Developing our Youth as Community Leaders
Youth Leadership Lompoc Valley (YLLV) is a program for high school students entering their junior year of high school and designed to motivate and empower the students through team building, issues-related seminars, community projects and interaction with community leaders. The program is a collaboration with the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Lompoc Unified School District, which led to the program’s formation in 1998. The program is an investment in the future of the Lompoc Valley through the education of developing our youth as community leaders.
YLLV builds future community leaders, creates opportunity to explore careers, links education to one’s role in a democracy and gives students team experiences. It bridges socio-economic gaps at each site and between rival schools. Students look beyond their circle of friends and see themselves as part of the larger community. Therefore, students will, through their actions, affect other students and be ready to step into leadership roles within the community.
One of the program’s objectives is to counter the myth that today’s students don’t care about their communities and to create a service learning program to serve the community and students.
Program participants interact with the community and each other, overcoming preconceived notions of who people are and what they do and believe in. When students return to their home schools, all benefit from their broadened view of community and understanding that a democracy is more than taking – it requires giving.
Another innovation is that students across the spectrum make up the class. Educators now sit on the Board of Trustees with former student YLLV participants, business owners, the Chamber and Education Foundation. This creates interaction and open dialog between new segments of the community.
The program is exemplary because it is inclusive and breaks down barriers while engaging the students.
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.
Many communities struggle with the dual problem of student apathy toward school and community. Lompoc created a successful program that provides immediate benefits as well as the potential for long-term benefits. The investment of $6,500 annually is expected to pay large dividends in the future.
The Chamber has been a significant force in the history and development of the community and it has been interesting to note that our forefathers had great foresight. In those days, Chambers of Commerce devoted themselves almost exclusively to retail sales but the collaborators who built the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau realized that business would prosper only if the community did, and that the best way to insure this prosperity was to work together as a group in developing the facilities needed to make Lompoc the ideal place to live. To more clearly reflect the nature of business the Board of Directors at their February 1998 meeting changed the name of the organization to the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. The addition of Visitors Bureau to the name also provides additional economic opportunity for the community through access to new visitor related programs.
That philosophy remains intact today as we witness the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau reaching out to the community in dozens of ways ranging from creating jobs and supporting economic development to supporting education, the arts and leadership programs, to name a few.
Sustainability for this program comes from its community support. The Lompoc Community Development Foundation was created in 1999 as a subsidiary corporation of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau to provide an opportunity to fund new programs and sustain existing programs such as YLLV.
Education has remained a priority for the Chamber based upon the premise that business and education partnerships strengthen the economic and quality of life aspects of the community. These activities include the YLLV program. Due to its continued success, YLLV has the support of community organizations and businesses and works cooperatively with Vandenberg Air Force Base, Lompoc Unified School District, Lompoc Police Department and Lompoc Healthcare District, to name a few. Connected to district, county, state plan and commitment to all students.
The national/state Service Learning and School-to-Career movements stress the need to expose students to future careers and opportunities. YLLV does just that, but from the perspective of the students’ future civic duty. YLLV, like apprenticeship and school-to-work, contextualizes student learning. It provides an environment in which students can acquire organizational, team, problem-solving and other skills, attitudes and capabilities necessary for future work and learning. The school district’s mission statement calls for all students to succeed. The emphasis is on all. This program demonstrates that in a very real way. Rather than just trying to attract top students or athletes, active recruitment ensures a representative mix of students from the district’s three high schools. The program has included students with GPA’s of 1.86 through 4.0. When they leave the program, the students believe they can succeed and that working together improves their chances of success.
Ability to Replicate
The Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Lompoc Unified School District have assisted other communities in initiating similar programs in their areas. By utilizing extensive documentation created throughout the project, it is easier for other communities to establish similar youth programs in their areas. The statewide emphasis on School to Career/Service Learning has also made funds available for other programs.