An Adult’s Guide for Supporting Youth Voice in Service-Learning Projects
Most service-learning initiatives would benefit from adding a youth voice component. Many program coordinators, however, stress the importance of preliminarily assessing whether the organization is truly interested in working with youth as equal partners; has the staffing, resources and capability needed; and has a clear and agreed-upon understanding of the definition of “youth voice” and what it will look like within the organization.
Enjoy, respect and believe in young people without “tokenizing” them. View them as experts in their field. It is from this foundation that the most successful service-learning/youth voice programs thrive.
Identify and make clear what is expected from the adults and young people involved in the program. Provide parameters and guidelines, as well as an assessment process that can be used on a regular basis as a measurement tool.
Look to other organizations for examples, best practices and advice, but tailor the youth voice to meet the needs of your organization or program. Other models may be impressive and successful, but youth voice only works when it meets the needs of the organization at hand.
Be creative and flexible. Be willing to make mistakes and share those with young people. Part of treating young people as equal partners is admitting that one individual may not have all the answers. Utilize the assets of young people by drawing from their unique perspective and experience.
Offer and participate in ongoing professional development around the field of youth voice. Ask and field questions of young people. Develop an internal support system for young people and adults.
Allow young people to fail, and trust that they will find a workable approach, even though it may not be the “best” or the “quickest.” People learn by doing and take tremendous pride in accomplishing things that may have proved challenging at first. Overcoming obstacles and earning success are what foster and sustain an involvement in service or civic engagement.
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