Eau Claire High seeks Columbia College partnership

Lauren Fleming, Staff Writer

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Eau Claire High School has requested to rekindle a relationship with Columbia College.

ECHS is less than one mile down the road from Columbia College. However, the college receives only around five to 10 applications a year from ECHS students.

And ECHS administration is concerned that Columbia College has not opened its doors to the high school students in its neighborhood as much as the college has to other high schools in the greater Columbia area.

“We get discounted because of the large population of students here who are disenfranchised,” Neshunda Walters, ECHS principal, said. Walters started as the principal on July 1 of this year.

While the Columbia College admissions department sends general information to everyone in Columbia College’s database, Julie King, director of admissions, thinks the college could reach out more to ECHS specifically. However, King describes their relationship with the high school as very strong.

“Sometimes it’s just offering invitations,” King said. “We don’t get as many students from Eau Claire as I would like.”

Steve Benjamin, mayor of the City of Columbia, agrees with the importance of collaboration between higher and secondary education. “For Columbia College students to take the time to be positive influences in the lives of local high school students, encouraging them to pursue higher education, ensures that a positive atmosphere for learning in our city will increase opportunities for all,” Benjamin said.

The high school and college have previously had a relationship that accredited the high school’s fine arts program, but the relationship has become nonexistent over the past several years.

“From what I understand, there used to be a relationship between us. I’m not sure what fell apart,” Walters said. The school and college used to collaborate to work on fine arts pieces and showings. Columbia College is the reason the high school used to be called Eau Claire School for the Arts.

ECHS still has a fine arts center, but now has fewer resources for the students without the college’s partnership.

Both King and Walters agree that the barrier could be related to perceptions of the predominantly poor community.

There are currently no student-teachers placed at Eau Claire High School, according to Walters. However, King has confirmed that Columbia College is present at college fairs for the school, whether the fairs are held on ECHS campus or off-campus for the entire district.

Columbia College has hosted days specifically for certain high schools but those schools had previously reached out to the college to do so. King said she is more than willing to be more proactive on ECHS’s behalf. “Most here will not visit a college campus unless they are taken by the school,” Walters said.

King said that recruiting students for the college is not the admissions department’s only goal. Sometimes providing college readiness assistance is well worth the resources the college would provide to do so.

Walters has asked for a renewed partnership with Columbia College, specifically a mentoring program for ECHS students to have access to attention and advice from college-aged students. “Whatever the leadership has been in the past, you have someone here that is truly interested in a partnership,” Walters said.

Both the school and college are open and willing to work together to provide a better experience for all students involved but must first derail certain stereotypes and assumptions about the other institute.

“Perceptions build walls- perceptions and people,” Walters said.

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