Youth Engagement in Ohio

There are learnings about youth engagement everywhere there are young people, and every learning is different and unique, as well as similar and familiar. For the last few days, I’ve been at Miami University in Ohio learning about youth engagement with adult practitioners here. This is the  at OPEC (Ohio Promoting WEllness & ReCovery) Conference, an annual gathering of youth workers, teachers, prevention/intervention specialists, counselors, administrators, executives and others who are involved throughout the field. Its a tremendous gathering, and I’m humbled to be here.

Today, I facilitated a 9-hour seminar focused on Project-Based Learning. It was an exciting day, filled with so much collaborative learning and so many generative processes that my I left with a full heart and amazed mind. Excitement bubbled throughout the day, with almost 50 people creating community, connecting with their peers and teaching each other the positive, powerful potential of Project Based Learning. It was exciting!

One of the most powerful activities we did was creating new learning about youth engagement specifically. After sharing our definitions, I explained that my research and practice has shown that youth engagement is simply young people doing the act of choosing the same thing over and over. Either it happens unconsciously or consciously, meaningful or otherwise, good or challenging. After talking about that for a while, we answered some key questions about youth engagement. I want to share the group’s responses to some of those questions here. Following are six questions, and the responses to our brainstorming.


1. How Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • Slowly
  • When adults give youth a voice and choice
  • With buy-in from everyone
  • Persistence
  • Organically
  • As a process
  • Opportunity
  • By having opportunities to connect and feel empowered
  • Authenticity of the leader/ adult ally/ mentor
  • Showing them that they matter
  • After much head banging and the sound of crickets chirping
  • As a facilitator: I listen… I create space/ activity… and fun!!
  • By being a living example of how life can be and all the possibilities that exist
  • By giving responsibility/ say to target group
  • Adults getting their egos out of the way
  • With support of the community
  • Buy-in from adults
  • With consistency
  • Give them the opportunity
  • With patience, time and comittment
  • Perspective


2. Why Does Youth Engagement Matter?

  • Help youth find their purpose
  • Positive use of time
  • Youth are invested in something bigger than themselves
  • Hope for the future
  • They’re our kids!
  • Creates meaningful engagement for a lifetime
  • Avoid wasting time, energy and money on a strategy that doesn’t work
  • Matters for the future
  • Life change
  • Change to happen
  • It enhances the community (is better)
  • Empowerment
  • Better health and social outcomes in the community/ relationships/ individual
  • Higher protective factors, fewer risk factors
  • So they feel like they belong and matter
  • Future healthy adults
  • Because no matter who you are or where you come from every person has value and can contribute their voice to make a positive difference in their community
  • To ensure the youth can be productive citizens in the community
  • Empower the next generation
  • Create positive change
  • To understand their identity
  • Community change
  • For society!! and what’s to come
  • Our humanity is dependent on it
  • Students do not always know what’s best
  • It matters because it redirects their energy, it lets them know they matter and gives them a sense of purpose

3. When Does Youth Engagement Happen?

  • When we listen to our youth
  • When we really care
  • When a connection is made
  • Daily and when students initiate with direction
  • When you make it relate to them
  • When they can express their passion
  • When youth are in pain looking for something different/ more than their current experience and situation
  • All the time!
  • Throughout a lifetime
  • When you people are part of the decision-making process
  • When we create the space or join it!
  • When prevention folks put in extra effort
  • When I stay out of it!
  • When they are able to take possession (own it)
  • When they are listened to
  • When adults stop talking long enough to listen
  • When adults listen
  • When youth believe in what they are doing
  • When kids are treated as experts in the topic or “them”
  • When youth see beyond themselves


4. What Does Youth Engagement Do?

  • Encourages
  • Reduces abuse
  • Empowers youth
  • Improves communication
  • Leads the pack
  • Creates opportunity
  • “Plants seeds of change”
  • Changes directions of ones’ life
  • Empower!
  • Build life skills
  • Fosters leaders and followers for all sectors and levels of society
  • Creative outcomes
  • Moves mountains
  • Access most valuable resources: Our Youth!
  • Helps to ensure we create youth who will change the world
  • Provides vision
  • Builds relationship
  • Connects generations
  • Gives knowledge
  • Builds confidence
  • (can) Creates safe space
  • Empowers young people
  • Builds skills
  • Offers hope
  • Creates change agents in the community


