As part of NLC's continuing efforts to promote youth participation in local government, municipal officials are encouraged to bring high school students with them to both NLC conferences as youth delegates. Below is advice for adult chaperones to help youth delegates make the most of their conference experience.
Youth are welcome to attend any and all sessions in the program. Please note, however, that the conference does not include a specific "youth track," and the conference program includes only a few sessions designed solely for youth delegates. There are a wide variety of workshops that may be of interest to youth (education, youth violence prevention, afterschool, preventing childhood obesity, youth civic engagement, etc.).
Whether you are a chaperone, a local elected official, or a city staff person coordinating a youth council, you have a special role to play. You are assuming responsibility for youth delegates throughout the conference. Supporting young people's participation doesn't mean only managing logistical details; it is also providing emotional support and encouragement of their participation. However, you will still be able to enjoy the conference as a full participant and, with a few added steps, be an ally for the youth. The following guidelines may help you:
Be a good listener
You may have the opportunity to hear what youth really think about the conference. For many of them, this is a totally different environment from what they are used to. They may not have experienced the world of business suits and agendas before. This may discourage them from speaking up or feeling comfortable at first. If they express frustration or confusion, don't take comments personally. They are coming to you because they see you as a caring adult. Take advantage of this as an opportunity to connect with them.
Review the program as a team at home
Bring your group together to talk about what will go on at the conference and to ask questions about the National League of Cities and what it does. Download the agenda and list of workshops from the Web site. Explain them and discuss how you and the youth can use what you learn at the conference when you get back home or to school.
Connect youth with their municipal officials
This helps them understand the broader significance of the conference for their hometown officials. These connections can be an informal meeting, a meal together, or the opportunity to accompany the local officials to a workshop. If possible, arrange times for these connections before leaving home; the large conference attendance may make it difficult to run into each other.
Review the program on-site
Take 15 minutes before each conference day to look at the agenda and help the young people pick out workshops and sessions they want to attend. Ask them if they want to attend sessions in pairs, as a group, or solo.
Chaperones are encouraged to attend the orientation session for youth, as well as other youth delegate sessions.
Help coordinate cash
Most young people don't have a lot of cash to spend on transportation and food. Try to get petty cash from your organization to pay for these expenses up front.
Support young people in being visible
In an adult-oriented environment, it can really be intimidating for young people to be outgoing. Keep asking them what they think, and encourage them to support each other. Sit by them during workshops, and remind them that it is important that they speak up about issues of importance to them. At the same time, provide opportunities for them to be independent (e.g., choosing and attending workshops on their own).
All youth age 15-18 who participate in the 2013 Congress of Cities may have additional opportunities to provide advice to NLC during the course of the year, receive information from NLC occasionally, work toward the establishment of youth councils in local communities, and interact with each other on matters of common interest.
This advice for youth and adults is based in part on material prepared by Youth on Board. Youth on Board and other local and national resources and programs are described in NLC's action kit on Promoting Youth Participation.