The Children’s Museum of the Upstate (TCMU) began as the dream of a group of mothers who were committed to creating a world-class, play-based learning space for young children in the Upstate region of South Carolina. That dream became a reality when the Greenville location opened in 2009.
Today, TCMU offers two locations, one in Greenville and Spartanburg, that together provide exceptional educational experiences to over 200,000 visitors annually. Guided by a mission of igniting a community of compassionate problem solvers through intentional and inclusive play, TCMU was also the first children’s museum to be recognized as a Smithsonian Affiliate.
In 2017, community leaders in Spartanburg, SC felt the community needed an intentional space designed to support early childhood development and Kindergarten readiness. With significant community support, TCMU-Spartanburg opened in May 2018. This museum location houses 6,000 square feet of exhibit and learning space designed to support children ages 0-6.
For those who have never visited TCMU-Spartanburg, when you enter the white brick building on Magnolia Street, you immediately enter a space full of color, unique play structures and a profound sense of joy and wonder. Most young children make a beeline for Duke Energy’s Treehouse, an exhibit that allows children to climb into a tall tree and learn about the ecosystem of South Carolina. They might then head to the Spartanburg Regional Health Center and play ‘doctor’ with the life-size operation table. Imaginative play is encouraged throughout all of TCMU-Spartanburg’s immersive exhibits–as children imagine themselves as medical professionals or pretend to check out groceries at the nearby Farm to Table Fun market. This type of play builds important social and developmental skills, in an exciting way for young learners.
As you make your way to the museum’s lower level, you will hear water splashing at the Spartanburg Water tables. Children can fill up buckets, spray water and tinker with boats at this hands-on exhibit. It is certainly a family favorite! For families with children under 1, spaces on both floors provide soft cushions for crawling and playing with toys. These areas provide prompts that display the Palmetto Basics–practical skills such as “Talk, Sing & Point” or “Explore through Movement & Play”. These are key ways for parents to help encourage brain growth–of which 80% occurs before the age of 3–and help foster school readiness.
Families can also participate in free programming through Open Art, Story Time & More and the museum’s think-tank lab, steamWORKS Jr. These offerings are designed to excite young minds through deeper engagement and intentional learning opportunities. Every week, TCMU staff centers programming around a theme–with some favorites of the past year being, Scientific Senses and Whimsical Weather.
New this year, TCMU-Spartanburg launched Pop-Up Classrooms. These classes were structured to teach rising Kindergarteners (3K-5K) important skills for the classroom, such as raising their hand, or using their inside voice. Each session focused on a different skill and provided engaging activities in a classroom-style setting. Through a generous grant from South Carolina First Steps, young learners also took home free books every week during the 10-week program.
TCMU-Spartanburg also welcomed over 1,300 guests to four family events in 2022. Countdown to Kindergarten was hosted on August 5, in conjunction with a statewide celebration. This is a free annual event that celebrates the start of Kindergarten. The event invited local partners to provide resources for families about early childhood education, back-to-school habits and a variety of other information. Children participated in activities geared at building fine motor skills–such as how to carry a lunch tray and how to get on a school bus!
Additionally, TCMU-Spartanburg hosted three seasonal events – BunnyBurg on April 16, Trick-or-Treat on October 29 and World WONDERLand on December 10. These events offered a special moment to celebrate each season and engage in creative and festive crafts and activities in a unique space.
Beyond the museum’s walls, TCMU-Spartanburg widely extended its efforts into the greater Spartanburg and Upstate community. With support from the Foundation for the Carolina’s Longleaf Fund, TCMU-Spartanburg’s On-the-Go program brought its educational programming to various community events, schools and libraries–meeting families where they live, work and play. Specific outreach efforts in 2022 included the BMW Charity Pro-AM, The Spartanburg Soaring! International Kite Festival and Dickens of a Christmas. TCMU-Spartanburg has served over 2,500 individuals through these efforts and is excited to extend this reach even farther in 2023, with the help of a newly awarded grant from the Mary Black Foundation.
At the onset of 2022, TCMU rallied behind the mantra “Big Plans, Bright Futures.” We set out to open new exhibits, provide exceptional experiences through programming and events, encourage Kindergarten readiness and expand our offerings to communities in need. Because of the support of incredible community partners, returning member families, new visitors, and a team of dedicated board and staff members, 2022 has been a big year of many bright highlights for TCMU-Spartanburg.
As we look towards 2023, our work continues in creating bright futures for children across the Upstate. We know that the intentional encouragement of young minds can positively impact the future of our community, and TCMU seeks to provide these meaningful learning opportunities. Together, we can help foster the dreams of our community’s future thinkers, creatives, leaders & change-makers.
If post-high school education opens doors of opportunity and advancement, shouldn’t we make sure it’s accessible to everyone? This belief is the driving force behind the USC Upstate Greenville Campus, located at the University Center of Greenville.
And if we are going to make education accessible, we have to meet students where they are. Twenty percent of adults in the Upstate have some college experience but no degree. For whatever reason—work, finances, family, health, COVID—they halted their education.
A team of USC Upstate faculty and staff was formed with the purpose of understanding the reasons so many students “stopped out.” They identified the major barriers to higher education for adults and created programs at the Greenville Campus to address them.
Adults have work and family obligations. Greenville programs are hybrid or fully online so you can keep working while you study. Students who come in with an associates degree can enter USC Upstate Greenville as a junior, but any student with any level of credits can benefit from degree completion programs.
Career advancement is a hurdle if you don’t have a credential. At the end of the day, the employee with a degree or certificate is going to win out over the one who doesn’t. Because you also need to keep working to keep your career on track, Greenville’s bachelor’s and master’s degrees are hybrid and online. USC Upstate faculty are also building certificate and training programs to fit the demands of local industry.
