FAIRMONT — The future leaders of Marion County are in good hands.

Marion County’s “next generation” of local leaders gathered at the school board’s central office Thursday to kick off a tour of the school system.

Leadership Marion is a civic-focused program, conducted through the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, where community members learn about different aspects of the community to create a sense of engagement.

Each class of Leadership Marion takes monthly trips to experience facets of the community, and Thursday the 2021 class hopped from school to school to get an idea of how things work and who the major players are in the education system.

Students heard from principals, administrators, coaches and teachers who took the class of 20 adults who come from all careers and walks of life and showed them what sort of programs the schools are engaging in.

“We’re so pleased any time we can showcase the great things happening in Marion County Schools,” Marion County School Superintendent Donna Hage said. “The locations they’ve chosen to visit ... are a testament to the goals that [the schools] have put in place this year.”

One of the first stops was the Marion County Technical Center, where students from around the county are sent to learn trades and careers if they choose a post-high school path that doesn’t include college.

The class toured the facility and got a peek into the different classes and certification programs the school offers. They were then served lunch, courtesy of the center’s Pro-Start program.

Leadership Marion student Mariah Cunningham, who works for Allstar Ecology in Fairmont was surprised to see everything that the technical center offers Marion County students.

“I was impressed with the fact that [students] aren’t just getting the experience, they’re actually getting the licensures to graduate and be able to move into a job, that’s pretty exciting,” Cunningham said. “They can do this without going the college route, which is something that I think has been looked over for a while, so I’m glad it’s more prevalent.”

The group also toured North Marion High next door and took a look at its sports facilities. They received an overview of the NMHS track and field program and later toured East-West Stadium in Fairmont.

The class’s last stop before their debrief at the central office was a tour of East Fairmont Middle School. Earlier in the day, the group toured the smaller, Monongah Middle School and took note of the varied sizes of the schools in the county.

East Fairmont Middle School Principal Debra Conover, who is also a member of this year’s Leadership Marion class, played double as gave her classmates a tour guide of the school.

Conover was most excited to show off the county’s work toward finishing the STEAM Room — where students from around the county are bussed in to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“It was great to really show how we’re really proud of our school,” Conover said after her tour. “We got to show what the students are doing and how they’re showcasing their work and how proud the teachers are of their students work. We showed how we’re a part of the community here on East Side.”

After a tour of the temporary STEAM Room inside the middle school proper, the group went across the street to the former East Fairmont Middle School, where the permeant STEAM Room is being built.

Once finished, the room will house all kinds of interactive stations and classes for students and community members all around the county.

Leadership Marion’s trip through the schools is just one example of the career-expanding work lauded by its “students.” Conover and Cunningham agreed that Leadership Marion offers students great insight into local government and public services, but is also a great way to network with others.

“I’ve got a lot of networking here now. Our [school] counselors have talked about a career fair, well here’s 20 people to reach out to,” Conover said. “Just keeping touch with things going on in the community, I knew about a lot of these programs but didn’t know everything they did.”

Cunningham said having so many connections in a wide list of careers and fields will no doubt be an amazing asset for her work in the community.

“We have very, very diverse careers. We’re able to draw on each other’s experiences and leadership roles that we have taken as well as exposure to new boards,” Cunningham said. “I know several of us have joined new boards just from being in this group together. We have a very deep desire to be a part of our community.”

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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