggled to hire local workers.
“That is one of the things that I want to provide,” Thomas stated. “A qualified STEM proficient student that is able to go on to college, the military or directly into the workforce. MSI will educate kids for the jobs of the future.”
Interested parents can access the MSI web site at www.midlandsstem.org, contact Thomas at 803-361-1228 or send an email to email@example.com.
To apply for admission, complete a STEM Application Information form at midlandsstem.org. The application period ends Feb. 1, 2014. At that time, if there are more applicants than slots available in each grade, a public lottery will be held. After the lottery, student enrollment will begin for the fall semester of 2014.
Contact Lucas Vance at 635-4016 ext.15 or email him at lvance@civitasmedia.