High School Students Serve, Learn, Change the World at NYLT

On the afternoon of July 20, fifty high school students from around the country cheered as they poured out of school busses and onto the lawn of one of the newly renovated buildings at the Presidio of San Francisco. That day marked the beginning of the National Youth Leadership Training, an annual program for high school students that has been run by the National Youth Leadership Council and its Youth Advisory Council for more than 30 years. This NYLT was the first ever to take place on the west coast.

Prior to landing in San Francisco, students were recruited in teams through their schools and after school programs. Mentors who have worked with NYLC and sent students to NYLT in the past know how effective the program is at transforming students into leaders. For Karen Vargas, a mentor and long-time supporter of the program, being a part of NYLT has meant participating “in the experience of transformation and transforming the lives of our youth."

The first two days of NYLT focused on building cohesion within primary groups by sending them through a series of mental and physical challenges known as “Immersion”. Primary Groups continued to bond throughout the week as NYLC staff members facilitated workshops on the achievement gap using NYLC’s Smart. Youth Solutions to the Achievement Gap curriculum. Students also tackled issues of race, diversity, and classism using NYLC’s signature “Morals & Ethics” simulation, which challenged participants to reflect on what it means to be a moral and ethical leader.

"[The Morals and Ethics training was] a life-changing experience that was truly an eye-opener,” said Danasia, a participant at this year’s training. “Having to relive my past really helped me win those battles that I've been fighting half of my life to win. I also learned to accept and embrace my past, and that I can be someone else's motivation who may have also been through homelessness.”

NYLT participants also had the opportunity to go beyond the freshly painted walls of the Presidio’s training facilities to tour different organizations in San Francisco during “Models in Action”— site visits hosted by the Pearson Foundation, Destiny Arts, and the United Way of the Bay Area that inspired participants to build upon their knowledge about educational strategies to close the achievement gap.

At the Pearson Foundation, program manager Lessa Manotti and her team talked to students about the foundation’s focus on providing access to education and education resources.

“A few weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, Bellevue Hospital — well-known for its pediatric care and health services — had just relocated its children's book library to the basement of the building. 7,000 books were destroyed during the hurricane,” said Manotti. “Pearson donated 7,000 books to restock the hospital's Reach Out and Read program library and did a Read Mobile literacy event for the kids there. Nicole and Tyler dressed up as book characters from Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad, and every child received a free book to take home.” The Pearson Foundation donates 1 million books per year through its We Give Books program, which has a user base of nearly half a million people around the world.

On a more local scale, Destiny Arts center has deep roots in the Oakland area and offers programming to youth and adults in performing and martial arts. Similarly, the United Way of the Bay Area works locally to alleviate poverty by providing access to programs and leveraging community resources. Students jotted down notes and joined in activities facilitated by the staff at these organizations, which helped contribute to their knowledge of complex social issues.

By the end of the week, the young people were steeped in information about the achievement gap. During the last few days of NYLT, regional teams were reunited with their adult mentors to create a Service-Learning Action Plan that identified community assets and walked them through step-by-step how to create year-long service-learning projects to help bridge inequalities in their home communities.

Through their tears, this year’s NYLT participants reluctantly said “see you later” to each other on July 27, having made the transformation from student to leader, and travelled back home where the real work will begin to “Serve. Learn. Change the world!”

To support NYLC’s National Youth Leadership Training, make a commitment to attend next year’s NYLT by sending in a form to the address below, or mark your calendar to donate to NYLC on “Give to the Max” day on November 15, 2013.

Each year, NYLC selects new members to serve on its Youth Advisory Council. Applicants must attend NYLT in order to be eligible to serve on the YAC.

National Youth Leadership Council
1667 Snelling Ave N, Suite D300
St. Paul, MN 55108