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Magnet Program Led Parent to Choose School for Her Son


Samantha Jones and Raymond Mathis Samantha Jones and her son, Raymond Mathis, a kindergarten student at Watkins-Nance Elementary School, are new to Richland One this school year. They moved to Columbia from Clarksville, Tennessee for Jones’ job at Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative.


As she was exploring schools, Jones came across Watkins-Nance, home to Richland One’s new elementary BLAST (Building Lasting Aerospace and STEAM Trajectories) magnet program that launched in August.


“I never saw anything like it and felt like it was a good fit. The program is something I thought my child would be interested in,” she said.


Jones says Raymond has always had an interest in space. When she found out he got accepted into the BLAST program, Jones decorated his bedroom to make it space-themed.


Since he started the program, Jones says Raymond comes home every day talking about what he learned.


“We’d be in the car and Raymond would start talking about numbers, science and other things he’s learned in the classroom. The BLAST program has helped him peak his interest in aerospace, math and science even more. He loves it,” she said.


Richland One’s elementary BLAST magnet program at Watkins-Nance, as well as the new middle school aerospace magnet program at W.A. Perry Middle School and the new national defense-themed magnet program at Columbia High School, are being funded by a $14.9 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant that was awarded to the district in 2022 from the U.S. Department of Education. Richland One is using the grant funds over a five-year period to implement BLAST at the three schools.


Eighty students at Watkins-Nance have enrolled in the BLAST program for the 2023-2024 school year. Ten of those students, including Raymond, are in kindergarten. There are plans to include pre-kindergarten in the BLAST program next school year.


Jones reached out to Stephanie Long, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) consultant at Watkins-Nance, about the BLAST program before moving to Columbia.


“Stephanie really sold me on the BLAST program. She talked to me about how the school was going to incorporate STEM in all of their academics and how Raymond can continue with the BLAST program in middle and high schools,” Jones said.


Since then, the two have built a strong relationship. Jones even joined the advisory board for Richland One’s BLAST magnet programs. The board looks at different ways to improve the programs and increase student recruitment and retention.


“Ms. Jones has been very supportive of our efforts here at Watkins-Nance, starting from when I told her about all the things we were going to be doing with the BLAST program. She has been engaged and involved in all of our activities,” Long said.


Long says she hopes kindergarten students, like Raymond, are able to stay in the BLAST magnet program sequence throughout their time in Richland One. She says doing so will open students up to more opportunities in the future.


“These programs will set students up for success and, hopefully, steer them into STEM careers,” Long said.

Jones encourages other parents to enroll their children in the BLAST magnet programs in Richland One.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The teachers and leadership really care. What we have experienced here at Watkins-Nance is unlike anything I have experienced for my children’s education,” she said.

Applications for students to enroll in Richland One’s magnet choice programs for the 2024-2025 school year will be accepted starting December 11. The application deadline is January 31, 2024. To learn more about Richland One’s magnet choice programs, go to