Progressive Youth Leadership Development: Strengthening Opportunities for Older Youth in Philadelphia

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1 Progressive Youth Leadership Development: Strengthening Opportunities for Older Youth in Philadelphia June 2008 DRAFT Please do not quote without permission This document was developed collaboratively by: The University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia at Temple University, Communities in Schools (the lead agency for the Philadelphia Freedom Schools), the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania s Center for Youth Development, and the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative

2 1 Overview Temple s University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia, Communities in Schools, the lead agency for the Philadelphia Freedom Schools, the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania s Center for Youth Development, and the Southeast Philadelphia Collaborative have been meeting for the past 5 months to develop a draft agenda for Progressive Youth Leadership Development in order to strengthen opportunities for older youth in Philadelphia. These meetings have included discussions of the goals and principles of progressive youth leadership development (PYLD), how it differs from most current programming, why it is a more effective approach for older youth, what an agenda for PYLD might look like and how we can best develop that agenda. These meetings have included executive directors, program staff and youth from the above organizations. What follows is a brief articulation of Progressive Youth Leadership Development, a draft of core principles, and examples of this approach in practice. Progressive Youth Leadership Development Progressive Youth Leadership Development represents a significant departure from much of the current programming for older youth in Philadelphia. Among the key differences are: its underlying philosophy of leadership; its holistic, intergenerational, proactive approach to older youth; its emphasis on intentional community building; its development of, support for, and inclusion of youth voice in decision making structures; its developmental, as opposed to programmatic, approach to youth. The approach embodied in PYLD would be effective with older youth who are particularly disenfranchised and disengaged. Progressive Youth Leadership Development is based on an underlying philosophy that views youth as integral parts of a well functioning, healthy society, as co-leaders in an intergenerational leadership structure. This leadership structure is one that embodies collaboration, self-reflection, creativity, diversity and a commitment to positive social change. This kind of leadership has been embraced by forward thinking, successful corporations (e.g. Vanguard, Starbucks), by some top level administrators in higher education (e.g. LeaderServe program) and by some in the philanthropic community (e.g. members of the Funding Exchange, among others) who recognize that in a knowledgebased economy, success will require very different approaches to communication, interaction, management and, ultimately, production. It is also recognized in many middle and upper middle class communities where opportunities for older youth are intentionally designed to encourage and support more creative ways of thinking about issues, the community, and one s future possibilities. Thus, by definition, PYLD is a holistic, proactive, approach that focuses on developing the kind of skills and nurturing the type of values and traits that build responsible 21 st Century citizens. It is an approach that simultaneously addresses the needs of youth and adults, recognizing that both are learners and leaders who teach and support each other in respectful environments that value inclusion and voice while also challenging conventions that threaten to undermine the development of viable individuals and communities. In practice, PYLD provides a safe place and space for youth to assume a major role in designing and implementing the activities and programs in which they partake, thereby

