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Note from the editor.

Efforts to engage young people in civic life are central to the mission of the National Civic League, not just because of the cliche, however true, that youth are vital to the future of our communities.

Increasingly, civic organizations and youth development professionals are recognizing the equal importance of young people to the here and now.

Every year, NCL's All-America City award program honors ten communities for outstanding civic achievement. Youth engagement and development programs are often featured by these communities in the applications they submit to participate in the awards program. More recently, the National Civic League has instituted the MetLife Foundation Ambassadors in Education Award for teachers who successfully build relationships between their schools and the surrounding communities--and those relationships often involve students as well as parents and staff.

The National Civic Review has also done its part over the years in highlighting efforts to engage young people in their communities. In fall of 1997, I edited an issue of NCR on the role of youth in community renewal, which thoroughly debunked the widespread notion that "Gen Xers," as they were then described, were civic underachievers. The issue included illuminating articles, mostly from youthful authors, on everything from the urban youth culture to national service programs for the environment and for schools.

Last year we devoted an issue to the trend of colleges and universities adopting service-learning curricula and fostering civic engagement programs that involved their students directly in community efforts. The issue inspired C-Span to cablecast a friendly debate between David Caputo, the president of Pace University in New York, and Stanley Fish, a former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Chicago, on the role of higher education in such efforts.

The current issue, for the most part, focuses on young people of high school age and younger, highlighting new directions in efforts to promote civic engagement and productive relationships between youth and their communities. In this issue, leaders in the field discuss trends, opportunities, challenges, and successes in the world of youth civic engagement.

The guest editors for this issue are Robert Sherman and Jee Kim of the Surdna Foundation's Effective Citizenry program, which supports young people in their efforts to take direct action to solve problems in their schools, neighborhoods, and communities. They have ably compiled articles on important and innovative programs and approaches. Most of the authors are practitioners (and some academics and experts) from groups and organizations that promote direct action by young people in efforts to deal with the challenges they face in their everyday lives.

If there is a recurring theme in this issue of the review, it is the new ways in which youth are participating directly in civic engagement and human development programs, to their own advantage and to the enrichment of those same programs. Whether it is a youth radio project in Berkeley, California, or an effort to critique and strengthen school reform efforts imposed from the powers that be in New York City, direct involvement by youth is on its way to being the rule and not the exception.

"Across the country, young people are increasingly sitting at the tables where important decisions are made," write Shepherd Zeldin and Carole MacNeil in their contribution to this issue. "State agencies, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations are beginning to endorse youth in governance as central to their mission. Youth are serving as members of boards of directors and key advisory groups, and they are collaborating with adult staff in key functions such as program design, budgeting, hiring staff, community outreach, public relations, and assessment."

Just a note on a matter of editorial decision making: because we had such a wealth of materials in the essay section of this issue, we decided not to run our usual section of shorter, department articles. This is not a trend. We will resume the usual section of four departments--political reform, community building, local government, and trends in civic engagement--in the next issue.

We would like to thank the Surdna Foundation for its generous support in making this issue of the National Civic Review a success. We hope the ideas and analysis contained in these essays provide valuable insight to our readers and to others working in their communities to promote a more direct and active role for youth in American civic life.

Michael McGrath

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Author:McGrath, Michael
Publication:National Civic Review
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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