Strengthening Youth Civic Engagement in Nevada
By Oni B.
One of the goals of Nevada95 is to strengthen youth civic engagement in Nevada. There are several models and lots of research on best practices and strategies for engaging young people. In October, Nevada95 hosted a webinar where community members learned about some of this research and some models for successfully engaging young people in Nevada. I am summarizing the key points of the presentation, but if you want to read more, click on this link to read the entire presentation.
Why is Engaging Youth Important?
We learned that there are 4 reasons for engaging youth.
- Deeper Understanding – Learning from the experiences of youth help decision makers understand the challenges young people face and which policies are helping them.
- Better Policies – When youth work with adults to design programs and make policies, the outcomes are more likely to reflect youth needs.
- Youth Voice – Allowing youth to participate allows them to develop leadership skills.
- Youth Mattering – When young people feel that they ‘matter’ to their communities, they are more likely to thrive, stay engaged, and establish roots in the community.
What are Forms of Youth Civic Engagement?
Youth engagement can take on many forms. Some common examples are:
- Youth councils: One example is the New York City chapter of the American Red Cross which has a Youth Council.
- Youth governance: The Nevada Youth Legislature is one example! Many other states have a YMCA Youth in Government program that also teaches young people about how to make laws and state government.
- Digital engagement platforms like TTE, Polis, or All Our Ideas
- Video or In-Person dialogues
- Youth Surveys: Youth surveys ask young people about their ideas or feelings.
- Intergenerational advisory boards
- Youth serving on boards: The Nevada State Board of Education has a student representative. 25 states have students that sit on school boards.
- Participatory budgeting
- Crowdsourcing: This strategy can elevate and amplify youth voices and perspectives on issues in their community.
- Youth leadership programs: One example is the Latino Youth Leadership Conference in Nevada. Another example is the 4-H program which teaches leadership skills.
- Youth advocacy: The Civic Spring Project funded projects that would “meaningfully partner, mentor and involve young people” in responding to COVID-19 and/or building civic capacities.”
- Youth service projects: Youth Service America promotes and supports service activities designed and led by youth.
- Youth organizing: Make the Road Nevada Youth Power Project has organized youth in Nevada around issues of multi-cultural education and the school-to-prison pipeline.
Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a method that allows young people “to develop assets that not only enrich their lives on a personal level (academic, social, interpersonal), but also provides the framework to be civically engaged. PYD recognizes four different components of life for youth to discover during critical years of development:
Assets: Providing youth with the skills they need to achieve desired outcomes
Agency: Youth have identity and have developed the skills that allow them to make decisions and achieve desired outcomes.
Enabling environment: Youth are in an environment that allows them to access their assets and agency in order to thrive.
Contribution: Youth are consistently encouraged to be involved in their communities and create a positive impact.
What are Strategies for Effectively Engaging Youth in Nevada?
Based on the positive youth development model, there are some good strategies for engaging with young people that support the 4 components of youth development. Adults should meet with young people and include them in designing and creating some of these ideas.
- Developing Youth Leaders: Provide opportunities for youth to talk about and lead civic processes in their community.
- Promoting Youth Oriented Communication: One example is that in February 2017, UbuntuHack brought together youth, members of the police community, and tech professionals and local activists in Oakland for a hackathon event to build trust and create web/app solutions to tensions between the two groups.
- Strengthening Access and Equity: One example is the National Network for Youth, which facilitates local collaboratives that bring together a coalition of community stakeholders – including young people who have experienced homelessness, government agencies, service providers, philanthropies, etc. Each local collaborative addresses issues such as: community shortcomings in addressing homelessness creating a shared vision to fight youth homelessness together. National Network for Youth provides trainings and technical assistance in areas of policy advocacy, as well as strategies for partnering with young people experiencing homelessness.
- Making Engagement Fun: Include fun, creative activities as part of civic engagement activities.
- Actively Involving Youth in Decision Making: Expand youth representation on boards, create youth councils, support youth-led organizations.
- Listening to Youth Voices: Make it easy for youth to participate by addressing technology barriers.
- Training up Youth Service Providers: Provide training to address adultism among adults who work with youth.
Nevada95 is organizing some of these kinds of engagement activities for young people in Nevada.
Oni B. is a 10th grader at Rancho High School in Clark County School District. She plays soccer.