Students get chance to explore Aiken

South Aiken High School freshmen Sarah Swygert, left, and Tori Shekastehband are longtime friends but are looking forward to meeting students from other schools during the Junior Leadership County program.

A few years ago, Aiken Public Safety Phil Kestin graduated from the Leadership Aiken County program and this year thought his daughter Rachel would find it equally enjoyable. The 2013 Junior Leadership Aiken County class has several field trips scheduled over the next few months.

“It’s really an opportunity for my daughter,” Kestin said at an opening reception Tuesday. “It can open your eyes to what Aiken County has to offer.”

A South Aiken High freshman, Rachel is among 26 ninth-graders throughout the county who will participate in the annual program.

“I thought it would be cool to learn about Aiken,” she said. “It will be fun to go to Aiken Tech and USC Aiken and Camp Gravatt.”

Over the next few months, the students will take several field trips, led by adults who have graduated from Leadership Aiken County. They will learn about K-12 and college education, health care, business and industry, government and more.

Board members help coordinate the Junior program, and adult program graduate Cheryl Fogle is coordinating the activities this year.

“The experience in Leadership has changed the way I view Aiken,” she said. “I’ve gotten very involved in the community, and I’m delighted to be with this new class.”

Charles Barranco, director of Aiken Public Safety, completed the adult leadership program four years ago and coordinated Fogle’s group the following year.

“Cheryl has a lot of energy and your children will be in good hands,” Barranco told parents. “All the leaders are volunteers.

All the ninth-graders participating this year are as follows, listed by schools:

• South Aiken High – Lily Anzuoni, Mason Collins, Kennedy Haley, Rachel Kestin, Bennett Lunn, Avery Ofoje, Tori Shekastehband, Sarah Swygert and D’mitri Williams

• Silver Bluff High – Ashley Brock

• North Augusta High – William Butler, Ben Carter and Jordan Houston

• Midland Valley High – Haley Carpenter, Ashlyn Freeman, Patrick Ott and Sydney Williams

• Aiken High – Jeffrey Chen, Reid DeMass, Holly Fulmer, Jocelyn Gomez, Regan Gregory, Asia Johnson and Lauren Rayfield

• Ridge Spring-MonettaHigh – McKenna Palmer and Stanley Rolland Jr.

One of the best parts of Junior Leadership is the chance to make new friends, said Shannon Farrell. A South Aiken junior, she said she was so thrilled with the experience two years ago that she recently asked coordinators if she could speak to the younger students.

In 2010, she was joined by old friends from South Aiken for the program. They then met girls from Ridge Spring-Monetta and Aiken Prep “and we’re still friends,” Farrell said. “Get out of your comfort zone and get to know kids from other schools.”

For each field trip, the freshmen are giving up days when school is not in session. That’s the situation today, as they’re visiting Camp Bishop Gravatt on a teacher workday. Located off I-20, the Episcopal retreat and camp facility provides low and high ropes programs for both Junior and adult Leadership groups. The students will really enjoy it, said Lauri Sojourner, the Gravatt director and also the adult class coorindator this year.

“I didn’t know much about this,” said D’Mitri Williams. “I’m interested in leadership and learning about the community. It should help me a lot.”