Several local students are dedicating part of July to a new North Augusta Chamber of Commerce initiative, with emphasis on learning about "community needs, opportunities, challenges and resources."

The Junior Leadership Academy got in gear last week, as a creation of Terra Carroll, the chamber's president and chief executive officer, and the inaugural class includes Amir Young, Jinna Williamson, Taylon Washington, Malik Reynolds, Timothy Price, Joshua Noyce, Sherry Kong, Cooper King, Emily Howard and Jameria Davis, all of whom completed eighth grade this year at either Paul Knox or North Augusta middle school. Most will be at North Augusta High School in a few weeks, and the rest are to be at Fox Creek High School.  

Carroll said the idea in reaching out to rising ninth graders is rooted in the fact that the transition from middle to high school is tough. A core concept, she said, is to build a bridge between the education system and industry, to help students prepare to enter the workforce. 

The academy's aim is to "give them the tools to develop leadership, communication and team-building skills and provide them with the channels to interact with students from other schools, community leaders and decision makers," as described in promotional material from the chamber.

A variety of students applied to take part in the program, with the process being open to any rising ninth-grader who lives in North Augusta, regardless of whether he or she attends a public, private or home school. July was selected for the program due to midsummer being a time with a minimum of school conflicts, Carroll said. 

"Basically, we're testing it to see how it goes," she added. "We don't have a set number that we will take. We'll likely maximize it as we grow the program, but not all students who applied were accepted this year."

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions is among the academy's most prominent backers, and the North Augusta Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism is also on board, providing transportation (a small bus, for field trips). 

“The goal is to develop our younger leaders for tomorrow and to catch them before they ... develop bad habits," Carroll said.

The idea is to help participants "figure out who they are, what their talents are and how to develop those talents," she added. "By catching them early, we feel like we're a good guide to help them do that, and our committee members are from all over different industries." 

The group's first outing was July 11, in the form of a trip to Fort Gordon, with emphasis on team-building. Disc golf, indoor marksmanship training and a Signal Corps Museum visit were among items on the agenda.

Academy participant Jameria Davis said she was surprised to see that Fort Gordon is so large and has so many features similar to those that a town of similar size would have.

Classmate Cooper King made similar comments. "They have everything. It's like Augusta but just smaller," he said.

Other focal points this month include civic engagement (including a chance to meet local elected officials), communication, community service, etiquette, financial literacy, leadership, history, culture and the environment.

A graduation ceremony is planned for July 31. Carroll said applications for the 2020 program will probably be available in late March or early April.