5. Who Is Youth Engagement For?

  • The City of Columbus, families, and the continuous business growth of our city (purposeful, financially sound, etc.)
  • Communities, families and peers
  • Me
  • Everyone!
  • Middle and high school youth in Union County but also all youth and youth workers
  • For all the youth in the community and adults involved with them
  • All people invested in young people
  • Students of Lucas County – ALL of them!
  • Community
  • Whole community
  • Local, national and global communities
  • Inner city – low income families and youth! As well as the program facilitators and mentors
  • Summit and Medina County students
  • The community
  • The rural Appalachian youth covering 2,600 square miles we serve in Ross, Pickaway, Pike, Fayette and Highland Counties
  • Middle and high school students in Clement Co.
  • Afterschool program at middle school – 70% free/ reduced lunch

6. Where Does Youth Engagement Happen

  • Anywhere!
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationship
  • Where there is youth!
  • Family night engagement activities with afterschool students
  • Community
  • After school
  • In school
  • At home
  • Social network
  • Anywhere that you show intentional use of self
  • Wherever they are
  • Afterschool and in the community
  • With our communications
  • In our neighborhood
  • In the hearts and minds of our youth
  • Now – anywhere!
  • Across the social ecological model
  • Where there is love
  • Coalition meetings
  • School, home, anywhere
  • Parent-free areas (not the good youth engagement)
  • Everywhere
  • Anywhere there are youth
  • Where there is need and the desire to make a difference
  • Everywhere
  • Wherever the message and connection happens
  • In the streets
  • Afterschool youth center
  • In our homes
  • School
  • Summer camps
  • Online
  • Texting
  • In relationships


There was so much information shared in this GREAT seminar! Watch for another post coming with a great artistic creation by the group.


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Elsewhere Online

The Excitement of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning has become an essential arrow in the quiver of youth development and education. But are we doing it right?

As I present on youth engagement through Project Based Learning, I’m reminded of research I’ve done on youth-driven programming across the country. So often, when they’re leading projects, youth choose to take action and make a difference in the world around them. They want the vibrance and vitality of leading change, creating difference and fostering transformation in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities and the world.

That’s a tremendous opportunity! Think of the differences we could make as adult allies if we simply made space for young people to lead the projects they learn from, allowing them to create positive, powerful change in the world around us! Wow! Exclamation points!

Adam Fletcher's Project Based Learning Wheel
Adam Fletcher’s Project Based Learning Wheel positions youth engagement as the hub for all outcomes!

My research has shown me that Project Based Learning should have seven main components:

  1. POWERFUL Youth Engagement—At the core of all Project Based Learning should be youth themselves. Planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy provide potential learning opportunities throughout Project Based Learning as youth are scaffolded for action and supported in transformation.
  2. REAL Learning—Project Based Learning should have meaningful, substantive learning in its core. Learning shouldn’t be fake, pretend, meaningless or inconsequential.
  3. PRACTICAL Problems—Focused on actual challenges and meeting real needs, Project Based Learning should lift the lives of youth and their communities by facing practical problems head-on.
  4. LASTING Efforts—Sustained impact should be a goal of Project Based Learning at every turn. Focused on creating real change, young people and their lives should be transformed.
  5. OUTWARD Outcomes—Looking towards the world around us, Project Based Learning should be conducted toward and presented to people who aren’t involved, including adults, youth and families.
  6. CRITICAL Thinking and Action—Project Based Learning should center on social justice through positive, powerful action. Youth should consider the roles of oppression and empowerment, and the genuine possibilities for them to change the world.
  7. AUTHENTIC Action—Keeping it real is at the center of Project Based Learning when youth focus on what actually needs changed, what problems and challenges they actually face and are trying to solve, and what difference they make.

These components can allow the adult allies of youth—including youth workers, counselors, teachers and others—to enact meaningful, positive and powerful transformation in the lives of their participants. I’ve also learned that only then can we see the all of the positive outcomes that Project Based Learning fosters, including skills focused on Organization, Teamwork, Research; Procurement, Time Management, Project Management, and Problem-Solving. Other outcomes include knowledge about Social Change; Community Building; Project Design and Implementation; Leadership; Social Justice; Courage in Action; and Creating the Future.