It can be challenging/intimidating/confusing (insert whatever word you’re feeling here) to go back to school as an adult. With that in mind, the Greenville campus includes all the one-on-one advising and academic support you’ll need, with a team experienced in working with adults. You won’t feel out of place.
Education is expensive. Financial aid and scholarships aren’t just for teens coming out of high school, and USC Upstate tuition rates are extremely competitive. Online programs also include condensed semesters, so you earn your degree quicker. Less time toward a degree equals less cost.
While one of the driving forces of the Greenville Campus is reengaging students who have stopped out of school, adults who have earned an associates degrees and want to grow their careers can also benefit by entering into a bachelor’s degree program as a junior.
And Greenville staff want to partner with Upstate businesses. Partnerships could include easy pathways for employees to use tuition credits, on-site college advising for employees, the creation of certificates and trainings to fit organizational needs, and even academic cohorts if there are enough employees who want to have an in-person class together.
Education should be accessible to everyone. USC Upstate is listening to what community members need and finding solutions. Economic mobility and workforce readiness are hot topics for everyone right now. We can—and will—address both issues with more equitable access to education.
By Allen Smith President & CEO, OneSpartanburg, Inc.
Spartanburg has a lot to celebrate.
In 2021, Spartanburg County was ranked the #1 Small Metro in the U.S. for Economic Growth, and the #4 Metro overall, by Stessa, a tool specializing in property information for real estate investors and developers. The county’s prowess was clear in the rankings, as Spartanburg ranked behind only three Midsize Metros — Huntsville, Ala., Sarasota, Fl., and Port St. Lucie, Fl. — and ahead of every Large Metro included in the analysis.
2022 further cemented Spartanburg’s success, as the County soared past the $2-billion mark in new economic investment, including a historic $1.7 billion investment from BMW Group.
The German automaker with a 30-year presence in Spartanburg County will spend $1 billion on upgrades and infrastructure at BMW Plant Spartanburg, its largest by-volume in the world, in preparation of manufacturing six fully-electric vehicles. In addition, a $700-million electric-vehicle battery-assembly plant will be built in Woodruff, in the southern part of Spartanburg County.
Proving Spartanburg as a hub for the future of mobility, the announcement comes on the heels of a $2.98-billion order from the United States Postal Service for Next Generation Delivery Vehicles, to be made in Spartanburg by newcomer Oshkosh Defense.
Despite its undeniable success in advanced manufacturing, Spartanburg claims it is just getting started.
The OneSpartanburg Vision Plan, a five-year countywide community and economic development strategy launched in 2017, set Spartanburg’s sights on a more diversified economy. OneSpartanburg, Inc., the Carolinas only consolidated business, economic, and tourism development entity, created the plan with reams of data and community input. Now under the OneSpartanburg Vision Plan 2.0, the collaborative continues to drive recommendations in talent, economy, and place.
Recognizing the impact of quality of place on a community’s ability to attract corporate jobs and talented people, Spartanburg is making significant investments.
The Daniel Morgan Trail System, known as The Dan, will soon unite more than 50 miles of trails across Spartanburg County, with intentional connections to living hubs, blueways, and a recently completed connection through Downtown Spartanburg.
Leading trail development nonprofit PAL: Play, Advocate, Live Well, is working to purchase and convert a portion of the Saluda Grade. When complete, the 31-mile Saluda Grade Rail Trail connecting western North Carolina to Spartanburg County on the steepest grade rail trail in the U.S. is sure to attract investment and people from across the country.
Another amenity catching attention is Main Street-Morgan Square, Downtown Spartanburg’s central gathering space which begun its transition to a pedestrianized area during the COVID-19 pandemic. Developers have raved over the concept of a European-style square with space for outdoor dining and strategic programming. Investors, companies and residents alike have found Downtown Spartanburg increasingly attractive.
This year alone, Downtown Spartanburg announced more than $86-million of mixed-use investment on Main Street, two new Class-A office buildings, and the attraction of three high growth headquarters.
Plans for a planetarium downtown are even in the works. The science-and education-fueled facility would be built next door to the Spartanburg County Headquarters Library, creating an enlarged space for educational programming for local families.
Work outlined by the OneSpartanburg Vision Plan 2.0 will have significant impact on two key areas fueling Spartanburg County’s future: tourism development and talent attraction and retention.
Some of that work has already begun.
Fueled by data included processes used to create the Vision Plan 2.0, OneSpartanburg, Inc. created two new positions that will lead crucial countywide strategies impacting the county’s population, workforce, and economy.
Leading talent-related recommendations will be Chief Talent Officer Jeremy Vince. Vince will work closely with community partners and employers to address various talent attraction, development, and retention needs with an eye toward data. In addition, he is leading a countywide Talent Gap Analysis to determine current and future needs.
Data also showed that small and minority business ownership lagged across Spartanburg County, so the Vision Plan 2.0 will lead to a strategy in partnership with the City of Spartanburg, Spartanburg County, and other business and workforce entities countywide.
Jay Jenkins, who has extensive experience working with small-and minority-owned businesses across the region, will serve as Director of Small and Minority Business Development to ensure small-and minority-owned businesses are part of the overall economic success story of Spartanburg County.
Spartanburg continues leading South Carolina in investment total and job creation, earning national and international acclaim for its business, economic, and tourism development success.
Ensuring as many people benefit from this success is an important goal of not only the Vision Plan 2.0, but a host of collaborative-minded organizations across Spartanburg County.
As those key partners continue their diligent work to improve Spartanburg into the future, new investments from around the globe will continue to choose the county for many of the reasons outlined here. And our success would not be possible without the continued investment, resources, and influence of public and private sector partners.
After an incredible 2021 and a momentous 2022, 2023 promises big things for Spartanburg.