YEA! MN Year in Review: Youth Directed Programming Yields Big Returns!

YEA! MN students talk with Governor Dayton following a youth summit this spring
YEA! MN students talk with Governor Dayton following a youth summit this spring

YEA! MN is unique in that we are an authentically student directed program.  This means that my job is not to tell students what we should do but ask them what they want to do.  Of course, I still provide feedback and suggestions, however the purpose is to help them more fully think through their action projects, ideas, and what they want to accomplish.  The place where this happens is at our youth steering committee meetings.  Twice a month our students come together to learn about issues, discuss questions they have, invite in speakers, and plan events.

This year we had two series of speakers join the steering committee meetings.  John Smith, the WSF Education Program Assistant led thoughtful activities and discussions on climate literacy, and Joe Kruse, the WSF Equity Consultant, led students through discussions on race and equity, providing a safe space to discuss tough questions and learn together.

Beyond action projects at our schools, our students took action together in their communities at the local and state level.  Over 70 students came to the State Capitol for our annual Youth Lobby Day to meet with their legislators about increasing Minnesota’s renewable energy standard.  Students got a refresher on how a bill becomes a law and got to see the rooms and meet the people where it all happens.  Most importantly they learned what their role is as citizens in making policy and shaping the future of our state. You can read our student blog here: http://bit.ly/1dYdkiw

On Earth Day this spring our students partnered with several other youth organizations, including MPIRG, MN Youth Environmental Network, and the Sierra Student Coalition to host a youth forum with Governor Dayton to discuss the critical environmental issues facing our state and share student perspectives and concerns.  Click here to read our student reflection: http://bit.ly/1rNr0h9

South high students deliver 400 post cards to Hennepin County Commissioner in support of Minneapolis waste reduction
South high students deliver 400 post cards to Hennepin County Commissioner in support of Minneapolis waste reduction

Students also worked together joining the coalition against the HERC incinerator expansion in Hennepin County, an environmental and public health concern disproportionately impacting low-income communities of color in the city. At South High School students collected over 400 postcards that were delivered to their Hennepin County Commissioner urging the Commission to increase recycling and composting efforts and decrease waste.  Working on this issue together provided an opportunity to connect many issues they care about.  This built off of previous years work on composting and recycling, their passion for social justice and public health, and an interest in how local policy affects their lives and the lives of their neighbors.  Connecting issues in the world around them lead to thoughtful discussions about intersectionality, how we can support social movement that are different from gut related to our own, and how to best organize our peers.  The discussions and questions that our students were asking each other are not only be inspirational to me as an organizer that cares about leadership development, but I believe should give us all a sense of hope for our future.  With students like our YEA! MN leaders growing up and moving out into the world, I feel more confident in our ability to tackle huge and hard problems. Read more about student engagement in the HERC campaign: http://bit.ly/1g7WMmi

At the last steering committee meeting we elected two new co-chairs, Carlos from El Colegio Charter School and Kendra from South High. The two students will be leading YEA! MN next year, planning for steering committee meetings and working with me to train their peers in organizing and leadership skills that we hope will serve them for a lifetime.  In early June we held a retreat at the Land School Homestead in rural Wisconsin, a chance to thank and say goodbye to our graduating senior and celebrate our accomplishments. We planted pumpkins, weeded onions, debriefed our outstanding YEA! MN program year, and started planning for next fall. With a YEA! MN delegation to the People’s Climate March in September, a youth climate justice conference on the docket for November, and a fleet of student-led action projects ready to take flight, next year promises to be yet another action-packet adventure.

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