Today’s young people will be most impacted by a changing climate and should therefore be provided the opportunity to participate in and influence climate action. The California Youth Climate Policy (CYCP) Leadership Program, a joint program of the Sierra Club, Ten Strands, and UndauntedK12, has been designed to empower high school students to take climate action into their own hands.
This past spring, program partners came together to design a platform where youth leaders are encouraged to become a driving force behind meaningful climate action within their educational institutions.
Specifically, the program takes high school students from knowledge to action and equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to advocate for the introduction or enhancement of climate policy within their school or school district. This program is well positioned to be a game changer in leveraging the role that youth and policy can play in driving transformational change in California’s schools.
From Vision to Reality
In a swift three months, the concept of the CYCP Leadership Program transformed into a fully realized program. Upon the rollout of the application, the CYCP Leadership Program team initially anticipated and hoped for one hundred interested high school students. Yet, the applicant portal generated three times that many applications, underscoring the undeniable fervor of California’s youth to actively participate and shape the climate conversation.
From the deep application pool, the CYCP Leadership Program team was responsible for the difficult task of selecting forty-five high school students to be a part of the inaugural cohort. Being a virtual program, the cohort reflects impressive geographical diversity; the youth climate leaders represent eight of the eleven California County Superintendents’ Service Regions, thirty-one school districts, and sixteen counties.
In addition to the geographical diversity, the CYCP Leadership Program cohort includes individuals with a vast range of backgrounds, experiences, and stories. The first cohort is composed of eleven sophomores, fourteen juniors, and twenty seniors. Of the forty-five student leaders, forty students (89 percent) identify as non-white or mixed race. The majority of program participants attend conventional public schools (85 percent); however, there are five youth leaders who attend public charter schools and two students who are enrolled in private education.
A key part of supporting these youth leaders in the program is providing individualized mentorship that can guide students through their advocacy projects, as well as provide them support as they cultivate their leadership skills. By tapping into the networks of Sierra Club, Ten Strands, and UndauntedK12, we have recruited a phenomenal cohort of remarkable volunteer mentors. Many of the mentors are seasoned professionals, equipped with significant experience in the education system, while others have worked directly with youth advocates in the field. Some mentors are actually still youth themselves who are not in college and have lived experience advocating for board policy actions in their school districts while they were in high school.
The CYCP Leadership Program, in its dedicated effort to mirror the diverse California education system it serves, embodies a vast array of backgrounds and perspectives. This rich diversity amplifies our discussions, catalyzes creativity, and promotes a holistic grasp of issues. With such a diverse foundation, the program is poised to drive transformative change across California, bridging corridors and communities to form a unified pursuit of widespread climate action.
My Experience with the CYCP Leadership Program
As a facilitator, content creator, and program support in the CYCP Leadership Program, I have a front-row seat to observe the boundless potential and drive of the young climate leaders within the first cohort. Witnessing their zeal—evident from their immersion in the content-loaded pre-learning activities and their active participation in the July retreat and the August workshop—has truly been one of the most gratifying experiences in my young professional life.
In my opinion, the CYCP Leadership Program is remarkable due to its capability to channel the raw energy of youth towards well-defined, meaningful objectives. With every convening there is an undeniable current in the air—a blend of ideas, discourse, and the palpable optimism for influencing sustainable change within the California TK–12 education system. I exuberantly await observing the expansive ripple effect of our actions.
Voices from the Ground
The true essence of the CYCP Leadership Program can best be expressed by those participating in the program. I selected statements from a participant and a mentor that I believe encapsulate the experience of the CYCP Leadership Program to date:
- Hisami Olivia, participant: “I really appreciate the amount of effort that’s been put into all of the [CYCP Leadership Program] materials. It’s nice to have so much structure and clearly understand what needs to be done when and in what order to achieve my sustainable, action-oriented goals :). Thank you so much!”
- Helene Moore, mentor: “I am looking forward to hearing [my mentee’s] ideas for specific district policy changes. She has already successfully worked on a specific city ordinance change in Yountville, and I am confident that she will come up with a creative idea for her district.”
What Lies Ahead?
As of now, the climate leaders meet monthly both as a cohort for workshops and with their coaches. They are also working hard to build out their coalition support networks and meticulously designing their advocacy campaigns. Their ultimate goal is to present to their respective school boards in November a well-crafted and purposeful board action (resolution, policy, or regulation) that advances the development and implementation of environmental and climate action in their school communities.
The culminating event in the program, the Capstone Workshop or CYCP Leadership Program Graduation, falls on the second Thursday of December. This occasion promises not only to be a showcase of accomplishments and invaluable insights but also a clear vision for the journey ahead. By the end of this calendar year, I am confident that many of the participants will have undergone profound personal growth and set forth change that will resonate for years to come.
In essence, the California Youth Climate Policy (CYCP) Leadership Program is more than just an initiative to address climate change. The mission is to inspire and shape the future champions of long-lasting sustainable and socially just change. The CYCP Leadership Program stands firm in its conviction, echoing the indomitable spirit of youth, that when equipped with the right resources and mentorship, youth leaders have the potential to redefine the contours of our world.