Elevating Youth Voice, Engagement and Leadership in Community Schools

Posted May 16, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A young white woman and a young Black man walk together outside of a school. They smile and chat. In the background, two young women do the same.

A prac­ti­cal guide released by the Insti­tute for Edu­ca­tion­al Lead­er­ship and fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion high­lights the impor­tance of ele­vat­ing the direct involve­ment of youth. Youth Voice in Com­mu­ni­ty Schools: A Prac­ti­cal Guide to Advance Com­mu­ni­ty School Strate­gies for Youth Voice, Engage­ment, and Lead­er­ship is based on sur­veys and youth input, as well as a review of pub­lished research. The guide out­lines a frame­work for com­mu­ni­ty schools to bet­ter under­stand and take prac­ti­cal steps in sup­port­ing youth lead­er­ship and help­ing them make deci­sions about their schools.

What’s in the Guide?

The guide offers strate­gies for ele­vat­ing the voic­es of youth in schools as a com­mu­ni­ty asset that can advance more equi­table school sys­tems. It intro­duces a series of steps prac­ti­tion­ers can take along­side stu­dents to ensure young people’s voic­es are heard as well as a six-stage process for youth engage­ment: explo­ration, engage­ment, co-design, imple­men­ta­tion, study and extension.

The guide also includes:

  • research and expla­na­tions of the con­cepts of pos­i­tive youth devel­op­ment, engage­ment and empowerment;
  • an analy­sis of how orga­ni­za­tion­al readi­ness, school envi­ron­ment and cul­ture can fos­ter youth voice and lead­er­ship;
  • exam­ples of best prac­tices in action from com­mu­ni­ty schools across the coun­try; and
  • tips for effec­tive ways to imple­ment those best prac­tices in dif­fer­ent environments.

What Is the Com­mu­ni­ty School Model?

Nation­wide, com­mu­ni­ty schools serve as a mod­el for sup­port­ing stu­dents’ edu­ca­tion­al and holis­tic well-being in and out­side the class­room. A core prin­ci­ple of the mod­el is that the com­mu­ni­ties know their chal­lenges and solu­tions best. By engag­ing with the greater com­mu­ni­ty, part­ner­ing with local orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions, assess­ing needs and tai­lor­ing sup­port­ive ser­vices to youth, com­mu­ni­ty schools can give stu­dents and fam­i­lies access to a wider range of resources and services.

The key to the com­mu­ni­ty schools mod­el is the idea of schools as more than tra­di­tion­al class­rooms. Instead, they serve as social cen­ters” that meet stu­dents where they are with eas­i­ly acces­si­ble ser­vices while ensur­ing that those ser­vices are com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven. This approach made com­mu­ni­ty schools bet­ter pre­pared for the unprece­dent­ed chal­lenges brought on by COVID-19, accord­ing to the Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion. The pan­dem­ic revealed many edu­ca­tion­al chal­lenges fac­ing youth, but it also high­light­ed bright spots and meth­ods for help­ing young peo­ple suc­ceed. These efforts play an impor­tant part in ensur­ing com­mu­ni­ty schools are suc­cess­ful while help­ing youth devel­op as leaders.

If stu­dents have a role in mak­ing deci­sions about their schools, a pow­er­ful com­bi­na­tion of things will hap­pen,” says Ilene Berman, direc­tor of the Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group at the Casey Foun­da­tion. Not only does their involve­ment help school lead­ers and staff bet­ter engage, sup­port and edu­cate stu­dents, but these oppor­tu­ni­ties also give stu­dents a chance to hone their skills and con­fi­dence as com­mu­ni­ty leaders.”

Find out how com­mu­ni­ty schools are help­ing young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in Baltimore

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