Real Youth Leadership
Why Youth Leadership?
What does it feel like to not have a voice nor choice in shaping the next step? To be silenced, ignored, pushed aside, or tokenized feels like a slap in the face. maybe you remember a time you were excluded during your childhood. It still stings, doesn't it? Youth leadership is essential to initiate, develop, grow, and change an organization. In every organization I worked for, I started youth leadership teams.
What Does Real Youth Leadership Look Like?
Real youth leadership means youth have a voice and choice in the decisions made by an organization. They are "in the room where it happened," To quote the musical Hamilton.
- Youth apply to be in leadership roles.
- Youth meet regularly (ideally weekly for 2-3 hours).
- Youth are trained in what it means to be a leader, the history, public speaking, group facilitation, power dynamics, and current events.
- Youth are provided support to participate including pay/benefits, transportation, trained by youth development facilitator adults, and funding for longevity.
- Youth have regular face-time with organizational leadership.
- Youth have representation beyond just 1-2 youth on governing boards.
- Youth help shape the mission statement, strategic plan, long-term goals, short-term goals, and outreach.
- Youth train the next generation of leadership at the organization.
What is an Example in Practice?
At the Science Museum of Minnesota, I implemented a youth leadership team. Our biggest accomplishment was creating the mission statement for the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center: "Empower youth to change our world through science." We also developed an outreach program to teach hands-on science concepts to young youth in neighboring schools. Here is how we met the 8 requirements listed above:
- Youth applied for the posted position. They were required to have one year of experience volunteering or working in the Youth Science Center. Part of the application was submitting a creative response to the questions, "why would you make a good leader?" Some created videos or wrote essay responses. 12 students were selected after interviews to serve on the newly created Youth Leadership Team.
- The Youth Leadership Team met for 2 hours weekly. Outreaches were additional time beyond the 2-hour meetings.
- Youth learned about different types of leadership. They were also trained to facilitate strategic planning sessions with stakeholders.
- Youth were paid an hourly wage, provided bus passes, worked with youth development and science specialists, and obtained funding through grants and the operating budget.
- Youth met with adult museum leadership monthly.
- Youth met as a team of 12.
- Youth created the mission statement and facilitated and participated in strategic planning sessions.
- Training the next leadership cohort is still a work in progress.
Beyond the Science Museum of Minnesota, I co-developed Youth Advisory Councils and youth leadership teams at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. Youth met with local business owners and other youth across the cities to develop partnership opportunities. With Saint Paul Public Schools Community Education, I also co-started a Youth Leadership Team. Youth applied from across Saint Paul to Tackle big issues like water quality and sex education. Now at The Master School in New York, I co-implemented the Student Leadership Board. These youth provided middle school voice and choice in decisions like where to donate bake sale and jeans day money, create a more inclusive dress code and develop interactions and collaborations across grade levels.
The most important part of real youth leadership is providing opportunities for youth to share their voice and make meaningful choices.