Columbus Municipal School District hopes to reopen the Hunt campus — destroyed by the February 2019 tornado — as Hunt Experience Center in 2022, with a focus on both technology-assisted learning and hands-on workforce development, Superintendent Cherie Labat told The Dispatch.
The project aims to provide CMSD students with both on-site and online learning experiences, Labat said. The district will also partner with students at Mississippi University for Women and East Mississippi Community College to offer training for CMSD students and staff.
While the east side of the building will be dedicated to career development through the district’s ongoing partnership with EMCC, the west wing will be focused on academic training, with MUW education majors serving as instructors who teach CMSD students in a hybrid learning environment, Labat said.
Most of the teaching can be conducted online, said Martin Hatton, dean of the School of Education at MUW, but students can collaboratively solve problems while physically being in classrooms.
“The key piece to the blended learning academy … is the concept that’s called ‘the flipped classroom’ — the idea that students are spending a certain amount of time learning content through their homework activities before they come to the classroom,” Hatton said. “And when they come to the classroom, it’s a high-impact learning experience. … When they come together, they are coming together for problem solving, critical thinking, actually doing activity as opposed to primarily lecture.”
Additionally, CMSD teaching assistants, faculty members and anyone within the community who wish to pursue a degree in education or teacher’s license can receive their training at the Hunt Experience Center, Labat said.
“If you want to be a teacher, you could come work with MUW at the Hunt facility to convert your degree into a teaching degree and … work for your license and take the courses that you need,” she said.
The partnership between CMSD and MUW will also allow for a dual enrollment program, which means high school seniors who wish to pursue a degree in education can enroll in college courses and begin to earn credits, Hatton and Labat said.
Labat said the partnership is focused heavily on technology to maximize the use of digital devices allocated to students as a result of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Each student will receive one device, she said, and the devices will be delivered by November.
“We don’t want to be another district that has the devices but is not fully taking advantage of the opportunity for students to learn,” Labat said.
Labat said district and university officials are still determining how to pursue funding for the experience center, and they have not decided how much of the cost would be covered by CMSD or MUW. She added the experience center does not yet have an estimated cost.
“We have not detailed the cost associated with the programming,” Labat said in a text message Monday morning. “We are still in the planning stages and have several decisions that have to be made in the next two years.”
The project isn’t simply a result of the pandemic, Hatton said. It emerged amid a national conversation of educational reform, and the pandemic accelerated it. The use of technology, he said, could change the way students learn.
“Education is going to look different in some ways moving forward,” he said. “What we have is an opportunity for our students not just to use technology, but to think about how they are using technology to teach differently, to teach better, to achieve different learning outcomes.”
The program will benefit students at both MUW and CMSD, Labat said. Through digital and on-site teaching, MUW students will earn real-life experience and credit hours for interacting with K-12 students at CMSD. District students will also gain more experience learning with the help of technology.
“It gives them a sense of autonomy and independence in taking ownership of their own learning,” Labat said. “It’s a win-win and the time is now.”
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.