In December 2020, 50 high school leaders from 16 schools across the county successfully graduated from the San Mateo County Youth Climate Ambassadors (YCA) Program, a new initiative aimed at deepening youth’s knowledge in climate change, building individual skills, and growing the capacity of youth to address climate change. The program was launched in January 2020 by the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability, San Mateo County Office of Education, and Burlingame’s Citizens Environmental Council.
Throughout the year, youth leaders participated in educational workshops twice a month and two retreats, one of which was in-person before gatherings were limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program successfully transitioned online, and participants continued to learn complex environmental issues and strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change. Despite all of the challenges brought about by the global pandemic and climate disasters, the leaders collectively implemented 27 community impact projects focused on biodiversity, energy and transportation, food, water, or waste.
“From YCA I’ve learned to read more into my daily actions and how they impact the planet, and also to question things such as what really happens to the garbage I throw away and where my food and water comes from,” shared one 2020 youth ambassador.
Data collected during the year shows that the experience increased students’ knowledge of climate change and empowerment. At the start of the program, only 50 percent of students felt knowledgeable about climate change, and 12 percent felt empowered to make a difference. There was a significant increase in both areas by the end of the program, with 97 percent of graduates feeling very knowledgeable about climate change and 91 percent feeling empowered to make a difference.
Each youth leader captured their experience and the effects of their community impact project in a case study and final presentation and officially graduated in early December at a successful virtual capstone event. All graduates will join the San Mateo County Environmental Youth Leadership Network and continue to advocate for and work towards a more sustainable and climate-ready future.
“Being a Youth Climate Ambassador has been an incredible learning experience," said another participant. "I’ve been able to grow both as a climate activist and a human being because of the support I've received from the staff and my fellow ambassadors.”
The second cohort of the YCA Program successfully kicked off in January 2021 with a virtual retreat on Saturday, January 23rd. Learn more about the YCA program on the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability website.