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Students talk about their vision of the future

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When you're 16, giving a presentation in front of your classmates is scary.

But even scarier is giving that presentation to a room full of adults.

That's what Cayla Black did Wednesday at the Charleston Area Alliance's first "Kanawha Valley Speaks" conference.

That conference bills itself as a "student-centered dialogue of the future." It brings together local people from the business community and students from career and technical education backgrounds to discuss a vision for the future of the Kanawha Valley.

Four groups of students gave presentations Wednesday on their own version of that vision. They came up with the presentations on their own but were coached through the presentation process by a mentor in the business community assigned to them by the Alliance.

The teens presented a broad range of ideas: One group wanted to establish a new 5K race in Boone County with proceeds benefiting cleanup efforts for the Coal River. Another girl was vying for more public art projects in Charleston.

Black's subject was education reform.

She polled students at her school, Clay County High, about whether they'd like more career days (they would) or to have their parents more involved (they'd rather not, but Black thinks it would be good for them anyway).

Black said she was inspired to talk about education reform because of her own experience with the system.

"I see the same problems every day that are wrong with it," she said. "I felt like if I stood up and said something like this then maybe people would hear it."

Black's mom is a teacher, and she also hopes to become one some day - though she's also interested in the prospect of politics. She wants to "be in a position to make a difference."

In the end, Black's presentation won out. She won a $4,000 scholarship that she can choose to use at West Virginia State University, University of Charleston or West Virginia University Institute of Technology.  

She hasn't decided yet where she'll use it.

"I'm only a sophomore," she said. "So I still have a lot of time."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.

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