MUSD Partners with the City of Madera on the Youth Leadership Institute

By Frédéric M. Martin, Editor-in-Chief

A year ago, Madera Unified and the City of Madera began conversations to develop a program to politically engage the Madera Youth by working side by side with elected officials and city staff; shadowing city managers, engineers, and the planning director; through involvement in actual city decision making processes. The program selects a few young students as leaders, who receive a small stipend for their work. The Mayor approached MUSD to gauge potential interest but no plan was yet in place. With the United Way’s help, the City, County, and MUSD were introduced to YLI. This approach fulfilled MUSD’s deep desire to amplify student voice and train future leaders. The leaders split up in different directions with Superintendent Lile requested board support, UW CEO Callahan pursued funding from Wells Fargo and Comcast, and Mayor Medellin successfully applied for Community Block Grant Funding. The program will start in Madera this fall, involving 25 students from each high school, and selecting 7 youth commissioners. This project allows our youth leaders to engage “by doing” as they get an inside look at how city hall and the city services work. Youth Leadership Institute Senior Director of Programs for the Central Valley, Yammilette Rodriguez, underscored the fact that Superintendent Todd Lile’s involvement, support, and enthusiasm were unprecedented, and wanted to salute the Madera Unified School District for injecting its invaluable and substantive cooperation, to ensure not only the success of this program, but to raise the program’s goals within the Madera implementation beyond the program’s expectations, as Yammilette Rodriguez indicated: “Todd Lile’s genuine support accelerated our program implementation, by bringing on the necessary people, and providing the nurturing that will ensure our youth will succeed in this exciting endeavor.” The city had already implemented a Citizens Academy (a 12-week course on the inner workings of every single city department) by the time it was approached for this opportunity. The Citizens Academy experiment revealed that it was both a very popular program, and that most graduates of the course, expressed how little they knew about the city: how many people it employed, what and how its many departments function. As Mayor Andy Medellin said: “We learned that we wanted to empower the next generation with that knowledge, to allow our youth to appreciate the intricacies of what it takes to run a city.” Much like a MUSD Career Technical Course (CTE), the students will have an opportunity to interact with all levels of local city government through the YLI program, and they will be encouraged to come up with their own ideas for legislation, develop the necessary research, and allow them to make their case to the city council for the changes they wish implemented to improve their life and the lives of their fellow Maderans. MUSD recently queried the students on their concerns and school safety topped their priorities. Students wanted to engage in the following areas through the prioritization process: mental health, safety, school shootings and efficient learning. The overwhelming feedback obtained from the students was their stated desire for honest engagement with their teachers, resulting in real and meaningful learning. The decision to empower our youth has given the city council a very good direction and horizon on what it should be doing for Madera’s next leaders. Mayor Medellin added: “We want to embrace the possibility of giving the students the necessary tools to allow them to be included in making meaningful decisions, to possibly help bridge their generation with those who are currently in charge of city affairs, and to allow them to grasp the consequential benefits our youth can obtain from this partnership.” Being involved with local leaders creates an inclusive environment that allows our youth leaders to see possibilities they might have otherwise thought unreachable. The Youth Leadership Institute gives Madera an opportunity to invest in our youth, so that they know they are a treasured part of our community, to learn from their interactions with their city government, to further develop a deepening attachment to their home town. The mayor wished to tell the next generation: “We have tools to help guide your future, to help you take pride in your community and know that you are valued and welcome to stay here to contribute and to flourish as productive adults in Madera.” Madera’s youth has a real taste for responsibility: recently, the South Campus had a seniors’ legacy project to benefit the community, wherein the students came up with biodegradable makeup, a recycling project to help fund specific school initiatives, and more creative ideas that demonstrated real interest in improving the lives of their fellow Maderans. As mayor Medellin said: “We believe in the next generation of leaders can come from Madera and want to make sure our high school students know we are counting on them.”

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