Twenty-four Macon County eleventh grade students are part of a mentoring program with Auburn University students and graduate assistant Raven Conwell. The project is funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the work these students do together revolves around workplace and college readiness.
Our project is about developing skills that will lead to productive and bright futures. Students who are holding part-time jobs with our partnering community organizations are learning more and more about what it means to work on a team under the supervision of a mentor.
Last night we discussed a very important aspect of our project, one that we think will allow students to make a contribution to the future development of Macon County. The county is among the top 100 poorest counties in the United States. When asked whether they will move back to Macon County after completing high school and college, nearly all of the students responded that they would not live their adult lives here, since jobs are few and the quality of life is not what they seek. But when asked whether they could ever see themselves moving back one day, maybe in retirement or if a family member needed them, most said yes.
We reminded students of the one thing Macon County possesses that no other county in the country can claim: THEMSELVES! We believe in our students, and we believe they have a contribution to make to Macon County. So we’re demanding it of them. We’ve asked our students to write essays on “The Future of Macon County,” by answering one question: What will it take for Macon County to have a successful future? We believe the perspective of 11th grade students is a critical component to progress.
But we’ve cautioned our students that the essay is not simply a wish list of things they think other people should do, but must include the things they should do as well. Elected officials and institutions in a community are not solely responsible for a community’s well being. And they may not even be partially responsible. Without a willing citizenry, plans are nothing more than dreams. Students and citizens must take an active role in shaping the positive future of Macon County. Mentor Janell told a powerful story of how she helped change a company policy that allowed her—as a twelve-year-old—to ride along on trips with her dad, who drove a truck for a living. “Change can happen,” she said, and illustrated this so effectively with the impromptu telling of her real-life story. Other mentors told stories of how they made significant community contributions while in high school.
So mentors and students brainstormed a while on possible avenues and angles that might be taken for the essay, and students developed outlines that will guide their writing. Our hope is to publish the essays with photographs, at the end of April, online and in print, and we want to distribute these to anyone interested in learning from the wisdom of Macon County Youth.