Education & Leadership
Children and teens’ future success is fostered by caring adults who make them feel loved, competent, happy and healthy today. That’s why Y staff and volunteers are also mentors and role models, sharing a part of this very important—but very inspiring—responsibility in helping youth realize who they are and what they are capable of achieving.
Closing the Achievement Gap
The Y believes all children and teens have potential. But research shows that many youth from underserved and low-income families need extra support in reaching this potential. They often start kindergarten underprepared and fall behind their peers as they progress through school. That “gap,” known as the achievement gap, presents not just immediate hurdles for these students, but also long-term challenges for us all.
The Y is working with caregivers, students and schools across the country to close the gap, piloting evidence-based programs that improve students’ educational readiness, engagement and outcomes, while helping them grow emotionally and physically, too.
Started in Houston, TX in 1967 to provide African American teens with a positive sense of self and aspirations for professional careers in the workforce, the purpose of YMCA Black Achievers is “to help teens of color set and pursue high educational and career goals resulting in graduation and acceptance to an institution of higher learning.” Black Achievers programs meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the year at local YMCAs, high schools or college campuses all over the country. Through academic aid, career exploration and mentoring, this program helps youth to raise their academic standards, develop a positive sense of self, build character, explore diverse college and career options, and learn from role models who inspire them to greater heights.
Leaders Clubs help develop youth ages 12 to 18 as leaders while fostering a culture of service. With adult advisors, teens have role models and mentors who can have a positive impact on their lives as they grow in their desire and ability to be a positive force in the community.
Youth and Government
Youth and Government is a national program of the Y that involves thousands of teens nationwide in state-organized, model-government programs. Students from every corner of the U.S. have the opportunity to immerse themselves in experiential civic engagement and to, quite literally, practice democracy. Teens from across every state meet in their local Youth in Government groups throughout the year to discuss and debate issues that affect citizens of their state and to propose legislation. The program culminates with teens serving as delegates at their state conference, debating bills on the floor of the legislature.
Counselor in Training (CIT) and Leader in Training (LIT) Teen Leadership Programs at Camp
The camp environment provides a unique opportunity for youth to build leadership skills, particularly in assisting counselors with younger campers. The goals of CIT and LIT camp programs are to teach the general skills of leadership that can be used at school, home and community (not just at camp.) For younger camp leaders (ages 13-15), the curriculum includes working with younger kids at camp, but often includes community components like volunteering at senior centers or YMCAs. Counselors-in-Training or "CITs" are the oldest campers who typically want to apply for a job at camp the next summer, maybe as a Jr Counselor or some other supporting role. They need to learn more specific skills for working with kids and co-workers, and more experience planning and leading activities. Both programs give kids age-appropriate challenges that build their skills, confidence and capacity for working with people of all ages.
Service Learning Resources
The Y is pleased to share resources that guide adults in helping youth identify their interests, and connecting those interests to volunteer and service-learning projects in their community. The survey and conversation with adults and other teens helps young people figure out what excites them, and what skills and passions they can share as part of the larger world.