Kids used to learn about civics in school. In fact, the original intent of public education was to prepare students to participate in our democratic society. In the past few decades, the focus of public education has turned sharply toward science, math, and literacy as we seek to help students develop employable skills. The fact is, students need both: preparation to participate in the workforce and preparation to participate in democratic society.

Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. They need to know how their governments and communities work, understand key issues and different perspectives, and be able to articulate their opinions with respect and civility. Through The Center for Youth Voice (CYV), young people learn about the democratic system and are trained in parliamentary procedure, the legislative committee process, debate, press relations, and lobbying techniques. Delegates learn by doing and can try their hand at leadership in an open, receptive and powerful learning environment.

The Center for Youth Voice is a non-partisan, statewide, youth civic education and leadership development initiative in which YMCAs, schools, and community organizations involve students in hands-on learning experiences that give young people across the state the knowledge, skills, confidence and desire to be community leaders and active citizens. Since its inception, it has encouraged students to be life-long, active citizens.  

The YMCA Center for Youth Voice is part of the national YMCA Youth in Government movement. Similar YMCA programs across the country involve thousands of teens nationwide in state-organized model-government programs. Students from every corner of the U.S. can immerse themselves in experiential civic engagement and to, quite literally, practice democracy. The nation’s first Youth in Government took place in 1936 in New York—Minnesota’s program began in 1946. Today, nearly 2,400 students in grades 7-12 from all over Minnesota and western Wisconsin attend YIG conferences each year, with 400 adult volunteers, alumni and YMCA professionals serving as advisors.