A project of the Afterschool Alliance
Card image cap

Youth Voices

The youth in your program know first-hand why afterschool is important and what it provides them. They can be some of your best, and most authentic, messengers. Be sure to involve youth in your event program as well as in the planning.

Lights On! is a great opportunity to let youth express their views on afterschool.

  • During your Lights On! program, give young people a time to speak publicly to policymakers about their views on afterschool, learning, education and other related issues. Invite your mayor, school board members or city council members to come to your afterschool program to listen to what kids have to say.
  • Have youth decorate light bulbs. If you are near a Congressional District Office, arrange for them to deliver the artwork themselves and meet with the Member or staff. If the offices are far away, work with students to make a project out of sending the box of artwork. The Congressional office should respond with a letter back to your program. Use that as a second learning opportunity to discuss the role of elected officials.
  • Work with the local newspaper to have them publish op-eds by kids that focus on kids views of afterschool and learning, how/when/where they have fun learning.
  • Work with the local newspaper to feature stories by kid reporters that cover issues including why afterschool programs help kids, what makes a great afterschool program, how to make learning fun.
  • Organize an event at city hall, or the state house in which young people speak publicly about their views on the issues in front of a large audience that includes policymakers -- give the policymakers a chance to respond/acknowledge the young people's concerns.
  • Organize a group of kids to go visit policymakers in your community. This could include the mayor, city council members, school board members, state legislators, the governor, and members of Congress. Work with the young people ahead of time to set up the meetings and develop a list of talking points for the meetings. Notify the press ahead of time so that they can cover the story of young people being their own best advocates on learning and education.
  • Work with young people to request a hearing on afterschool and education in your state legislative body. Ask the education committee to hold a special hearing where kids testify about the benefits they receive from afterschool programs, and how afterschool helps engage them in learning.
Card image cap

You will need to consider:

  • Ages of the students.
  • Group size. Will students work in large or small groups or will individuals run their own activities?
  • Leadership skills of your students. Could they entirely design and follow through with a project, or will they need a good bit of development and leadership from you?
  • Students with disabilities. Special accommodations may need to be made to include students with physical and learning disabilities.
  • Training. Would leadership development, planning, public speaking, working with the media, etc., be helpful to youth?
  • Recruiting. What would entice youth to want to be involved? What incentives can you offer them, e.g., extra credit, behavior points, field trip privileges?

Be sure to set some goals and determine how you will measure success - that is, how you and they will know that your project made a difference. By taking these steps before you begin, you increase the likelihood that your event will be successful and that your students will have a sense of real accomplishment. A discussion of objectives, goals and measures can make an excellent preparation activity. Also important in preparation: creating a timeline, task list and budget. See the event planning checklist for ideas. Evaluate the level of involvement that is appropriate for the youth in your program:

Level of Youth involvement

Examples of Tasks

Youth-Led Rally

Youth committee designs the rally, assigns roles to various youth and implements the plan with guidance from adults

Youth as Leaders in Roles

Youth work with adults to identify what roles they could fill and then plan out the steps and fulfill each role, such as tour guides for site tours of the program, publicity team to make posters and signs, donation team to ask local business for donated snacks and goodies

Youth Contributions

Youth volunteer to speak, help set up the event, write invitations, hang up posters, perform at the rally, decorate the rally location, etc.

Check out these Web sites for more resources on engaging youth in service: