What’s Working: Minnesota’s Commitment to Empowering Civically Engaged Youth Header

Opinion

What’s Working: Minnesota’s Commitment to Empowering Civically Engaged Youth

Nevasha Noble

This article is part of the “What’s Working” series, which highlights promising practices for helping to close the graduation gap in communities and states across the country.

To truly help young people succeed, don’t just educate them—empower them.

This was one of the major takeaways from Youth Day at the Capital (YDAC) on March 21 in St. Paul-Minneapolis, an event that connected youth, educators, and youth workers around the legislative process through training on advocacy, civic engagement, and leadership. YDAC was presented by Minnesota Alliance with Youth, Ignite Afterschool, Minneapolis YWCA, Minnesota Civic, and the Minnesota Community Education Association.

Tina Smith
Governor of Minnesota Tina Smith told
students they should not let their age stop
themfrom being the voice for their
community.

During the event, Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota Tina Smith stressed the importance of not letting people underestimate a young person’s abilities to be a part of the change they want to see in their communities. "Don't let anyone tell you that you don't know what you're talking about, because you do,” she said.

Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota Tina Smith told students they should not let their age stop them from being the voice for their community.

In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Youth Council Committee Bill into law, which established the Minnesota Youth Council (MYC) as a voice for youth to provide advice and recommendations to the legislature and the governor on issues affecting young people.

During YDAC, young people expressed their opinions on bills related to the establishment of youth skill training programs and work development, increasing school-linked mental  health services, additional support being provided to homeless students, and education finance.

Want more examples of students taking a stand and speaking out? Read Minnesota Alliance With Youth Board Member Rogelio Salinas’ op-ed in the Minnesota Star Tribune, School discipline: Chart a path toward 'a world that is not yet'

Minnesota Youth Council member Heather Weller asked,“How can youth ‘be the now’ or get people to understand that we are the now, not just the future?”

Senator Steve Cwodzinski had the answer: “Participating in programs, such as this one, and not letting school get in the way of your education.” He added that programs like YDAC are a great way to help young people lift up their voices outside the classroom.

David Bly and Lee Dahl
Representative David Bly and Lee Dahl of District 287
testifying to The Minnesota Youth Council on HF276,
a bill focused on providing homeless students with
additional support services.

Research shows another advantage. “Civic engagement provides young people with opportunities to gain work experience, acquire new skills, and to learn responsibility and accountability—all while contributing to the good of their communities,” the Center for the Study of Social Policy found in 2011.

What makes these programs successful? Representatives from Ignite Afterschool and Minnesota Civic Youth both focused on the importance of partnerships—not just between organizations, but between adults and young people.  

Collaborating with other organizations brings a diverse group of people together to leverage expertise and resources, but authentic youth-adult partnerships are just as important. They provide students with caring adults who play a pivotal role in youth development.

Weller mentioned that the Minnesota Youth Council requires every participant to have an adult mentor, which is essential to the development of youth. “Some students don’t have that support system at home, so it is nice to have this adult partner or that one person who will be there for you and advocate for you,” she said. Youth-adult partnerships also provides the space for each group to learn from one another.

“Students who participate in YDAC and the Minnesota Youth Council learn valuable skills, such as critical and analytical thinking, interpersonal skills, and public-speaking skills,” said Amy Anderson, Executive Director at Minnesota Civic Youth. “There is a difference between educating students and empowering them.”

Through Youth Day at the Capital and the Minnesota Youth Council, Minnesota is able to do both.  

Nevasha Noble is an Alliance Engagement associate at America’s Promise Alliance.

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