October 11, 2011
More than 170 youth representing 17 middle and junior high schools from throughout Tulare County will participate in a summit to kick off the Step Up Youth Challenge from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday at the Visalia Convention Center.
The Step Up Youth Challenge is a seven-month program designed to engage a diverse group of junior high students in a service learning-based Challenge Project that impacts their school culture and community. Schools completing a project will compete in a challenge to win grants for their school. The program is sponsored by the Tulare County Gang Prevention Task Force, whose goal is to decrease gang activity and support the growth of positive options for youth throughout Tulare County.
Schools participating in the summit on Thursday will attend various workshops to help them create a plan to implement a Challenge Project to address a theme that is locally important to their school or community. For example, schools might address gangs, drug abuse, peer pressure, bullying, self-esteem, and suicide prevention.
“One of the most important features of Step Up Youth Challenge is that the projects developed for each campus will be youth-designed and youth-driven,” said Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. "We know from experience that youth-driven projects have a greater potential for success as students take ownership in the process. We are anxious to see what develops and track the positive affects at each school."
Step Up Youth Challenge Planning Committee member Frank Escobar, an after school program manager with the Visalia Unified School District, said the summit will be a high-energy learning environment that aims to motivate student participants.
"For middle school-aged youth, it’s all about packaging the message the right way. The Youth Challenge Summit will feature experienced youth speakers delivering powerful messages supporting the event themes wrapped around fun and engaging activities and entertainment," Escobar said. "Our ultimate goal is that the students participating in the Challenge Summit will walk away educated, equipped and inspired to make a difference back on their campuses and in their communities."
Youth Challenge Targets Junior High School Students
Step Up Youth Challenge Chairman and District Three Supervisor Phil Cox said this program was designed based upon feedback from members of the gang prevention task force to target youth at a younger age.
“Previous countywide summits have targeted high school-aged youth and have been extremely successful,” Supervisor Cox said. “The one common theme at previous planning meetings, however, has been that we need to target our efforts at the middle school level. We believe the Step Up Youth Challenge will have a positive impact for all schools participating.”
Tulare County Probation Chief Janet Honadle said targeting youth prior to high school is one key to gang prevention.
“Middle school is a transitional period, and, for many middle school-aged youth, being cool and identifying with a group becomes essential,” Chief Honadle said. “Providing positive experiences like the Step Up Youth Challenge could be a life changer for some of the youth participants who will be asked to engage in a project to benefit their community.”
Youth Challenge Timeline
After the summit, participants will have until March 2012 to implement and complete their project. Participants will turn in a report on their Challenge Project and enter in a competition to win a grant for their school.
All participants will be recognized at red carpet event on April 12, 2012 at the Fox Theatre in Visalia.