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By Maggie Behringer

Correspondent

DALTON, Ga. -- High school students in Whitfield County want more places to shop and eat, safe public transit, a teen social space such as a club, measures to make Dalton a walkable city and more emphasis on public art.

Those responses from student focus groups match what city officials have imagined are key factors for attracting and keeping young professionals in Dalton.

"It's offered a lot of credence to what we've been trying to do," Mayor David Pennington said.

As part of the University of Georgia's Archway Partnership, high school focus groups at Dalton High School, Southeast Whitfield High, Northwest Whitfield High and Whitfield Career Academy were asked to discuss what they liked about their community, what they wanted to see and what would bring them back to the community after college.

Archway aims to establish a long-term partnership between the state's university system and local communities, identify goals for future growth and improvement through focus groups and one-on-one interviews, then provide an implementation plan and the resources to achieve those goals.

As part of the partnership, Dalton funds 50 percent of the program.

Melissa Lu, the Archway professional for Dalton, presented the students' responses at a recent City Council meeting. Along with their main ideas, they favored a minimized focus on sports in order to create more arts programs. They also noted they would like to see an increase in parental involvement in their schools and the community.

"Many of the answers were really insightful," Ms. Lu said. "We're finding out what our goals should be."

Dalton became the latest of eight communities to participate in the university's Archway program in 2009, hosting an introductory listening event at the Dalton Trade and Convention Center in August.

Ms. Lu told city officials the result of the Archway visioning process would be a "Big Ideas" presentation in November.

FAST FACTS

Archway Partnership:

$200,000 -- Amount from Grow Greater Dalton for the Whitfield program

$840,000 -- Amount from the University System of Georgia for the Whitfield program

8 -- Number of counties involved in Archway programs in Georgia -- Whitfield, Colquitt, Washington, Glynn, Clayton, Hart, Sumter, Pulaski

Source: Archway Partnership

Mr. Pennington said the council has explored how to make Dalton more bike and pedestrian friendly and to promote public art, and he said members are waiting for Archway's implementation plan for more direction.

In July, the Archway Partnership will hold a focus group at Dalton State College. Dr. John Schwenn, college president, indicated he has heard similar suggestions from his students in terms of more entertainment and dining and public transit.

However, because Dalton State's athletic programs still are developing, students would like a more active sports culture, he said.

"They're interested in those components that make up a well-rounded campus," Dr. Schwenn said.

Maggie Behringer covers Whitfield County. Contact her at maggie.behringer@gmail.com.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Dalton leader eyes looser drink ordinances

Article: 4-H on Georgia hit list

Article: Archway Partnership moves forward

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