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Hickory high students plan for future of city

Although you hear a lot of talk about the brain drain in Mercer County, how young people have moved away from the area because of career opportunities they cannot find here, a group of Hickory High School students said the city they live in has a lot going for it.

It’s a safe place to live, an inclusive place for residents and visitors; the cost of living is low; and it has things for young people to do, although it certainly could use more.

“Yes, we’re a great city, but we’re not ‘the city,’” said senior Olivia Jacobson. “We’re so close to many other things,” including big cities and colleges.

Olivia and fellow seniors Zac Duncan, Tyler Mertz and Gabby Cataloni and junior Dannah Javens participated in an April 5 focus group as part of updating the Hermitage Comprehensive Plan, a document that aids city officials in legislation, policy and spending.

The students touted their school system, and Zac said students of other schools associate Hickory with each of the three A’s that school officials promote: academics, athletics and the arts.

“It’s cool to be in band in this school,” Olivia said. “That’s not like a lot of other schools, where it’s a dorky and nerdy thing to do.”

One-third of Hickory’s students are band members, said Principal Dr. Chris Gill.

School officials recognize what is happening elsewhere, said Gabby, noting the students’ participation in National Walkout Day to remember those killed and wounded in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

“We’re able to recognize something much bigger,” she said.

The school’s graduates are successful, which probably plays a role in Dannah’s observation that many families have stayed in Hermitage throughout the generations.

“They don’t have a need to go anywhere else,” she said.

Each of Hermitage’s neighborhoods is a self-contained community, Gabby said.

“Everybody’s friendly, and we help each other out,” she said. “There was a lot of kids on the street, which was awesome growing up.”

The students all said they enjoy the trails at LindenPointe Innovative Business Campus and Trout Island Trail, the shopping and eating options, and that Hermitage has the only movie theaters in the area.

But, the city lacks a hangout spot. Students tend to gather at Sheetz and GetGo.

“You can go there, and they won’t bother you,” Zac said. “It’s not like we like gas stations.”

Also on the students’ wish lists: public basketball courts; an indoor recreation facility; a fresh produce market; a Barnes & Noble-style establishment with books, coffee and internet access; some sort of outdoor recreation offerings beyond fishing; and more walking and biking trails and connections to existing ones.

That Barnes & Noble-style establishment would make a good transition spot for students going off to college, the students said. They would have a quiet place to study with reference resources at hand.

“It’s kind of hard to study at Sheetz,” Zac said.

Tyler said he would like to be able to walk from shop to shop, and to restaurants and entertainment venues, instead of having to drive from place to place.

Olivia said she could picture herself coming back to Hermitage to live after college, even if she does not work in the city.

“The price of living is so low, and it’s a really good area,” she said. “It’s safe.”


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