If there are higher goals for youth engagement, I still haven’t seen them!

If you want, I hope you’ll share your knowledge and ideas about Project Based Learning in the comments section below.

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Elsewhere Online

  • Freechild Institute—Freechild supports youth and adults working together to change the world in positive, powerful ways. Examples, resources and more.

The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institute

The Freechild Project’s training for youth on politics training is customized to meet the needs of every community we serve. Generally, it includes five areas: Motivation, Knowledge Building, Skills Sharing, Action Planning and Reflection. Each of those areas can cover a variety of issues from a number of perspectives. The length of the training varies according to location and the amount of time our partners have available. Freechild has facilitated this particular training 20 times since we were founded in 2001.
Following is our flyer about this training. Call for more information, including more about the content, costs and our availability.

The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute
The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute teaches basic skills and knowledge to youth, and makes action plans for change!

The Rhythm of Engagement


There’s a rhythm of life that calls for each of us to feel and listen to it. Its in the footsteps we take, the handshakes we share, the kisses and hugs, the ways we type and write, and definitely in our breathing.

Its the rhythm of engagement.

Engagement, which is defined as the sustained connections we experience throughout our lives,  happens all around us all of the time. Every single one of us is engaged right now.

There are some people who are not engaged in things they want to be, or in ways we want them to be. They include:

  • Out-of-touch community workers
  • Disengaged students
  • Disconnected neighbors
  • Drifting romantic partners
  • Dispassionate workers
  • Puzzled retirees
  • Low performing salespeople
  • New entrepreneurs

In reality, everyone can benefit from feeling the rhythm of engagement in their lives. The folks above may specifically want to reconnect with the rhythm; you might too. That’s what I am working on providing next!

Share your thoughts below and ask questions if you want to learn more now, or simply wait for the coming weeks to see this next project to reveal itself. Engaging the disengaged is my goal; what’s yours?!?

Activity: Take A Stand

Take A Stand is an icebreaker that lasts five to twenty minutes. It can be used with any group size, and in order to facilitate it you’ll need a list of topics and signs (see below)

Facilitator Notes
This icebreaker works in more ways than one. Not only do you get your group thinking and taking a stand on topics that participants will have the chance to defend, but you get your group physically moving. You’ll need to prepare in advance—and the variations of this group ice breaker are only narrowed by your imagination.

Before You Arrive…
  • Bring topics to the session. Take A Stand is most effective if the topics about which you ask participants to take a stand are related to your session. These topics will let you move into related discussions and content at the appropriate time.
  • The topics you choose will help participants think about the topic of the session while getting comfortable talking with the other participants.
  • Take A Stand can also work well with groups who know each other and with strangers.
  • There are no right or wrong answers—just different opinions and feelings about the topic.
  • Select topics that are controversial without being divisively controversial. Topics focused on schools, education, youth may help you accomplish your purpose. Remember: you want participants opening up to each other, not closing down.


Step 1: Prior to the arrival of participants, turn your session room into a continuum. Do this by hanging a sign on each end of the room.

·         One sign should say: Totally Agree – 100%.

·         The sign on the other end of the room should say: Completely Disagree – 0%.

·         At the midpoint in the room, hang a third sign that says: Neutral or Undecided – 50%.

This provides your participants with guidance about where to stand when they take a stand in the group ice breaker.

Step 2: As participants arrive, ask them to take a seat as they normally would for your session.

Step 3: When everyone is seated, explain the following: 

o   You will present the group with a series of topics, statements, or conundrums.

o   Group members are to react to the presented statement by signifying the degree of their agreement or disagreement with the statement by taking a stand physically somewhere along the continuum. Point out the different locations where you hung the signs.

o   Once all participants have physically moved to the location that best represents their point of view, suggest that participants share their rationale with the people standing near them. Do that with each statement.

Step 4: When you’ve read through all the topics, lead an overall debrief of the exercise by drawing out the thoughts of various participants about why they took the stand they took.

After you’ve done the first part, ask the group whether anyone or anything in the room influenced the stand that they took took.

