DALTON, Ga. - Sixth-grader Emileigh Earley decided to be a carpet designer when she grows up after going to an engineering and manufacturing camp.
"I thought they just ordered a rug and they just shipped it," said Emileigh, who attends Eastbrook Middle School. "I didn't realize there [were] so many different materials and so many different feelings and so many designs."
Before going to the camp last summer, she thought maybe she would play basketball in college, but she never had thought about what she would do after that.
Emileigh was among students who spoke at the Dalton-Whitfield Archway Partnership's meeting Wednesday to update the public and Georgia first lady Sandra Deal on the group's education initiatives and plans. Other high school and college students talked about mentor programs, dual enrollment programs and new technology in local schools.
The Archway Partnership -- an outreach of the University of Georgia -- is one of nine such groups across the state. Organizers used surveys and meetings to narrow their focus in Dalton to education, environment and the economy. In 2011, partnership subcommittees met regularly to discuss pressing problems and find creative ways to solve them.
At Wednesday's meeting, the partnership highlighted its seven initiatives for the 2012-13 school year, including more prekindergarten opportunities, career and college readiness for students and more partnership opportunities with high schools, technical and state schools.
Deal and state school Superintendent John Barge, who attended the meeting as part of an education tour in the Whitfield County area, spoke in support of the initiatives.
Deal said starting children with education at a young age is one of the keys to building the community. Students also need opportunities to become better trained in skills they can take into the workforce, she said.
"If we can train our young people to have those skills, that will help," Deal said.
Many ideas for Dalton schools came out of Archway Partnership planning meetings, said Brian Cooksey, a member of the partnership committee. Some programs such as dual enrollment already existed, but were expanded, he said.
When Nathali Duran, a Morris Innovative School student, began dual enrollment at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, she wasn't sure if she wanted to get a degree in criminal justice. But after taking several classes, she realized it was the right fit for her, she said.
"It helped me to decide," she said Wednesday.
Coahulla Creek High School student Jon O'Quinn said he was given an electronic tablet, allowing him to research school projects instantly and not be forced to wait in the school's media center for a free computer.
"The technology around the world is changing around us," O'Quinn said. "The technology in our school needs to change with the rest of it, or else our schools will be left behind."
Cooksey said the partnership plans to expand many of its programs, such as job shadowing and the manufacturing and engineering camp, to allow more students to be involved. The meetings will continue this year and other initiatives will become more solid, he said, but so far the students are demonstrating early success.
"These students were representatives of the impact of those [programs] and the benefit of going through the Archway process," he said.