The first class of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce’s Junior Leadership Academy is ready to start high school with a few new skills.

The inaugural class graduated from the seven-session program on July 31 after having learned leadership, communication, etiquette, civic engagement and more.

“We had a terrific time with our rising ninth-graders here,” said Terra Carroll, president and CEO of the Chamber during the graduation.

The program was part of the Chamber’s Education and Workforce Development Council, and members of that committee accompanied the 10 students to some of their workshops.

Kevin Hyman with Halocarbon Products Corp joined the students during the leadership session and said the students have a lot of “natural talent.”

“I was impressed with how well they identified the characteristics of a leader and different kinds of leaders,” he said.

The program didn’t just have students in a classroom. They took trips to various places around the area.

Students visited Fort Gordon to learn about the armed forces. They visited the Aiken County and City of North Augusta government buildings to speak with government leaders. During their community service day, the group travelled to Helping Hands of Aiken and when learning about local history they toured Lookaway Hall, the Living History Park, and the Arts and Heritage Center, just to name a few.

Malik Reynolds, one of the students in the inaugural class, said following the civic engagement trip that he had already learned a lot from the program, mentioning the benefits people can get from the military and some of the history of the city.

Rosie Berry, retired from the Aiken County Public School District, accompanied the students on the civic engagement day and facilitated a conversation between the students and Aiken County and North Augusta leaders.

“These are our future mayors, council men and women, our future attorneys, doctors, ministers and community leaders,” she said during the graduation.

“I just get thrilled when I see them because they know more than we possibly ever could know when we were this particular age, and they’re in the information age. But more so for the fact that they took ownership in wanting to know about the government that impedes and impacts them daily…”

While in North Augusta, the students asked city administration and some of City Council questions regarding affordable housing, environmental issues, public safety, development of small businesses and more.

Reynolds asked his question about career and college readiness.

“I feel like college is a really big part of a person’s life because in college I feel like you learn a lot of life skills you’ll use later on,” he said.

Reynolds said he applied for a spot in the class because he likes serving and helping other people.

“I’ve always loved helping people, especially people who didn’t have, I guess you could say, as fair of a chance at life. It’s always good to give back to the community and stuff because the community has always treated me well,” he said.

During the graduation, the 10 students – Jameria Davis, Emily Howard, Cooper King, Sherry Kong, Joshua Noyce, Timothy Price, Malik Reynols, Taylon Washington, Jinna Williamson and Amir Young – gave short presentations on their goals in life, where they want to go to college and what they want their career to be.

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.