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Inspiring the Next Generation: SACOG’s Youth Leadership Academy

Posted by: Rebecca True on Monday, August 19, 2019
YLA Students with Assembly Member Aquilar-Curry and Davis Council Member (& SACOG Vice Chair) Lucas Frerichs

Photo: Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry joins Davis Council Members Lucas Frerichs (& SACOG Vice Chair) and Gloria Partida with Mayor Brett Lee in a discussion with Academy participants. 

About the Author:  Rebecca True is a graduate student in regional planning at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She is doing a residency of sorts with CALCOG this over the summer. 

Youth are the future. They are the ones who will actually use the transportation networks in 2050 that our regional transportation plans contemplate today.  So . . . . what if we gave youth a voice in the decision-making we make today?  That was what Sacramento City Council member Jay Schenirer was thinking when he proposed a new youth engagement program to SACOG’s board of Directors. 

At first, some wondered how youth leadership fit into SACOG’s mission. But the value was quickly apparent once the six month program started. Thirty high school students from around the region dedicated one Saturday each month to explore a key policy area that related to SACOG's responsibilities: transportation and land use planning, affordable housing, local, state, intergovernmental relationships, environmental sustainability, and community engagement. The students also participated in SACOG Civic Lab's design-thinking workshop on revitalizing suburban commercial corridors.  

To make it worked for high school students, SACOG partnered with a local nonprofit (PRO Youth & Families) that had experience offering youth leadership programs. Together, they developed a curriculum to teach teens about long-range planning issues and how local and regional governments work. The curriculum also provided training on public speaking, critical thinking, policy analysis, community organizing, and social justice to encourage their civic engagement.There were also meetings with elected officials, advocates, and city and county staff.  The students also participated directly with SACOG by attending board meetings and meeting with their respective board members a few times throughout the program.  

What impressed the SACOG Board was high levels of engagement and motivation to give back to their communities that the students demonstrated. The program closed with the students presenting project concepts in their respective cities—some of which are already taking root. The City of Live Oak, for example, is considering how to develop a second community center on an existing under-used property.  The idea was presented because the city’s large Latinx population lacked a venue for community gatherings and cultural events. City officials were excited by the presentation in part because they were unaware of the problem.  This is one way that the Academy has become an avenue in the region for more inclusive dialogues. The program graduates feel heard by their local officials and are ready to engage further to improve their communities. 

In the end, the program succeeded because of the high level of engagement and motivation of the students. An unexpected benefit for SACOG was the goodwill that the Academy created. The program attracted attention from community members (even state legislators!), which provided new forums to discuss and build awareness around the planning issues that SACOG grapples with daily.  In a way, SACOG set out to empower youth, but in so doing, developed an effective way to engage new constituencies across its six-county area.  Most importantly, the students are poised to engage in their communities today and on their way to becoming the leaders of tomorrow.

                     

     WHAT THE STUDENTS SAID

"I gained a sense of community.  I loved meeting people from different schools and learning about the issues they face in their counties."

"YLA Exposed me to passionate students and dedicated leaders."

"Doing the Civic Lab opened my eyes to the importance of advocacy.  I couldn't begin to explain how valuable that has been for me."

"This was such an eye-opening experience.  I hope it continues."

"I learned about potential careers that I didn't ever realize were options for me." 

"I understand the complexity of the Sacramento region and the interaction between government, transportation, and planing.  I can't stress this enough, this program is so useful in deciding my career."

"SACOG exposed me to passionate students and dedicated leaders.  I feel I have grown as an individual." 

HOW SACOG MADE IT HAPPEN

  • They decided to do it—even though they had not done it before.

  • They consulted with a local organization that had experience with youth programs and together they developed an engaging curriculum (shared here for others to use).

  • The SACOG Board's support of the project allowed staff to allocate the time necessary to that they could attract additional funding from their community foundation, Bank of America, and the California Endowment.

  • Board members committed their time to the program, attending at least one of the day trainings and made themselves available to the students

  • Conducted outreach to schools, school board representatives, and principals, and focused recruitment efforts on disadvantaged and underrepresented schools and populations.

  • Good News Update!  SACOG staff just informed us that the program is fully funded for another year!

 

 SACOG Board Member Jay Schenirer (far left) and James Corless (far right) with SACOG's first cohort of the Youth Leadership Academy. Not pictured is our own Board Member from SACOG, Council Member Tim Onderko from Loomis who also provided background for this story.