Empowering Our Youth to be Agents for Change in their Home, School and Communities

By Catherine Seward, CFCC Student Fellow 2010-2011

I am also a CFCC Student Fellow this fall participating in the Truancy Court Program at Violetville elementary/middle school. I agree with the previous blogger that it is important that we all work together to see that our students our successful. I wanted to focus my blog on ways community members can reach out to empower youth to be more proactive about their education, their school and their community, especially where the youth lack sufficient encouragement and motivation at home.

Schools and community organizations must reach out to these youth and provide them with opportunities for youth leadership and community involvement. Schools can provide student leadership opportunities by having a student government and other student clubs where the students are put in leadership positions. Community Groups can promote youth leadership by having youth led groups in religious communities, YMCAs, community associations, neighborhood watch groups and other similarly situated groups in the community.

By getting youth more involved in leadership positions in the school and larger community they will be empowered to act as positive agents for change. For this to be effective the positions must come with actual responsibilities, accountability and be set up in a way that the students feel that their peers and adults are listening to them. This framework will give youth greater incentives to continue to do well because they will want to hold their positions and they will not want to disappoint their peers, teachers and other community members. Personal accountability and an understanding of consequences for bad actions is one area where poor parenting has left many youth lacking, but leadership opportunities for youth that incentivize good behavior and hold them accountable could supplement the inadequate training at home.

I recently researched Youth Courts for our CFCC class. Youth Courts are an excellent example of a structure in place that empowers youth to address the problem of juvenile crime in their community.[1] Youth Courts are diversion courts that are led primarily by youth who have been trained as judges, lawyers, clerks, bailiffs and jurors to hear cases about delinquent conduct committed by their peers. There are various Youth Court models but in all programs the youth are actively involved in the process and are given the responsibility of deciding the best way of holding the delinquent offender accountable for his or her conduct. The program focuses on restorative justice requiring the offender to make amends for their actions and getting them involved in the community. The Youth Court participants serve as positive role models for the young offenders, who see young people their own age who are responsible, socially engaged and respected by the community.

I think that the success of the youth courts demonstrates that youth are capable of acting as agents for positive change in their school and community when given the opportunity to assume leadership positions.

[1] Goodwin, Tracy. Peer Justice and Youth Empowerment: An Implementation Guide for Teen Court Programs. Chapter 1 pg 3. U.S. Department of Transportation,1996.

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