Elevating Youth Voice, Engagement and Leadership in Community Schools
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.”