YLI Program

By Seleyna Mendoza, Communications Analyst and the YLI Team

Seleyna Mendoza,Communications AnalystYLI, A COMMUNITY-BASED organization, Madera Unified, and other local organizations partnered together last year to launch youth-led civic engagement classes in hopes that the skills obtained in this program will have a positive impact on the city of Madera. The YLI program allows students to lead and participate in community building activities. The program in Madera is the first youth-led, adult-supported non-profit program to partner with a school district inside the classroom. 

Madera Unified has created two A-G approved electives in partnership with YLI. At Madera South High School, the class is Leadership 1 which serves 9th and 10th grade students. At Madera High School, the class is Leadership B and it serves all grade levels. These classes are also known as Student Advocacy Councils. The program offers students a safe space to gather together and take leadership roles in determining how the class is run in partnership with their teachers. However, before the class takes a deep dive into social justice, it is important that they thoroughly understand that safety is the foundation of their work. Students need to feel emotionally, physically, and mentally safe to open up and take ownership of the work of social justice and policy advocacy. 

The YLI organization brings 28 years of expertise to the table to work alongside our youth. Our YLI partners know that the youth, our youth, are deeply motivated to address inequities in their communities. Students realize their power to create meaningful change by learning to use their voices. 

Each program supports young students to assess the challenges and strengths of their communities through an equity lens, and gain the tools — like public speaking, media-making, and research. Using this lens, they identify issues they want to work on, and work alongside school and community decision-makers to address them. This leads to transformative change, internally within each student, and externally, on their campus and in their community. 

The core values of the YLI program are Community, Inclusion, Innovation and Social Justice which, are implemented in the classroom. Their work has clearly been paying off with over 120 policy wins across California so far! 

From this strong foundation, YLI Leadership classes build the capacity of our students to see self, school, and larger community issues through a Social Justice/Youth-Led Advocacy perspective. They are creating leaders of the future by teaching students how to think broadly and understanding the important details of policy changes and community advocacy. This program is quite unique, because of the fact that the teachers are there to listen to students and position them to lead — they understand that students see life, policy, and their community through a different perspective than adults do. Our students face challenges and adversities that we may not have first-hand knowledge of, so it is the teachers’ responsibilities to teach our students how to share their stories and thoughts. They understand that students are smart and capable of leading change, if given the right support and tools. 

This year, student “circles” have by far been the most impactful achievement. Circles provide a safe and non-judgmental space for youth to build community and talk about issues that are affecting them, like bullying, mental health, and the myriad “isms” that they participate in and are oppressed by. Circles are facilitated by youth, and the leadership students have been trained to plan and facilitate them in other classrooms on campus and in neighboring elementary and high schools. 

The YLI organization worked really hard this year to foster student engagement and hopes to soon expand the program from one to two classes on each high school campus, and to begin a new program at Matilda Torres High School in the 2020-2021 school year.

While students are in the program, it is hoped that our youth leaders implement policy change on their respective campuses that improves campus culture and adult-youth relationships with the input from the students. It is imperative students understand just how powerful they are, and that, through social justice, they can make a positive difference. 

Finally, it is hoped that one day homegrown leadership can be accomplished. One main outcome is to provide the youth leaders of this community with the wings to set off into the world to achieve their educational goals, but also to be motivated to come back home and contribute to changing the face of Madera. 

Youth participants in the YLI programs often go on to become key leaders in their communities. They also help the youth in Madera run the Madera City Wide Youth Commission, which is still actively seeking youth participants. Interested youth can learn more here: https://yli.org/youth-opportunity/madera-youth-commissioners/.

In any of their programs, YLI never turns anyone away — every person who wants to participate in the programs is welcome! They believe anyone and everyone can be a leader, and they strive to make sure that all students have a seat at the decision-making table. They do their best to lower the barriers for participation, and can provide transportation to and from the programs. And very importantly they ALWAYS have food! Students at both high schools can inquire with their school counselors if they have space in their class schedules to add the Leadership class.

Need More information?

  • Visit the website: www.yli.org
  • Visit us at the John Wells Youth Center, 701 E 5th St, Madera, CA 93638
  • Email: kruiz@yli.org

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