Maximizing Youth Leadership in Out-of-School Time Programs: Six Best Practices from Youth Driven Spaces

Jamie Heng-Chieh Wu, Alison Shereda, Sara T. Stacy, John Kenneth Weiss, Megan Heintschel


This paper aims to provide strategies for youth-serving organizations to maximize opportunities for youth to develop leadership skills within the out-of-school time program context. The sample includes 5 youth-serving agencies who participated in the Youth Driven Spaces initiative led by a Midwest program. Data for this project included observations of youth–adult meetings, field notes from youths’ reflections on key model activities, and interviews with adult staff to identify common challenges and supportive solutions. We identified 6 emergent themes for supporting youth leadership: (a) engage youth in meetings, (b) create opportunities for youth to learn how to be leaders, (c) recognize resistance to youth voice, (d) encourage youth and adults to share constructive feedback, (e) navigate youth–adult boundaries, and (f) practice intentional strategies to retain youth and to onboard new youth and staff. Results provide concrete strategies for practitioners and researchers to empower youth with the skills and resources they need to be effective leaders.


youth leadership; out-of-school time programs; youth-adult partnership; youth development; youth voice; youth-driven practice

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