3 2 increasing the likelihood that they will remain actively engaged over the long term as they assume responsibility for and ownership of the work. PYLD also increases the longevity of youth participation by offering a continuum of opportunities to develop skills and take on increasing levels of responsibility. By focusing on developing and maintaining strong connections to the community, PYLD provides opportunities for youth to be agents for positive change in their lives, their communities, and the larger society. In this collaborative effort, adults serve as mentors for older youth while older youth mentor their younger peers, thereby insuring and reinforcing a continuous leadership development process. As an overall approach to engaging older youth, as opposed to a specific and discrete program, PYLD is grounded in a set of core principles that guide planning, development and implementation. It is an approach that can effectively engage older youth over the long haul in the kinds of rich and diverse opportunities that will enable them to be successful in the educational, familial, community, and professional realms. Finally, PYLD involves working with youth while also changing the norms and expectations of the larger society as they pertain to youth. Changing the norms and expectations involves shifting how we view youth as well as the agencies that serve them. Youth should not be viewed as problems to be fixed and agencies and their staff should not be seen as conduits through which remedies are dispensed. Rather, youth, agencies, and staff need to be seen as integral parts of the same community working towards mutual and complementary goals that insure the healthy development of all members. Investing in and transforming communities so that they become supportive, resource rich environments for children and youth is the best safeguard against the reproduction of large cohorts of at risk youth. Essential Principals of Progressive Youth Leadership Development I. Progressive Youth Leadership Development recognizes the multiple influences, including culture, family, schools, media and the community, in the lives of youth. All activities and interactions are informed by awareness of where youth are, where they come from and where they envision themselves in the future. II. Progressive Youth Leadership Development acknowledges youth as co-leaders within an intergenerational leadership structure. Youth should have equal opportunities for voice and be meaningfully involved in an organization s planning and implementation activities. All of these activities must take place in the context of intentional community building, where each person is responsible for providing mentorship to the upcoming generation. III. Progressive Youth Leadership Development ensures that youth and adults receive the training, support, experiences, challenges and responsibilities necessary for them to build on their strengths and talents and to develop new skills and abilities.

4 3 This is a long-term process that allows all young people to participate and that recognizes that effective leadership requires ongoing skill development and increasing levels of responsibility and accountability. Adults receive the training necessary to understand and implement the principles and practices of PYLD on a continuing basis. IV. Progressive Youth Leadership Development provides safe spaces for participation. Youth need to feel both emotionally and physically safe when they engage with adults, other youth and the wider community. Youth need access to learning friendly environments with multiple resources to address mental, physical, and emotional needs. V. Progressive Youth Leadership Development embodies a reflective and proactive approach to learning. All learning and skill development must be developmentally appropriate and responsive to youth interests and concerns. Real-world learning activities, facilitated reflection, and constructive coaching foster and promote initiative, risk-taking, and viewing mistakes as opportunities to learn. VI. Progressive Youth Leadership Development creates opportunities for youth to be agents for positive change in their lives, their communities and the larger society. Activities and projects should foster youth s awareness, commitment, and capacity to act on the issues that concern them. Being involved in every stage of issue identification and problem-solving helps youth think critically about community systems, assets and needs, while building the skills needed to contribute to change. *******

5 4 Examples of Progressive Youth Leadership Development Philadelphia Freedom Schools (PFS) exists to build intellectual, cultural, civic and political capacity of children and young adults in order to make meaningful change in themselves, their families, their schools, communities and larger society. The vision of the PFS programs is to integrate a love for reading and math with the need for cultural democracy, intergenerational leadership and family alliances. Professionals, college students and high school students prepare exhaustively for the classrooms of children and young adults. Reciprocally, those that work within the Philadelphia Freedom Schools are enriched by the children and adults that they serve. Because of this, PFS has grown into a community education movement that includes: educational programming for youth in grades K-12, parental empowerment programs, socialpolitical advocacy, and leadership development training. Youth and adults have the opportunity to learn, teach, and serve in an environment of love, respect, safety and excellence. At the core of this movement is the PFS Way exemplified through the following values: OUR CORE VALUES 1. EDUCATION AND CULTURAL DEMOCRACY The Philadelphia Freedom Schools movement's vision is based on a commitment of integrating a love for reading and math with the need for cultural democracy. The Philadelphia Freedom Schools curriculum is flexible and reflective of the cultures of the students in the communities with culturally affirming literature that facilitates a strong sense of self and social responsibility. 2. FAMILIAL ALLIANCES Philadelphia Freedom Schools continue to engage community through relationship building by providing a supportive and enriching experience for family as well as the students. PFS is a space that encourages education for the entire family and works to support the adults in continuing to provide what children and communities need to be successful. 3. COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Philadelphia Freedom Schools invite participation and responsibility through genuine connections with community members. Philadelphia Freedom Schools attempt to create lasting partnerships with community. Respect and involvement from the residents of The Philadelphia Freedom Schools communities offer an opportunity to foster a truly organic solution for the community as a whole. 4. INTERGENERATIONAL LEADERSHIP Part of Philadelphia Freedom Schools vision is to create an intergenerational community where people of all ages find their strengths and contributions valuable. History, creativity, culture, innovation, tradition and energy are passed seamlessly and reciprocally from elders to youth and youth to elders. The wisdom of the elders and the exuberance of youth exists side-by-side and foster mutual respect for everyone s position in life.

