Monday, December 20, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs: The Benefits of Youth Participation


By Sam Piha

We are continuing to post a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start today infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. NOTE: There are many program resources on the topic, some of which are detailed in our paper, Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs. You can view blogs from this series hereWe also conducted a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here.

In this blog we discuss the benefits of youth participation in civic engagement and activism activities. 

Research and experience tell us that involving young people in civic engagement and activism activities brings benefits to youth participants. Some of these are detailed below. Benefits are also accrued by the organizational partners and the larger community, as well as adult program staff. 

Now I’m very confident in myself. I know that I can make changes. Sometimes I used to think that our lives were kind of pointless. And now, it’s like, you can make real changes. Now it’s the school and maybe in my career and my adult life, I could actually do something with a lot of determination and will.”  – Rosalinda, 12th grader 

Benefits of Civic Engagement and Activism for Youth Participants

  • Helps them make new friends and contacts and increases their social and relationship skills
  • Helps them build social capital
  • Increases self-confidence and promotes a positive sense of agency and empowerment
  • Combats depression and helps them stay physically healthy
  • Supports healing from trauma
  • Provides a sanctuary
  • Opportunities to serve others and give back to the community
  • Prepares them for leadership roles
  • Opens their minds to new ideas and people
  • Fuels passion and purpose
  • Teaches collaboration
  • Brings fun and fulfillment to their lives
  • The happiness effect: Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated
  • Learn valuable job skills and can offer career experience
  • Increases connection to the community
  • More likely to remain civically engaged as adults

Contributing provides adolescents the experiences they need to complete the key tasks of this life stage: building autonomy, identity, and intimacy. Making meaningful contributions to others allows adolescents to see that they can have a positive effect on the world, giving them the confidence necessary to build autonomy and agency. When their contributions are recognized, young people come to understand their place and value in the world, developing their sense of identity. Having the opportunity to provide meaningful social support to friends and family builds the intimacy they’ll need to form positive, long-lasting relationships in adulthood. - Meghan Lynch Forder, What Teens Gain When They Contribute to Their Social Groups

Source: Greater Good Science Center

In economically distressed communities who are the targets of structural racism, we have seen how youth benefit from the opportunity to reflect critically on the world — to ask questions and denaturalize what feels like “normal” by visiting neighboring communities and imagine radical futures and the opportunity to generate solutions through policies or public narratives. These experiences contribute to a sense of agency and belonging that prepares young people to navigate the world with confidence and critical analysis; in some cases it can also offer a context for “healing” that involves personal and social transformation.– Dr. Ben Kirshner, University of Colorado, Boulder (from an interview published in Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs).


They gain job experience, something to put on their resume, and they learn how to and create a resume. They report feeling that they can make a difference in the lives of children in their own neighborhood as well as in other neighborhoods other than their own. They broaden/deepen their social capital. They benefit from caring relationships with adults and other teens.- Rebecca Fabiano, Fab Youth Philly

Students build social capital, a valuable skillset they can apply in virtually any career and in civic life, a highly-attractive college, career, and civic portfolio, opportunities to collaborate vs. compete with their peers and opportunities to effect the change they want to see in the world.- Rachel Belin, Kentucky Student Voice Team
Youth empowerment and a sense of engagement at all levels. Youth gain a sense of self in the larger world and political environment. They gain a sense of being a part of the system with the ability to affect vs being passive members of a community where things happen to them.” - Brad Lupien, Arc Experience

Youth have an understanding of the country’s democratic process and understand how to navigate the barriers to participation. Youth are able to form their own opinions and political ideology. Leadership skills like public speaking and collaboration are key to success in the program. Lastly, it is essential for youth to walk away with the experience of creating community with youth of different backgrounds and identity.- Jenifer Hughes, YMCA of San Francisco

The concrete skills youth develop through the project-based approach we use have different types of real- world applications. They learn to conduct hands-on research like site visits, interviews, and surveys. They learn to think critically about why disparities persist and are challenged to do innovative problem solving. They become more comfortable with public speaking and with speaking to legislators and other stakeholders. Many students do go on to major in political science, join civic-oriented clubs on campus, pursue careers in politics, etc. But I’ve seen that even students who go on to do things in other fields report that what they learned here has prepared them for the “real world” in more ways than one.- Laura Jankstrom, YOUTHACTION NYC

