When Dr. Rod Casey, director of the Theological Education Initiative (TEI), first came to Columbia, he quickly fell in love with the trail systems,...
The Columbia chapter’s mission statement:
The Columbia Public School District’s Partners in Education program provides a vehicle through which our schools and our community can come together and, through a mutual sharing of resources, strengthen our schools’ programs and enhance our community’s economic growth.
Education is all about a community: teachers, students, parents, and the organizations that support them. Through local and corporate businesses, government, and more, Columbia students’ learning is being amplified. For 34 years, Partners in Education has worked with Columbia Public Schools to enhance student and faculty experiences inside and out of the classroom.
Partners in Education is a nationwide government organization created to foster relationships between school districts and the community at large. The Columbia chapter’s mission statement: “The Columbia Public School District’s Partners in Education program provides a vehicle through which our schools and our community can come together and, through a mutual sharing of resources, strengthen our schools’ programs and enhance our community’s economic growth.”
Each PIE (CPS has more than 100) is paired with an elementary, middle, or high school (or a combination of schools) or a specific department, such as athletics, fine arts, health services, etc. Throughout the year, PIEs work with their schools by either coming into classrooms to provide lessons relevant to their organization and the class curriculum; providing funding for materials and trips; or lending assistance in whatever form a teacher may need (which is especially fun on reading days and field day).
The services provided by PIEs vary depending on school, need, and organization or business. For example, Central Bank of Boone County partners with Grant Elementary. “We do several things for the program with the kids,” says Pamela Knowles, assistant vice president of human resources and chair of the bank’s PIE program. “One is called ‘Bank Buddies.’ What we do is each year when school starts, the school sends us a list of children, about two or three kids per class that may need a little extra help. Mary Wilkerson, head of our marketing department, was a Bank Buddy years ago [Central Bank is a PIE charter member] and talks about her buddy, who is a grown woman now and still comes into the bank and visits with Mary.”
In addition to their Bank Buddy program, volunteers from Central Bank visit Grant Elementary every other week to assist teachers in whatever capacity they’re needed, whether that’s helping with math or simply playing a game. Plus, Central Bank hosts an annual art competition for the school, with winning pieces framed and displayed in the bank’s gallery.
Landmark Bank, a charter PIE member and partner with Blue Ridge Elementary, also works closely with their school through many activities. “Over the past 25 years of my involvement, there’s been a lot of different activities, from mentoring to a Dollars and Cents program where we talked about savings,” says Facilities and Security Manager Keith Whitney. “Right now we’re heavily involved with junior achievement, so we had over a dozen bankers this past year go in and teach junior achievement. We also do small things like ice cream parties for graduation, their fishing day, and their Bradford Farms pumpkin decorating contest.”
The City of Columbia is another major member of CPS’s PIE program. “All different departments partner with different schools,” says Barbara Buffaloe, sustainability manager with the City of Columbia. “The fire department partners with Derby Ridge Elementary, the sustainability office partners with the science department in all the schools, and so on. So it’s a variety of interactions between the different departments.”
The city creates various learning opportunities, such as fire safety demonstrations and invasive species presentations, to their schools. A rather large and exciting endeavor was their work with Derby Ridge and New Haven elementary schools on the COMO Energy Challenge. “We were competing against 49 other cities to reduce energy uses in homes and schools,” says Buffaloe. “We partnered with the schools on parent–teacher conference night and had an ‘energy e-fair’ [energy efficiency fair] where we gave out energy efficiency kits.”
Trina Teacutter, nursing supervisor with the City of Columbia’s public health and human services department, is very passionate about their role with the schools. “We are partnered with CPS’s health services, so nursing staff and health secretaries. Our biggest project each year is coordinating with the school-based flu vaccination program. We go into all the schools and work with the nursing staff and Lori Osborne, the health services coordinator, to set up and run those clinics. We’ve done that every year since 2009.”
The other major part of the partnership is to serve as a resource for school nurses in case of emergency, outbreaks, or out-of-the-norm situations.
West Middle School is partnered with charter PIE member Shelter Insurance, which is conveniently located right across the street. Shelter uses this proximity to their advantage, walking over a couple times a month to see what they can do for their partnered teachers and students. In addition, “We have a huge resource — people,” says Jay MacLellan, director of public relations at Shelter. “We have volunteers judge tournaments for them. We provide scholarships to two eighth graders every year. And we help with their courtyard gardens. Our super groundsperson takes some of our flowers from our gardens and plants them at West.”
“The schools are the foundation of the City of Columbia,” says Buffaloe. “By giving back through partnering, we get to invest in the foundation that makes up our organization.”
“We say, as a bank, we are rooted in the community, and this is putting that into practice,” says Brenda Martin, marketing assistant at Central Bank of Boone County. “We are assisting in helping these kids build their future and teaching them about banking in the hopes that they might consider this as a future career.”
Sherry Wyss, BSA specialist at Landmark Bank, echoes this sentiment. “It’s really been a rewarding experience. It’s been great working with the kids and getting involved with the school and seeing what an impact we can have on these kids’ lives and helping them to grow into roles and build relationships with the kids and teachers.”
“It enriches their education, opens their possibilities about what they can do when they grow up, and it helps build a community,” adds Whitney. He goes on to say one of the most exciting things for him is when former Blue Ridge students come to him, remembering him from their “Dollars and Cents” classes, and say they now teach those lessons to their kids.
“We are in our 34th year with PIE, and we’ve had a lot of people go through this program,” says MacLellan. “Why do we do it? We’ re one of the larger employers in Columbia, and we feel it’s something we should do. We have the funding and the people. We have the ability to get involved, and that is such an exciting thing for all of us here, especially the many of us who live in this area and have kids who go to school at West.”
“It’s a completely mutually beneficial relationship,” says Teacutter. “We serve as a resource, but they’re also a resource for us. We all really enjoy working with the school nurses. We learn a lot from them, and hopefully they learn from us. It’s fun to work as a broader team for the community health.”
Bottom line: the businesses and organizations involved with Partners in Education have the resources and abilities to really make an impact in the children of Columbia’s lives. They are building relationships that last and creating a stronger community connection.