Positive Youth Development: Youth Lead Change in Chicago Schools

[About a month ago we published a post titled, School-to-Prison Pipeline: Chicago Youth Calling for a Dollars and Sense Policy, in which a guest columnist wrote about a group of Chicago high school students who had organized to protest against zero tolerance discipline policies. Their report, Failed Policies, Broken Futures: the True Cost of Zero Tolerance in Chicago, got a lot of attention in the media, including a story by NPR. --Ed.]
juvenile-justice-system_cover-of-failed-policies-broken-futures-reportVoices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) is a youth-led collaborative  made up of seven community organizations and eight high schools across the city of Chicago working to lower the dropout rate and increase college readiness in our schools. As youth leaders with Logan Square Neighborhood Association (one of the organizations involved in VOYCE), we want to share what being youth leaders in our school and community has meant to us. Being part of VOYCE has brought many changes in our lives, in our school, and in our community.
One question that adults sometimes ask is, “How do you get youth involved?” In our experience, there is a big difference between attending your first meeting and actually staying involved and becoming a youth leader. Many of us get involved because we are struggling in school and want to find a way to improve, or, simply because we have friends who are in VOYCE.
But we stay because we feel like we are a part of something important.

For example, at Kelvyn Park High School, where we attend, we have worked to improve the student-teacher relationships and student-to-student relationships that are the basis of a safe school culture; to help create a “safe space” where students feel supported and respected by their peers; and we’ve managed to get students to think and talk differently in our school – for example, students now pay more attention to how school funding affects our education every day. When we see how we are actually impacting other students, that to us is one of the best changes we can make.
At the end of the day, we want those of you who are working in education and juvenile justice to know how important it is to engage the voice of young people in your work. It takes training and time to develop strong youth leaders, but it’s worth it because we are the ones who suffer in the end if these problems are not solved.
Young people are the ones affected by the problems in our educational and juvenile justice systems and we should be a part of creating the solutions. If we are given the opportunity and the space, like we have in VOYCE, we can do GREAT things.
>>More information about VOYCE, which is supported by Public Interest Projects' Just and Fair Schools Fund.

positive-youth-development_youth-members-of-VOYCEThe authors are youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association -- part of VOYCE -- in Chicago. L to R: Dalia Basurto, Jennifer Velazquez, Gaby Hernandez, Julio Castañeda, Robert Ramirez, and Juan Barbosa.

Updated: February 08 2018