4-H empowers youth to practice and recognize the importance of civic and social responsibility by strengthening their leadership and citizenship skills. It prepares them for life, inspiring them to be invested, informed and accountable for generating the change they want to see in the world—and to create their own success in the future. 4-H participants are four times more likely to actively contribute to their communities and two times more likely to get better grades in school.- Rebecca Kelley, J.D., 4-H 

Monday, December 13, 2021

History of Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in America

1909, (New York City), Photograph shows two girls wearing banners with 
slogan "ABOLISH CHILD SLAVERY!!" in English and Yiddish.

By Sam Piha

According to the Afterschool Alliance, “The afterschool field is an essential partner in ensuring that all children have the ability to participate in immersive, relevant, and hands-on civic engagement opportunities.” Not only are civic engagement strategies participatory strategies, they contribute to the positive development of youth and the health of our democracy. 

We are continuing to post a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. In this blog we offer a brief overview of the history of youth civic engagement and activism in America. NOTE: There are many program resources on the topic, some of which are detailed in our paper, Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs. You can view previous blogs from this series hereWe also conducted a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here.

Recent events in the news such as mass shootings and police violence led to youth participation in the March for Our Lives and the Black Lives Matter movement, calling for greater awareness and policy changes. Also, the growing degradation of the environment and climate change has inspired youth led actions. 

Youth civic engagement and activism began in the mid- to late nineteenth century when young people began forming labor strikes in response to their working conditions, wages, and hours. In 1908, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones organized the first youth activism in the U.S., marching 100,000 child miners. Youth activists went on to advocate for a number of issues, including voting rights, school desegregation, immigration reform and LGBTQ+ rights. 

Because young people often have the desire, energy and idealism to do something about the injustice they see in the world, they are powerful agents for change.  - Marianne Stenger

Gordon Alexandre

We asked historian, Gordon Alexandre, to give context to young people participating in civic engagement and social movements in America. He responded, “Let’s define “young people” to include young adults. They have been the main participants in social justice movements. Most of the activists in the civil rights movement were young. MLK was in his mid-twenties when he burst onto the scene in 1955. The feminist movement and gay empowerment movements were also led by young people. Later on, the environmental movement of the 1970’s and after, the anti-World Trade Organization movement of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and Occupy Wall Street of 2011 were all youth driven.” 

Monday, December 6, 2021

School Shootings and the Role of Afterschool

Source: The Signal

By Sam Piha

Feelings of physical and emotional safety are foundational to promoting healthy youth development, but are schools safe? On Nov. 30th, a 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at his Michigan high school, killing four students and wounding seven other people, including a teacher. This latest event is another in a long list of school shootings. Education Week journalists track shootings on K-12 school property that results in firearm-related injuries or deaths. 

According to Ed Week, “There have been 28 school shootings this year, 20 since August 1. There have been 86 school shootings since 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have interrupted the trend line. The 2020 figure, with 10 shootings, was significantly lower than 2019 and 2018, which each had 24. 

That falloff in numbers is probably due to the shift to remote learning for nearly all schools for part or all of 2020. But those using this data should note that it should not be interpreted to mean that schools were 'safer.' Rather, the definition of school safety has shifted as schooling entered the home in a way it never had before.” 

Source: LA Times

Below is a summary of injuries and deaths that came about as a result of school shooting events in 2021:

Source: Ed Week


After the Parkland shooting, we heard a lot about school safety, but little about the role of afterschool program providers. To gather perspective on this, we created a survey and distributed to our afterschool stakeholders. We posted a blog entitled In the Aftermath of Parkland: What is the Role of Expanded Learning Programs?, in which we summarized the responses to our survey. 

Testing AI’s Pluses and Minuses in Afterschool Programming

Source: By Guest Blogger Brian Rinker, Youth Today. This blog was originally published on the Youth Today website. Angel T...