It’s back-to-school time, and everyone, from kids to parents and grandparents, or anyone that has kids in their lives look upon this time each year with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Mayor Ronnie Marks remembers all too well what it was like to be the “skinniest kid in school” and then, later on, the “skinniest teacher in school.” He moved from Clements to Tanner High School, graduated, went to college at UNA and then in TN, and while he was at it, faced down the Viet Cong. That’s some serious “fear-facing.”
“I have nothing but respect for teachers,” he said, “and I’ll tell you, I have never come home more exhausted than when I spent a day in the classroom.” He spoke of the anxiety expressed recently by one of his granddaughters while shopping for school clothes, wondering if she would have any of her friends left from last year. And on it goes—kids worried, adults worried, and meanwhile, there’s an education to be gotten if Athens is going to continue to be an excellent place to live.
“It’s the responsibility of the community to provide the best possible environment in which students can learn,” said Mayor Marks, “and some of what has been helping to build our students’ confidence has been the implementation of the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People program especially designed for the public schools and used by the Athens school system.” He also wanted teachers and students alike to know that “We believe in you, and understand how important education is for you and the future of our city.”
To that end, there are some “pet projects” of the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce that are starting to take shape and are designed to help our kids “find a seat at the table.” For quite awhile the Mayor has wanted to have a Mayor’s Youth Commission, whose purpose would be to select students from various schools as well as homeschoolers in learning about how city, county and state government work. These students would come from a broader range academically than just the top of their class, and the question put to them would be, “What do you want your city to look like?” By “look,” he means far more than its outward beauty. He means, “What do you want Athens to be like, and how are you going to get it there?”
Jackie Warner, City Hall PR Director and Grant Coordinator Holly Hollman and others are going to be involved in helping with the Youth Commission, and on August 16th Holly gave a presentation at Athens State University to introduce the concept. The Chamber of Commerce is also working on a mentoring program. All of this is to make sure that, as Holly Hollman put it so well during this interview, there’s more than enough room, chairs, and benches for our kids to “come take a seat in our city.” Let’s all of us make sure they can do so comfortably and without fear.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner