Community Leadership Institute trains high school students to be leaders in issues of diversity and justice in schools, communities
From left, Juan Daniel Muñoz, Hailey Goodner, Allan Arena Rodriguez and Just Communities staff member Daniel Elenes practice leadership skills at the Community Leadership Institute at Ojai Valley School. The group was role playing a scenario in which they witnessed inappropriate behavior at school and was practicing different techniques for appropriately intervening in the situation. (Just Communities Central Coast photo)
Family, friends, educators and community members gathered at Ojai Valley Schoolon Friday afternoon to hear how the next generation of Central Coast student activists and volunteers plans to increase social justice and advocacy within their local schools and communities.
Each summer, Santa Barbara and Ventura county high school students who display leadership skills or potential are selected to participate in the Community Leadership Institute. The eight-day residential program was created by the nonprofit Just Communities Central Coast to train local youth to become leaders in issues of diversity and justice, while granting them 48 hours of community service.
“It’s a chance for high school youth to explore and discuss issues of social justice, ranging from issues involving race, gender and sexual orientation, to social and economic class,” explained Alan Goff, a Just Communities program manager. “We teach them how to be positive change agents within their communities.”
After completing seven days of the program, student participants present pre-action plans and proposed projects to their group members as well as to other members of their community. The intent is to demonstrate their skills and capabilities as newly created social justice leaders interacting with their local communities as student leaders and role models.
“They have developed the social awareness and vocabulary necessary for generating a discussion about issues of justice on a global scale, as well as within their local communities,” Goff added.
Jarrod Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities, also described how students who have completed the CLI program have created similar student programs and organizations involving social justice and providing their peers with an alternative to gang life.
“We are really helping to make communities and schools the best places possible for students and educators,” said Schwartz. “We provide a variety of trainings that are helping communities and neighborhoods become more equitable and inclusive for all members.”
Jorge Flores, a current youth leader volunteer for the CLI program and past participant, said his personal learning experience with Just Communities helped him develop the skills necessary for becoming a better change agent. Within his alma mater, San Marcos High School, Flores helped create a Peace SPEAK week focused on peace education and awareness for oppressed communities, as well as frequent workshops and training aimed at increasing understanding and advocacy in schools.
“It helped me become a better public speaker and really opened my eyes to a lot of different issues I’ve become passionate about,” Flores said. “The social justice issue aspect really stuck with me.”
Established in 2001 as the National Conference for Community and Justice for California’s Central Coast, Just Communities became its own community-based organization and founding member of the National Federation for Just Communities in 2007 under the direction of Schwartz.
According to Schwartz, Just Communities hosts many workshops for local school districts, teachers and parents aimed at addressing academic achievement gaps between students of color and Caucasian students, as well as developing strategies for all students to achieve at the highest possible levels.
“We also have a Safe Schools program, which helps create safer learning environments for students who come from, or identify with, historically oppressed communities,” added Schwartz. “And Just Communities just completed a series of trainings with the Santa Barbara Police Department aimed at creating better police relations with gay and transgender communities in the local area.”
From youth activism and community fundraising efforts, to scholarship programs and student organizations, Just Communities, along with the CLI program, have helped foster a new wave of social justice leadership and volunteerism among high school students.