Last spring the University of Georgia's 4-H program, in partnership with the Georgia Rural Development Council, surveyed a random sample of Georgia's seventh- and eighth-graders in 157 counties.
"This survey marked the first effort of this magnitude to listen to and record the voice of Georgia's youth," said Bill Leverett, the Georgia 4-H youth development specialist who coordinated the project.
Kids Keenly Aware"The survey revealed some significant insights about Georgia youths," Leverett said. "They're keenly aware of the world around them and the viability of their communities. They're ambitious about their future and understand the role of education in personal success."
Almost all of those surveyed -- 87 percent -- plan to attend college or technical school. Three-fourths felt their school teaches what they need to know to get into college.
Only 60 percent, though, felt their school has enough books, computers and other equipment to help them learn. About 40 percent don't have Internet access at home. In lagging or declining areas, that number increases to 51 percent.
Critical Community ConcernsThe kids were asked the significance of five key issues critical to Georgia's future: leadership, health, education, technology and the state's economy. Significant percentages responded that their community:
Access To Health Care LackingThe children felt that access to rural health care, especially in areas that are lagging or declining economically, is a major issue.
About 64 percent of those surveyed in lagging or declining areas said their community has no hospital. And 61 percent said no doctor is available.
In fast-developing areas, only 20 percent felt access to health care wasn't adequate. Only 18 percent felt health care was inadequate in existing or emerging growth centers.
"Statewide, the youths felt drugs and alcohol continue to be big problems," Leverett said. "Teen pregnancy and violence are also major concerns."
Only 29 percent felt strongly that their communities are a great place to grow up. About one in three plan to spend their lives in communities where they're growing up.
Rising Role ModelsThe news was a little brighter when it comes to their own potential as leaders.
Regardless of their socioeconomic situation, 87 percent of the respondents felt they have the potential to serve as role models for younger children. Yet 60 percent said they have no opportunity to participate in a leadership development program.
Almost 60 percent recognized agriculture and manufacturing as the most important economic engines in Georgia. Tourism and construction were seen as the next most important, followed by retail sales.
Youth Summit PlannedGeorgia high school students responded to similar survey questions in person. Teenagers from across the state convened at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center Sept. 9-11 to share their ideas for building a strong future in Georgia at the first Georgia Youth Summit.
"These students were selected based on their leadership ability," Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, who chairs the Rural Development Council. "We want to listen to their ideas and opinions."
Bo Ryles, state 4-H leader at UGA, agreed. "It's my experience that youths are typically energetic and committed and have the ability to create positive change," he said. "They imagine possibilities and lead us in directions adults would never have contemplated. This summit should be a great learning experience for all of us."
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)