Sacramento Area Council of Governments launches Youth Leadership Academy

Sacramento Area Council of Governments launches Youth Leadership Academy

Photo Credits: TESSA KOGA / AGGIE

Cohort of high schoolers begins pilot civic engagement program

The Sacramento Area Council of Government kicked off its Youth Leadership Academy on Jan. 26 with the pilot program’s first training. Over the next five months, the program’s cohort of 29 high school participants from across SACOG’s six counties — El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba — will engage with SACOG through board meetings and trainings.

Throughout the program, Youth Leadership Academy participants will learn about and discuss issues that SACOG deals with, which include topics around transportation, land use and housing. Then, the program will culminate in a mock Civic Lab, in which students will participate in the development of a short-term innovation project. Ideally, the students will serve as part of the cohort for one- to two-year terms.

Jay Schenirer, a council member for Sacramento’s fifth district, initiated the vision for Youth Leadership Academy when he was SACOG’s board chair last year after recognizing a need for the region to better engage youth with governmental planning.

“I’ve been working on these issues for quite a while, and a lot of them have to do with how we engage young people to be involved with their own futures, and how we can be advocates for those futures,” Schenirer said. “It really came to my mind that […] we’re planning for the future of the region, which absolutely includes young people, and we had no structure or venue to engage those young people in the decisions that we were making.”

The SACOG board voted to go through with Youth Leadership Academy. The current session of the program is funded by The California Endowment, Sacramento Regional Community Foundation and Bank of America. In terms of execution, the program operates through a partnership between SACOG and PRO Youth and Families, a Sacramento-based youth development organization.

One key goal for Youth Leadership Academy is to facilitate a two-way learning process between youth and SACOG.

Rosie Ramos, a communications analyst for SACOG who is running the program alongside Pro Youth and Families’ Youth Engagement Coordinator Taylor Buck, commented on how important this two-way element is.

“What would be amazing as we continue to grow this program is that what comes out of the cohort is not just [students] learning more about what we do and how the politics work, but also […] for us to hear what’s really important to our group,” Ramos said.

The ultimate goal, according to Ramos, is to find ways to make sure that those priorities are incorporated into SACOG’s daily work.

In addition to connecting students with SACOG, the program will also connect students from several geographic areas with each other. Buck sees the program as innovative in this regard.

“A big hope is that it will not only just bring those folks together in the same room but also make sure that young people [develop] — as they move forward as community leaders and potential political advocates — that understanding of our region more broadly,” Buck said.

Buck believes it’s important for students to engage with SACOG issues.

“SACOG deals with transportation, affordable housing, ratio of population and resources that we have in our region, climate change and infrastructure — there’s a lot of things that sometimes don’t get mentioned in your high school civics classes,” Buck said. “So, [Youth Leadership Academy is] really providing an outlet for students to learn about it.”

In recruiting students to participate, SACOG wanted to ensure that students were representative of the region and encourage recruitment of students who were not the “usual suspects” — that is, “youth who are already highly engaged in their schools and community,” according to the program’s proposal.

To this end, Buck said that PRO Youth and Families took a multi-pronged approach to strive for a broad outreach. PRO Youth and Families tabled at individual schools and paid particular attention to schools in cities where it saw a more limited response. PRO Youth and Families also recruited through partner groups. SACOG board members were asked to distribute information through their networks as well.

Ramos confirmed that despite time constraints for the recruitment period, she feels confident in the group of students who make up the cohort.

“They have all kinds of backgrounds — they’re from all over the region, and it’s a diverse group,” Ramos said. “We have a great group of kids.”

Over the next several months, Ramos and Buck will be looking for ways to adjust the program for future years.

“One of the biggest piece[s] of feedback that we received from the students is that they wanted more discussion time,” Buck said. “These kids are highly engaged and are just really ready to sink their teeth into the policy issues that are impacting our region.”

Though this is a pilot session, Ramos expressed hopes for the program to be a continued element of SACOG.

“Ideally, we’re going to plan for the next year,” Ramos said. “We need funding and all of that, so that’ll be an important part. But that’s the goal — that we would continuously have it.”

Written by: Anne Fey — city@theaggie.org