Sample Topics for the Take a Stand

Here are ideas for common group ice breaker topics.


  • My students would think less of me if I showed them I didn’t know or understand a topic in class.
  • School leaders like principals and school board members would be suspicious if I started engaging students in all classroom decision-making.
  • Students who ingratiate themselves with adults in schools receive extra privileges, favored treatment, and maybe, better grades.
Community Building

  • How important is developing community norms or guidelines to a project’s success?
  • How key is the role of nonprofits to your community’s success?

Youth Involvement
  •  Adults care more about enforcing policies than being youth advocates.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Presenting at 2013 National Service Learning Conference

I’m going to be presenting at the 2013 National Service Learning Conference with Lois Brewer of Service Learning Seattle/Seattle Public Schools and Shelley Billig from RMC.

Our session, called “Linkage Power! Classroom Based and Out-of-School Time Service-Learning Projects”, will be held at the convention center in room 502 on Friday, March 15th from 9am to 10:30.

The official description says, “The linkage between formal and informal in-school and out-of-school time learning opportunities is an effective model to validate high quality service-learning practice impacting student achievement in urban and highly diverse school settings. The Seattle Youth Engagement Zone project results support the high value of this linkage. This session will engage participants in examining their approaches to building relevance for students of color by linking formal and informal learning activities. Participants will collect linkage and partnership tips and best practices.”

I’ll be leading sections of the presentation about the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre, and general icebreakers. Should be awesome!

Contact me if you’d like to get together there – or message me at

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Essential Questions in Youth Involvement

I’m often asked for answers by folks who want to know exactly what to do. As many of my readers know, I don’t really give answers though. Instead, I’m a critical examiner, constantly asking questions and deconstructing answers that have been given.

Following are some essential questions I ask about youth involvement.

Step 1: Identify Why Youth Involvement
  • Have youth identified if they want to be meaningfully involved? If so, why do youth want to be meaningfully involved? If not, why not?
  • Have adults identified why they want to meaningfully involve youth ? If so, why do adults want youth to be meaningfully involved? If not, why not?
  • Is meaningful youth involvement seen as a learning tool? Is it being utilized as a pathway for youth to successfully meet their goals in life?
Step 2: Identify HOW Youth Will Be Involvement
  • What specific duties/tasks/assignments will youth have?
  • How will adults be involved?
  • How does meaningful youth involvement relate to the community at large?
  • How does meaningful youth involvement relate to formal organization or community activities?

Step 3: Figure out WHO Will Be Involved
  • Is the activity for traditionally or non-traditionally involved youth? If it is for non-traditionally involved youth, how will their involvement be ensured? How will it be sustained?
  • Is there equal representation from across the organization/group/community of youth targeted?

Step 4: Name WHAT Youth Will Be Involved In
  • Have clear goals or a distinct purpose been identified for youth to be meaningfully involved in?
  • Are there parameters for youth? Do they have complete autonomy, or are the roles for youth clearly defined ahead of their involvement?
  • Is there a distinct plan for educating, reflecting and assessing youth involvement?

Step 5: Identify WHEN Youth Involvement Will Happen
  • Is the activity in-class, during a pre-existing program time, during the school day, right after school, in the evening, on the weekends, or during a school break?
  • What accommodations have been made in order to acknowledge the specific nuances of youth schedules, i.e. homework, transportation, lost program time, etc?
  • How often will meaningful involvement occur within the youth’s life as a youth? During one day? Throughout a week? In a quarter or semester? Throughout one school year? Beyond?

Step 6: Say WHERE Youth Will Be Involved
  • Are youth meaningfully involved in their local community in other places?
  • Who controls the environments where meaningful youth involvement will occur? How do they affect meaningful youth involvement?
  • Do youth have opportunities to become meaningfully involved throughout their communities in other ways? Why or why not? How?
These are some of the essential questions. What else would YOU ask?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

8 Keys to Sustaining Youth Voice

Sustaining Youth Voice in schools, organizations or communities is complex – but not impossible. Research shows the following 8 keys are central to creating change that lasts in any organization’s climate.

