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HCS Students Graduate from the Model Atlanta Regional Commission Leadership Program

HENRY COUNTY, GA – Tenth-grader Ananya Augustine of Eagle’s Landing High School and 11th-graders Camila Ayala and Paris McGee of Hampton High School recently graduated from the Model Atlanta Regional Commission (MARC) youth leadership program.

“I was interested in MARC because of opportunities to collaborate and develop leadership skills,” Augustine said. “I knew being in the program would expand my worldview, as it deals with environmental concerns, social inequalities, and other local issues. Each day was different and filled with activities that educated us about life in Atlanta. My favorite subject in school is social studies, so I was happy to revisit geography and social science concepts through MARC.”

The three Henry County Schools (HCS) students participated alongside 46 other high schoolers from across the region who completed the six-month experiential learning program. 

Atlanta-area ninth and 10th graders are eligible to apply for admission to the program in May of each year based on criteria such as demonstrated ability to work collaboratively, proven interest in civic and community affairs, and a strong leadership and service history.  

Classes begin in August and meet one Saturday per month over the course of the program, immersing students in regional matters and providing opportunities to engage with metro-area professionals, leaders, and policymakers. Students also learn about the mechanisms behind planning and developing a large metro region through tours, case studies, and debates.

“The sessions with various experts were my favorite part of the program,” Augustine said. “I met like-minded students and created longstanding friendships. I worked with new friends on a project to raise awareness about human trafficking in Atlanta, and our efforts culminated in the presentation of an infographic and a video at a special event.”

Augustine is inspired by social justice initiatives and is considering a career in the social sciences or health care. She is working toward establishing Model United Nations and United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) clubs at Eagle’s Landing High and is a member of the school’s Beta Club, a national service club.

Augustine’s organizational involvement extends beyond school and into the community, where she is the Global Indian Council youth coordinator and a member of Youth Leadership Henry and the Stockbridge Youth Council. She was recently selected for the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) in social studies. GHP is a residential summer development program for high-performing high school students based on their passion for a particular subject.

As an accomplished Spelling Bee competitor, Augustine’s impressive achievements include qualifying for the Georgia SCRIPPS Spelling Bee as a fourth-grader in 2018 and being the only Henry County student to win the County and Region 5 championships over five consecutive years. She won the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) State Spelling Bee in 2021 and 2022 after being runner-up in 2020. Augustine also competes in science fairs and has represented Henry County at the state level every year since sixth grade.

“This experience has sharpened skills I will carry for a lifetime, and I believe I’ve become more informed and confident,” Augustine said of the MARC program.

The program offers participants a unique opportunity to delve into matters currently affecting their community. Students explored topics such as housing affordability, responsible water usage, and the impact of limited transportation options, empowering them to become informed and engaged citizens.

The program deepened all three HCS students’ commitment to service and inclusivity – passions that are evident in their extracurricular activities and planned college majors and career paths.

As secretary of the city of Hampton’s Youth Council, Ayala works with the mayor, gaining a firsthand view of local governance. She recently represented the Council as a delegate at the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C.

“I signed up for the program because I take pride in being an active member of my community,” Ayala said. “I also identified with MARC’s mission because I believe young adults should be civic-minded. Our world is ever-changing, and it is important that we learn how to adapt and help our communities.”

Ayala’s other memberships and activities include Student Government, Varsity Cheer, Varsity Soccer, National Honor Society, National Thespian Society, Hampton High School Ambassadors, and Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).

“I was also recently a Page for the House of Representatives,” Ayala added. “I hope to encourage other high-schoolers to become more involved in activities that will help build character and help them become well-rounded.”

MARC participants also examined art, culture, human service, and other themes from a local perspective and toured regional institutions such as the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the F. Wayne Hill Water Reclamation Facility, Chamblee City Hall, and the Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.

“MARC was truly a valuable experience that I believe has prepared me for the future by increasing my knowledge about community development and how young leaders can play a role,” Ayala added. “It also taught me about networking and allowed me to connect with many people. I met youth from other metro counties and learned from incredible speakers about being a better leader.”

Ayala’s academic and extracurricular interests are a sound foundation for her planned political science major and law career.

McGee similarly prioritizes involvement in her school community, balancing academics with a full schedule of extracurriculars, including the National Honor Society, Youth Leadership Henry, Junior Varsity Cheer Team, Beta Club, National Thespian Society, Black Student Union, Debate Team, Student Council, Gymnastics, the Georgia House of Representatives Page Program, and serving as a youth parliamentarian for the city of Hampton.

“I signed up for MARC to learn more about Atlanta and meet new people,” McGee said. “I enjoyed connecting with individuals from diverse backgrounds, and it has given me valuable skills and knowledge that I believe will be vital in shaping my future. I now have a deeper understanding of societal, cultural, and community dynamics. Overall, it broadened my horizons and equipped me with the tools and resilience necessary to thrive in the future, whether academically, professionally, or personally.”

McGee also credits the experience with sharpening her critical-thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability skills. The program challenges students to consider solutions to issues affecting their community, empowering them to visualize themselves as capable leaders. 

“Participating in the program was rewarding and enlightening, and I gained valuable insight,” McGee added. “It was impactful as it provided hands-on exposure to different factors affecting our city and state that many aren’t aware of. Overall, the opportunity to visit different locations and understand their significance within our community left a lasting impression and underscored the importance of active participation in community initiatives.”

“I am encouraged and inspired by these students’ sense of community and commitment to learning how they can become effective leaders,” Board Chair Sophe Pope (Dist. 4) said. “The education Henry County Schools provides coupled with the invaluable experience they received through the MARC program will equip them well for leadership roles in any setting.”

“Henry County Schools prepares today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders, and it is encouraging to see Ananya, Camila, and Paris model this trait,” added Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Knowlton. “We are proud of their tremendous accomplishments and can’t wait to see the positive impacts they continue to make on their communities.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is the official planning agency for the 11-county Atlanta Region and has been offering the MARC youth leadership program since 1998. 

About Henry County Schools

Henry County Schools (HCS) is the eighth-largest school district in Georgia, consisting of 52 schools, including two academies, located about 20 minutes south of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Over the past 20 years, our community has grown in population from 113,000 residents to over 244,000 residents. Since 1999, student enrollment has grown from 21,000 to 43,000 students, and our number of employees has grown from 3,000 to 6,000.

HCS is “In Pursuit of Exceptional,” taking action to advance opportunities, access, and outcomes so that every student in our school district has Exceptional Support, Exceptional Access, and an Exceptional Future. In 2020, our Board of Education adopted our 2021-2026 Community-Inspired Strategic Plan and laid out a clear vision and mission for Henry County Schools. Our vision is to ensure a high-quality, world-class education for every student, and our mission is to empower all students with exceptional opportunities and access that lead to success in a global society.