Youth Leadership Academy Graduates Ready to Take Charge
SACOG’s innovative program preps high schoolers for local leadership

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July 29, 2020: It’s a wrap for the second cohort of the Youth Leadership Academy (YLA). This year the SACOG program welcomed 36 students from four of SACOG’s six counties – Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, and Yuba – and despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, 30 students completed the program.  

“I gained valuable knowledge about civics and what everyone is running around trying to get accomplished. I learned that we are all really trying to make the world a better place together, [and] when it feels like we are fighting alone, we actually aren’t,” said a student in the program’s wrap-up survey. As another put it, participants who joined the program were able to gain a better understanding of what their local leaders are trying to get done, and how they do it. The program is centered on providing students a better understanding of what local leaders and elected officials are “running around trying to get accomplished,” and cultivating the region’s future leaders. 

YLA was launched in 2018 to connect youth to the work SACOG does along with showcasing the field of planning and the local processes for city, county, and community work. This is the second cohort of high school students who came together to be more civically engaged, better understand the way local decisions are made, and gain tools to better advocate for their communities. “It gave me a broader understanding of my local area and government” and “I feel I have a voice and I can make a difference,” stated two participants. 

YLA provided students with several workshops that started in January. Students were able to participate in two in-person sessions before changing to a remote program. During the first two sessions students met local elected officials, discussed interagency collaboration, were introduced to planning, had a hands-on planning exercise led by an urban planner, visited the state capitol, and had a mock city council based on a local affordable housing complex development. 

After the program had to switch online due to the pandemic, we were still able to pivot and offer students an online experience that actually resulted in more engagement. The program went from a monthly workshop schedule, to meeting virtually every two weeks for two-hour periods. Students were able to virtually connect with local staff at Sacramento International Airport, advocacy organizations in the region, and elected officials, and learn about personal finances, and how to build a resume. To finish off the project, students focused on an issue in their community, researched it, and provided possible solutions.   

The YLA focused on lessons that supported students’ understanding of local issues and empowered them to be advocates for the issues in their own communities. The current pandemic and national Black Lives Matter movement brought on powerful conversations that connected to the various topics discussed. At the end of the program, we hope to inspire students to pursue careers in the public sector, but also to help foster civic-minded residents who know how to navigate and lead.  One student shared that, “I feel confident that I can make change and that it is important to speak up,” and we hope to continue to see them speak up and take the lead.