  1. Policy– Create and foster systematic and sustainable engagement of Youth Voice. These policies can be community-wide and program-specific.
  2. Systems – Create or transform positions that embrace and promote Youth Voice. Regular staff positions, board membership or adjunct opportunities DO matter.
  3. Instruction – Teach your adults (and children and youth) well. Provide sequential, developmentally appropriate and constructivist training activities about Youth Voice, barriers to meaningful youth involvement, and taking action.
  4. Climate – Actively work to transform the way your community or organization feels. Key messages and healthy behaviors focused on engaging Youth Voice are important.
  5. Programs – Develop and maintain specific programs designed to emphasize and encourage Youth Voice within your organization and the larger community. Encourage that program to act as the vanguard for Youth Voice in your community, and constantly demonstrate their relevance to larger organizational goals.
  6. Funding – Don’t short change Youth Voice. Providing adequate support demonstrates commitment to young people and adults.
  7. Evaluation – Youth Voice is often relegated to the bins of “feel good” and “interesting” by decision-makers. However, research by Zeldin, Camano, Mitra and others clearly shows the significance of engaging young people. Advocates must grow comfortable using this data to demonstrate the substance of Youth Voice.
  8. Ongoing Support – Youth Voice isn’t a one-time or coincidental thing. Instead it must be a deliberate and ongoing process that must be expansive and adaptive, responding to the urgencies and needs of everyone involved.
I’m excited to help schools, districts, organizations and government agencies as they embark on this work. I also regularly share my partners, colleagues and allies’ info, too. Let me know what YOU need to succeed!

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at For more see

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Engagement or Involvement?

I have been talking with teachers and youth workers for the last 10 years about youth involvement. We’ve talked about classrooms, after-school programs, boards of directors, city councils, research projects, university classes… all kinds of different places. Somewhere along the way I was introduced to the notion of engagement as opposed to involvement. I was challenged to differentiate between the two, and after reading the research and literature I came away with a pretty clear picture. Here are my definitions:

  • Youth engagement is a personal response to surrounding stimulus. 
  • Youth involvement is any attempt to promote engagement through systemic efforts.
So you can see that in my book one leads to the next. For instance, we might strive to write a classroom lesson plan that engages students in water quality issues by appealing to the effect of water on their health, the health of their families, and their community’s economic livelihood. In order to engage them, though, we involve youth in writing the curriculum, facilitating activities and evaluating the class afterwards. In a youth program that might take the form of wanting to engage youth in caring about the elders in their neighborhood. We do that by involving them in an oral history project.
I think clarifying these terms helps identify how different elements of this conversation play into the picture. For instance, we can see that youth engagement, as the more nebulous term, captures the more cultural elements of this conversation, including:
In turn, youth involvement becomes the more concrete, structural effort. For instance:
All of these provide avenues for youth involvement. This framework can help us identify how and where we concentrate our efforts. If you are in an organization where you personally want to involve youth but the organization itself seems highly averse to the idea, perhaps you start with focusing on youth engagement. This would include doing a cultural assessment of your organization, either through a survey or focus group, and to really examine why your organization should reach out to youth. Conversely, if the people in your organization seem vested in the notion of youth engagement, perhaps its time to start building infrastructure to foster sustained youth involvement. 
Either way, its important to delineate the differences in these essential elements of effect youth programs. Good luck, and let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, ideas or other responses.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

YouthActionNet features Freechild

This from, a program of the International Youth Foundation:

The future of any democracy depends on the ability of young people to express their views and take action on issues that matter. What are the core principles that drive authentic youth engagement? How does one measure social change led by and for young people? Find out more in the Youth Voice Toolkit produced by The Freechild Project. Founded in 2001, Freechild advocates, informs, and celebrates social change led by and with young people around the globe. “Youth voice is about considering the perspectives and ideas of young people, respecting what everyone has to say, taking risks, listening, sharing, and working together,” writes Freechild Project Coordinator and toolkit author Adam Fletcher. The YouthVoice Toolkit includes guidelines for engaging youth, building positive relationships with adults, and assessing the extent to which youth voices are honored and supported within a given community.

To learn more, visit: See also, The Freechild Project’s Guide to Social Change led by and for Young People

Its nice to see the mainstream orgs buy into the Freechild message.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!