Youth Voice: An Educational Movement that Advances Social and Emotional Learning

Members of New York City's Student Voice Collaborative after a recent visit to the city's Department of Education. Members of New York City’s Student Voice Collaborative after a recent visit to the city’s Department of Education.

This page is dedicated to promoting and documenting an important new movement in American education: Youth Voice.

Youth voice refers to the ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people. The term “youth voice” is frequently associated with a variety of youth development activities, including service-learning, youth research, youth leadership training, and youth involvement in school and community projects in which youth play significant roles as project designers, developers, and leaders. Engaging youth voice is considered an essential element of effective organizational development among community and youth-serving organizations.

CASEL has been in contact with school districts and initiatives supporting youth voice and the cultivation of SEL across the nation. These efforts began in May of 2013 when a diverse group of young leaders gathered from the Chicago area and presented at the CASEL Forum. They communicated a powerful message about the role youth voice could play in building the SEL movement. We will use this page as a platform to highlight youth voice initiatives and share best practices where SEL and youth voice intersect. We will spotlight different organizations and their demonstration of youth voice through media such as videos, interviews, poetry/artwork, and more.

Roberto Rivera, a predoctoral SEL research fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago identified by the Search For Common Ground Coalition as a Top Young Change Agent, will direct this effort. He believes that youth voice is a key to achieving the full potential of SEL. If you know of an organization or program that serves as a good example of youth voice and SEL, please have them reach out to us at
Youth participating in a mikva challenge organizing effort.

Mikva Challenge: A Stong Advocate for Youth Voice

Mikva Challenge, a powerhouse in youth Youth participating in a mikva challenge organizing effort. voice, has been working for almost 20 years to amplify the voices of youth in the Chicago area. The organization grew from having a couple of programs serving a few dozen youth to currently serving more than 6,000 youth in over 130 schools in and around Chicago. Read more



Students Take the Lead in Fargo, North Dakota

Teenagers participate in a Teenagers participate in a get-acquainted activity, part of the 7 mindsets program in Fargo, North Dakota. get-acquainted activity, part of the 7 mindsets program in Fargo, North Dakota.

Imagine a community so committed to the empowerment of youth and their cultivation of social and emotional competencies that local funders, businesses, after-school programs, parents, and schools have committed themselves to this goal. Imagine a community where adults realize that their most powerful tool for engaging youth is to model social and emotional competencies in their lives, to incorporate them into their workplaces, and to embody the idea and the dream that social and emotional competence is a foundation not just for education but for life. What we are describing is not some social and emotional learning utopia but the city of Fargo, North Dakota, and a citywide movement that started with youth voice.

Read more…

Featured Program: The Student Voice Collaborative, New York City

Student leaders in the Student Voice Collaborative participate in an organizational meeting. Student leaders in the Student Voice Collaborative participate in an organizational meeting.

Currently located in nine New York City high schools, the Student Voice Collaborative (SVC) involves student leaders in developing and implementing projects to improve school climate, enhance communication between students and adults at the school, and improve secondary education throughout the city. In addition to developing individual school-based projects, SVC has created a detailed rubric that SVC students use as participants in school assessment teams with the goal of improving school climate. Read an article about the SVC with more information and details. Click here to view the SVC rubric. Click here to download a guide produced by SVC for students reviewing their schools. What Kids Can Do has produced a video featuring the rubric. View the video.

Resources on Youth Voice

  • What Kids Can Do. Based in Providence, R.I., What Kids Can Do (WKCD) is a national nonprofit founded in 2001 that supports adolescent learning in and out of school. Using digital, print, and broadcast media, WKCD presents a dual message: the power of what young people can accomplish when given the opportunities and supports they need and what they can contribute when we take their voices and ideas seriously. The youth who concern WKCD most are those marginalized by poverty, race, and language, ages 12 to 22. Go to website.
  • Students at the Center. This organization synthesizes and adapts for practice current research on key components of student-centered approaches to learning and deeper learning outcomes. Go to website.
  • Research on the importance of youth voice from the Search Institute. Go to website.
  • Education Week Op Ed “Recasting At-Risk Students as Leaders.”

Roberto Rivera

Roberto Rivera is a leading proponent of youth voice and a close colleague of CASEL. In addition to his involvement as a predoctoral student in the Social and Emotional Learning Research Group at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rivera leads The Good Life Alliance, an organization that publishes multimedia educational tools and trains educators, youth workers, and parents to connect positive youth development to community development. As a CASEL collaborator, Rivera is working to establish a nationwide alliance of youth voice advocates and organizations.

Download an interview with Roberto Rivera in which he describes his personal journey from being a student labeled as having learning disabilities to an accomplished scholar, social entrepreneur, and youth advocate.

Click here to view Roberto Rivera’s inspirational June 2014 TEDx Talk on youth voice titled “Hip-Hop(e).”