Students from the three local Lompoc Valley high schools must apply and qualify through an application and interview process, which is under the direction of the Board of Trustees of the Youth Leadership Lompoc Valley Program. Many of the students selected are not performing to their fullest potential. Grade point averages have varied from 1.86 to 4.0. The application and interview process were designed to identify diamonds in the rough. After selection, students participate in an intensive two-day retreat that challenges students to expand their personal horizons, while at the same time teaching them the importance of team and community. The retreat includes team building activities and staged situations that will break up the groups that form.
Students participate in full-day events centered on an industry or theme. Topics usually include law enforcement, military, aerospace, education, business and economics, quality of life and health and human services. Leaders in the topic fields work with students providing hands-on experiences and participation in community activities. Students are exposed to various careers while participating in community activities. Mentors from the community are found so students can “shadow” in their areas of particular interest. One of the early experiences for each YLLV group is to be taken to a team-building obstacle course, the Chumash Challenge.
Teachers in the Lompoc Unified School District have participated in School-to-Career and/or Service-Learning training. This allows them to fully appreciate the role these programs can play in their students’ lives and education. It also gives them the tools to incorporate YLLV into the curriculum. Experience in the community becomes a basis for critical reflection in the classroom about the nature of democracy. Lessons in the classroom become a basis for examination of the citizen’s role in the community.
Business leaders, community leaders and a member of the legislature interact with students and participate in the end of the year reception and graduation. Students are individually honored and receive a yearbook printed just for program participants. Follow-up activities are planned for the subsequent year.
Students who have participated in the program tell of anecdotal influences on their lives. They changed who their friends were – they volunteered in the community – they thought differently of their two working parents. However, there is statistical proof of change as well. A 1997 study reported that service learning is “associated with greater student engagement with schools, better attitudes towards schools, better attendance, fewer disciplinary actions and fewer behavior problems.” Sixty-two percent of the YLLV participants from 1999 through 2002 posted gains in their GPA’s. Some were as high as a whole point. One student entered the program with a 2.86 GPA and finished high school with a 3.80. Tardiness decreased for 50 percent of the students. One student’s tardies dropped from 40 in junior year to 14 in senior year. Forty percent of the students in the program improved their attendance. Of those students with a GPA of less than 3.0, attendance improved in all but two cases. Their SAT-9 reading scores improved as a group by 12 percent. For the group of students under 3.0 GPA, scores went up an average 25 percent.