Winter 2020

Youth-Community Partnership: Engaging Youth in Active Participation in Community

Photo courtesy of Lori Joe, Kimberley Youth Action Network

Supporting student learning benefits not only the student but often expands to transform our local environment and community.  Creating youth-community partnerships can establish ways for students to develop experiences of collaboration and mentorship towards leadership skills. Supporting diversity in schools argues that we must create opportunities of 21st century skills for students to obtain the skills.  The Kimberley Youth Action Network (KYAN) in Kimberley, BC, led by Youth Coordinator, Lori Joe, guides and facilitates opportunities for High School students to engage in diverse activities encompassing learning related to technology, environmental action, or art interests. These high interest, learner-led opportunities foster innovation, digital literacy, career and life skills through youth-community partnership.

Creating a youth-community partnership, KYAN supports many of the 21st century learning skills of the Ministry of Education’s (2019) skills for supporting diversity in BC schools: 

  • functional numeracy and literacy
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • creativity and innovation
  • technological literacy
  • communications and media literacy
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • personal organization
  • motivation, self-regulation and adaptability
  • ethnics, civic responsibility, cultural awareness

Funded by the Columbia Basin Trust, KYAN meets each week at the local High School in a space provided by the High School for the group.  At these meetings, the students who arrive are able to plan, organize and make decisions about learning experiences that they are interested in that may happen in the community.   Leadership is a foundational goal of KYAN.  Working towards leadership, students are able to find their passions, connect with mentors, be mentors to others and become leaders. 

Many projects are on the horizon for the KYAN students.  In the area of technology learning, the Full STEAM group is currently building their own CNC machine.  With this machine, the intention is to generate revenue from the projects they make to put back into other Full STEAM projects.  For example, to support green initiatives in the community, the students will make take out boxes to replace the styrofoam ones that are often distributed by restaurants.  While having a designated space would be ideal to eliminate the process of laying out and cleaning up projects, the group has recently been fortunate to partner with the local Fire Hall and work on assembling their CNC machine there.

For students interested in art experiences, KYAN has recently partnered with the local arts and cultural centre to host their first “Teen Pizza & Paint Night” where many students came to paint and eat and socialize while learning from a local artist.  The success of this event encourages KYAN to establish this as a monthly event where they can invite different local artists each time and learn a repertoire of art styles and techniques in a fun environment. Partnership in the community with local artists and the cultural and arts centre provides the opportunity for youth engagement.

Currently, in collaboration with a local ecologist, students are engaged in an environmental project of reforestation.  Forest fires have diminished the white bark pine in the region.  Students have germinated seeds of white bark pine at the school learning of the important benefits of this tree.  White bark pine offers community benefits of watershed protection, but it is also important for wildlife habitat.  Clark’s nutcracker a seed dispersing bird in the Kootenay region, while grizzly bears rely on white bark pine as a food source. 

In rural areas especially, it can become very demanding to ask teachers to fill every shoe and provide every learning experiences that students need. Subsequently, the role of teachers is no longer as expert (Ministry of Education, 2019). Through youth-community partnership learning opportunities, Lori Joe, as Youth Coordinator from an outside agency, ensures facilitation and guidance, while students are able to make decisions about what projects they want to work on, who they may want to learn from and where they will learn whether in a classroom, online or in communities. She states, “Our mission is to encourage youth to take a leadership role in their community through active participation” (L. Joe, personal communication, Dec 17, 2019). 

With KYAN’s youth-community partnerships, students are able to demonstrate leadership in not only developing their 21st Century Learning skills, but also in making their community better in different ways.  While the program is funded externally, the local High School inviting Lori Joe into the school, providing space for the weekly meetings, and often providing transportation, which we know can be costly and detrimental to any program’s success. To conclude, collaboration and mentorships enhance the roles of teaching and learning for the students.  Not only are the students mentees learning from others, they are finding opportunities to become mentors and teaching what they have learned to community members and to students in other schools.  In 21st Century Learning theory, students have many ways of obtaining the information they need on many subjects, including access to learning opportunities.  Through the Kimberley Youth Action Network, active engagement in their own learning strengthens their skills and prepares them with abilities to lead, collaborate and mentor, preparing them for active participation in community.

Ministry of Education. (2019). UDL supporting diversity in BC schools: 21st Century Learning. Retrieved from

E.D. Woodford is a former Principal and works as an Instructor at the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge Calgary Campus and at Thompson Rivers University. She is passionate about inclusive education and 21st Century Learning theory.

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