June 2004
Publication:
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

For those civic leaders interested in ensuring the continued vibrancy of American democracy, these findings transform the question of engaging with youth from whether to pursue youth oriented political programming to how to effectively construct programs that introduce young people to politics and encourage their meaningful involvement in government. In the report, several key themes emerge: first, the importance of direct mayoral interaction with young people as a means of inspiring them to political engagement; second, the need to emphasize programs that engage a broad swath of the community; and finally, the need to provide those youth who participate in city programs with meaningful responsibilities.

The Summer in the City Program, a partnership between Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and the U.S. Conference of Mayors was conceived as an effort to improve youth civic participation in city government. During the summer of 2003, a team of Harvard undergraduate students explored relevant programs in 11 cities. The best practices listed below and explained in this report are a synthesis of their findings. They are divided into four topic areas: Educational, Personal Contact, Direct Youth Participation, and Leadership Skills. In reviewing these topical areas, several key themes emerged: first, the importance of direct mayoral interaction with young people as a means of inspiring them to political engagement; second, the need to emphasize programs that engage a broad swath of the community; and finally, the need to provide those youth who participate in city programs with meaningful responsibilities. It is our hope that this report can lead to the dissemination and replication of these and similar programs, so that today’s youth are equipped with the political tools necessary for responsible citizenship.

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