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Youth Action Retreat

This spring, the Youth Equity Solutions (YES!) team met on the Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and planned a one-day Youth Action Retreat (YAR) for an area district’s middle school student leadership team (SLT) members. The YES team members met twice monthly, over a three-month period, and created a retreat agenda with topics relevant to the theme: Leading with Confidence. Once the YES members agreed on the theme, they identified topics and activities focused on building the skills they decided were developmentally appropriate for middle level students and essential for youth leadership development.

Topics, Activities, and Learning Outcomes

The YES! Team concentrated their planning efforts on several topics they decided were important for middle school students’ community leadership advancement: decision-making, confidence, and self-advocacy. They planned a Panel session, too.

All of the Youth Action Retreat (YAR) activities were interactive, and ten YES! Facilitators worked with a single group of 7-10 middle school students throughout the day. The consistency of working with one YES! Facilitator and the same peer group encouraged relationship development while the team members made connections among the retreat topics and leadership growth. Students participated in activities, de-brief discussions, trivia games, created group names and cheers, and at the conclusion of the event, group spokesperson stated what they learned and identified the leadership skills they explored during the day.

As the middle school students and the YES facilitators worked together, the district faculty and staff at the event noticed high levels of student engagement. They remarked on the varied learning approaches used to explore the retreat topics.  

Remarkable Moment

One of the remarkable moments occurred in walking between the two rooms where YES! Members were leading their small group activities. At tables, each YES! Team member explored the concept of youth self advocacy with a group of seven to ten middle school students. The youth talked about how to talk about equity concerns with teachers and administrators. They discussed proactive and positive leadership strategies. The adult staff agreed that the success of this experience was due to the YES! High school members’ willingness to share what they knew about leadership thus far in life. YES! Team members balance multiple life responsibilities: school, part-time jobs, family commitments, and other extracurricular obligations. Yet, every one of the YES! Team members made the retreat and its equity work initiative that day’s priority.

The Importance of Youth Leadership Recognition and Support

The Youth Action Retreat (YAR) was successful because the high school YES! Members possess multiple and varied leadership talents and abilities. As youth leaders, they generously shared what they had learned with their younger peers. In this instance, they worked with approximately 70 middle school students who were serious about developing as leaders in their schools and communities. The YES! Team’s development and implementation of the YAR retreat is a marker and a reminder that Youth are our future; They have the vision, perspectives, and energy to advocate for much needed productive, equitable change in education and society. Adults can support youth leadership In their quest to shape an equitable world through recognition and support of initiatives that provide a space where young people can grow into equity advocates, leaders, and some of society’s most hopeful resources.