This report offers an orientation and frameworks for how experiences of civic engagement and community connection can contribute to positive educational and life outcomes for minoritized youth. The impetus for this work comes from a growing recognition that experiences of contributing to communities, and participating in movements for racial and social justice, have profound and wide-ranging influences on life outcomes for youth. This report, commissioned by the Gates Foundation as part of a broader effort to develop more holistic and equitable approaches to assessing student success, aims to be a timely and accessible field guide to a rapidly changing arena of work.

It also builds on ongoing work at the Connected Learning Lab in reviewing and synthesizing research on ways that education and youth work can center programs on the culture, identity, and assets of diverse youth (Callahan et al., 2019; Ito et al., 2020). The report has four sections:

1. A focus on asset and action-based approaches to civic learning with a particular focus on experiential and action-based components that connect youth to communities and institutions that are meaningful for them.

2. Examining the impacts and long-term effects of participation in asset and action-based civic learning experiences. Youth who participate in these types of programs develop critical consciousness, civic self-efficacy, social skills; and develop relationships with their peers and members of the community.

3. Identifying the essential elements of asset and action-based civic learning programs and which elements seem to be most salient for youth. These elements include culturally relevant frameworks, integrating learning, action, and community connections, and centering the interests of youth. Development of more robust research on outcomes and impacts would ideally lead to broader investments and systemic integration of action civics and youth organizing in schools and civic institutions.

4. We conclude by looking at the kinds of challenges that asset and action-based civic learning programs are facing, and offer some recommendations for a variety of stakeholders moving forward.

The report includes case studies of programs that embody these elements, including Generation Citizen, Student Voice and Leadership, and youth organizing groups Ryse and Californians for Justice, as well as interviews with subject matter experts.

Authors: Mizuko Ito, Remy Cross

This report was enriched by an advisory panel of researchers and program leaders:

Eric Braxton
Executive Co-Director, Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing

Julio Cammarota
Professor of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies, University of Arizona

Elizabeth Clay Roy
Chief Executive Officer, Generation Citizen

Matthew Diemer
Professor in the School of Education, University of Michigan

Carlos Hipolito-Delgado
Professor in the School of Education and Human Development, University of Colorado Denver

Ben Kirshner
Professor in the School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder

Seanna Leath
Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia

Solicia López
Director of Student Voice and Leadership, Denver Public Schools

John Rogers
Professor of Education, UCLA, and Director, Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access

Veronica Terriquez
Professor of Chicana/o and Central American Studies and Urban Planning, UCLA, and Director, Chicano Studies Research Center