6 5 5. COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY In Philadelphia Freedom Schools, the work is plentiful and we have embraced a model of work distribution that is comprehensive, supportive and egalitarian. Servant Leaders of all ages are asked to step up when they have achieved a level of service mastery and to take on more responsibilities working to towards their greatest ability. All the neighborhood agencies operating Philadelphia Freedom Schools are a part of the shaping and molding of the program through collaborative networking, committees, and workgroups. ********** The University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia (UCCP) prepares and supports youth and young adults and collaborates with organizations to create cultures that value and integrate the contributions of these young leaders, thereby building stronger communities. As an organization we provide a continuum of leadership opportunities for youth and young adults aged 14 to 23. This continuum is designed to keep youth engaged at different levels, capacities and ages within our organization over an extended period of time, including that critical transition stage between high school and further education/employment when so many young people fall between the cracks. Our major initiatives include: 1. Temple Youth VOICES Project VOICES seeks to build the individual and collective power of youth through collaborative research, education, and relationship building with community partners, non-profit organizations and government agencies. Integrating youth media, youth leadership development and youth organizing activities in community and university-based settings, VOICES helps develop the academic, technical and interpersonal skills of participants, connect them to their communities, and provide them with the knowledge and education necessary to make positive choices in their lives and meaningful change in their communities. Combining media with youth leadership development and community youth organizing activities enables VOICES participants to gain valuable technical skills and a strong comfort level with using technology while learning how to effectively use the media they produce as a tool for creating positive change. Participants are typically between 14 and 18 years of age. 2. Temple Youth VOICES P.O.W.E.R. Internship (Prepare, Organize, Educate, Write, Reform/Reflect) For high school juniors and seniors, the P.O.W.E.R. Internship integrates exposure to nonprofit work environments with the development of critical foundational, academic and technical skills that contribute to the interns personal growth and leadership development, and enhance their knowledge of, and ability to address, issues that impact their community and city. Our approach is based on the philosophy that educational skills and work place skills are integrally related, and thus, seeks to unite the two in ways that are engaging, relevant and apparent to the high school student interns. Through project-based learning, that is grounded in the UCCP s community building and social justice approach, student interns gain a hands-on understanding of how nonprofits in general, and students/young people in particular, can contribute to the well being of their communities and the city. Working collaboratively on their projects, interns engage in research, critical thinking,

7 6 communication, and public speaking activities as well as media production. Interns are also assigned specific organizational tasks and have opportunities to shadow UCCP and university staff, as well as college student leaders from across the city, thereby gaining a fuller picture of various professional opportunities and what they entail. 3. Leadership Development Institute The Institute provides intensive training for youth who have been through the VOICES process and have demonstrated a readiness to assume a leadership role. The Institute focuses on the core principles of positive youth development, networking and community outreach, mentorship, youth organizing, and the use of media as a tool for community building and social change. The Leadership Development Institute runs during the summer for four weeks, 30 hours per week. Successful graduates of this institute have the opportunity to apply for a paid position on the Leaders Corp. 4. Leaders Corp: A critical component of our staff structure is The Leaders Corp. Comprised of approximately 20 youth and young adult leaders (former program participants and Temple University students, aged 17-23), the Leaders Corp plays a central role in program planning, implementation, organizational development, and decision-making. As employees of the UCCP, Leaders Corp members are paid for their work and are provided with on-going professional development opportunities. *******

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