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Youth Programs
Exploratorium Explainers Over a hundred high school students a year work as floor staff at the Exploratorium. Photo courtesy the Exploratorium
Why would I go anywhere else? All my friends are at the science museum! There are so many places to be involved...
—YouthALIVE! teen, Science Museum of Minnesota

Science centers and museums foster positive adolescent development. Presented here are lessons learned from YouthALIVE! (Youth Achievement through Learning, Involvement, Volunteering, and Employment), an ASTC initiative that was supported from 1991-9 by the Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. YouthALIVE! provided financial support and professional development for a network of more than 60 science centers and youth museums that were, and in many cases continue to be, engaged in providing enrichment and employment opportunities for youth.

Meeting the needs of adolescent development
What participants get out of youth programs
Key components of youth programs
Youth Program Networks

Meeting the needs of adolescent development

The YouthALIVE! initiative was influenced by research from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, which concluded that every teen needs opportunities to:

  • increase her or his sense of self-worth
  • learn to respect people and things
  • learn and perfect new skills
  • stay focused on and motivated by her or his goals
  • force a connection to a community or group
  • build an identity based on his or her beliefs and experiences
  • form positive relationships with adults who can serve as mentors and role models
  • learn responsibility to self and community
  • acquire autonomy and accountability in decision-making
Based on A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in Nonschool Hours, Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1992
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What participants get out of youth programs

Museums and science centers are ideal places for youth programs because they combine three fundamental elements for healthy youth development: varied, substantial intellectual resources; a positive peer environment; and caring adults who can make a difference in young people's lives.

Evaluation, staff observation, and site visits to programs supported by the YouthALIVE! initiative documented benefits to youth from their participation. We found that:

Participants in youth programs develop intellectually. They
  • feel smarter
  • value education more highly
  • hone their creative problem-solving skills
  • perfect their critical faculties
  • become science literate
  • relish their access to technology
  • eagerly receive information and support to help them build their future
Participants in youth programs gain social competence. They
  • enhance their communication skills
  • develop positive peer support groups
  • develop leadership skills and the confidence to use them
  • are effective museum advocates/ambassadors
  • discover the joy of helping and teaching others
  • understand the value of team work
  • realize they have a new place to call home
Participants in youth programs learn about the world of work. They
  • seek out museum staff as mentors
  • realize that they can have aspirations and achieve their goals
  • appreciate their new opportunities to practice and master skills
  • receive respect and recognition for their accomplishments
  • appreciate the high expectations that museum staff have for them
  • become more aware of skills they already have and learn new ones
  • gain marketable work skills
  • feel valued by a larger institution/community
  • develop a code of ethics and a sense of responsibility to a larger community
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Key components of youth programs

Following is a list of ways young people have been involved with youth programs in science centers and museums. Included are both program types, such as after-school programs, and forms of engagement, such as cross-age teaching.

Explainers/interpreters—young people who generally work in the institution's galleries and display areas involving visitors more directly with the exhibits by discussing concepts, answering questions, and providing assistance with the operation of exhibits.

Demonstrators—young people who work with mobile carts or stations in a specific area of the institution where they give "shows" or lead activities that highlight an exhibit.

Paid Positions for Youth—an integral aspect of workbased learning programs, providing teens with incentive and motivation to stay involved.

Exhibit Development—brings teens together with museum exhibit staff. Teens provide fresh insight and enthusiastic assistance in conceptualizing, building, and testing exhibits.

Enrichment Classes—focus on examining and discussing a specific topic or issue. Topics range from scientific concepts to career exploration.

After-School Programs—provide structured activites, tutoring, and a safe haven for youth after classes let out in the afternoon duing the school-year.

Camps—are theme-based, intensive, short-term programs, which usually take place for several hours every day over several weeks during the summer.

Creative Arts—are activites such as drama, painting, writing, and computer graphics that immerse young people in other perspectives on their world and give them opportunities to express themselves and apply their knowledge.

Cross-Age Teaching—pairs older, more experienced teens, with younger adolescents who may have recently joined the program. Older teens develop a sense of responsibility for their peers, and young teens gain role models for their participation in the program.

Clubs—are open-ended and, often, less structured opportunities for younger teens to engage in hands-on enrichment projects.

Youth Leadership Development—provides teens with structured, hierachical experiences to explore their skills and talents as team members and agents of change in their communities.

Educational Goal Setting—enhances both younger and older teens' awareness of the importance of education. Activities such as field trips, financial assistance workshops, and sessions with guest speakers encourage them to pursue post-secondary education.

Field and Lab Research—pairs teens with scientists from the institution or local universities in actual research projects during weekends and the summer.

Youth Advisory Group—gives youth a voice in their programs and in the institution. Generally, teens elect representatives from their group to work with youth staff to improve the program and represent them with institution management.

Communication Skill Building—focuses on a wide range of applications, from one-on-one interactions and oral presentation skills, to written projects and technological interfaces. These skills are cultivated through peer coaching, on-the-job practice, and workshops.

Career Planning—engages the teens in learning about the world of work through workshops, guest speakers, field trips, discussions, mentoring, and job shadowing.

Mentoring by Adults—pairs teens with adults who work in the msueum or a specific segment of the community. These adults model successful behaviors and support the teens in pursuing their goals.

The strongest programs also include:

Staff Development—helps other museum staff develop a better understanding of adolescent development and the role of adult mentors within the program.

Family Involvment—usually centers around an event that participants plan and implement to showcase their accomplishments for their families.

Relationships with Schools—usually involve a collaborative relationship with teachers or guidance counselors who assist in recruiting and retaining young people in the institution's program.

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