Thursday, June 30, 2011

Youth engagement as a social change strategy

The Forum for Youth Investment sends out a periodic "Ready Thoughts" email blast from its "Ready by 21" campaign. Today's email was about involving students in decisions about their own education.

The Forum is encouraging communities to use the Gallup Student Poll as a starting point for conversations with students about how their schools could be improved. According to poll results, only 50% of students report that they are engaged in school, and engagement declines with each grade.

The Forum article argues that while youth engagement is important for individual student achievement, it can also serve as an important strategy for social change because engaged students become engaged adults. A study by the Funders Collaborative on Youth Organizing indicates that engaged students are more likely to become effective advocates for change in their communities by volunteering for political organizations, canvassing, contacting public officials, holding meetings about issues that are important to them and attempting to solve community problems.

This is an important argument for engaging young people in decision-making. When dealing with youth-serving nonprofits and educators, I've often heard the argument that "I'd like to do this but there are just too many other things to get done." Things like helping drop-outs get back in school and helping disadvantaged youth get job training and graduate are clearly important. But these are challenges that exist disproportionately among poor and working-class youth, and they will never really be met unless we think bigger.

Young people need to learn how to advocate for their own needs and those of their families and communities. But if we don't ever allow them to identify problems and recommend solutions--especially in an area like education, in which they have daily, firsthand experience--they may never develop the skills to effect change and the confidence to do so. Affluent communities stay that way because their members know how to advocate for their own needs. Deliberate efforts to engage disadvantaged youth in problem-solving and decision-making can help them become engaged adults who can advocate for their communities' needs too.

Youth Engagement = Student Success

Monday, June 6, 2011

Leeds City Museum receives award for youth participation

Much of the emphasis in youth participation work is on providing opportunities for young people to contribute to decisions about social services. Here's a great example of youth participation in the context of a cultural facility in Leeds, United Kingdom.

The Leeds City Museum was recently awarded the first-ever Hear By Right Bronze Award from the National Youth Agency. The Hear by Right Award was established in 2010 to recognize organizations that take youth participation seriously and highlight the contributions of the young people they work with.

The Leeds City Museum worked with The Youth Association (TYA) to meaningfully involve young people in assessing the museum and making recommendations. TYA also helped to facilitate a workshop between the young people and the museum's management to embed participation into the culture of the museum. The museum established a steering group of young people from all ages and backgrounds, called "the Preservative Party." Members attend the museum as "mystery shoppers" and provide input into strategic planning decisions.

"Embedding youth participation into the development of museums is vital to ensure they are relevant to young people," said Fiona Blacke, National Youth Agency chief executive.

Update: Forgot the link! 
Award Proves Youth Participation is More Than Just Talk for Leeds City Museum

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ontario seeks youth input on Youth Policy Framework

The Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services is developing a new Youth Policy Framework to guide its work in youth development, and the Ministry's Youth Development Committee is seeking input from young people through its "Where's Your Voice At?" campaign. Young people in Ontario can participate through an online survey, online dialogs or in-person dialogs being held all over the province between now and June 12.

Local youth-serving organizations and youth groups can also host their own youth dialogs using the ministry's "workshop in a box," which includes a policy literacy toolkit and PowerPoint presentation, a set of dialog questions and related activities, and a participant workbook.

The downloadable resources--especially the policy toolkit--are great resources that could be adapted by other organizations and agencies seeking to involve young people in guiding policy, whether in youth development or any other area.

Where's Your Voice At?