San Mateo County, CA —The Youth Climate Ambassadors (YCA) Leadership Program, a joint effort between the County of San Mateo’s Sustainability Department and the County Office of Education to empower high school students to become leaders in climate action and sustainability, is being honored with a local award that celebrates innovative efforts in environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic vitality.  

The YCA Leadership Program, the first of its kind in California, engages 9th to 12th grade students across San Mateo County in a highly selective seven-month program that focuses on climate science, community action, and leadership development. YCA prompts students to deeply explore local and global climate issues and pursue opportunities for climate action in their communities. Through a combination of workshops, retreats, and projects, participants gain knowledge, skills, and experience to address the local and global climate crisis.

This year, the program is being honored by a Sustainable San Mateo County Sustainability Award, which will be presented in April. The award spotlights the unique approach the County, County Office of Education, and partners have taken to empower students in a new way of thinking about the environment and sustainability. 

“YCA brings together lived experiences, cultures, and ideas for climate action from all across the county. Bringing youth together in the movement for a more sustainable future is one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change,” said Carolyn Bloede, director of the Sustainability Department. 

For the past five years, the Sustainability Department (formerly the Office of Sustainability) has partnered with the San Mateo County Office of Education, Peninsula Clean Energy, Citizens Environmental Council, and Acterra to create a dynamic program for nurturing emerging climate leaders across San Mateo County. 

A total of 273 students have participated since its inception. 

Carly Peters, a Burlingame High School student who participated in the 2023 YCA program, said that the program empowered her “to be a leader and advocate for the environment” and that “the young people in our community are so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of this program. It really does empower youth to be a part of the sustainable future.” 

During workshops, students participate in community-building activities and critical thinking lessons, learning about topics such as research methods, systems thinking, and environmental justice. Through mentorship by YCA staff, students also develop tangible skills like public speaking, event organizing, and time management. Students apply these skills and knowledge in projects throughout the program, such as the Community Impact Projects.  

Community Impact Projects are local climate action events relating to a chosen topic, such as biodiversity loss or decarbonization. Students design and implement these projects in their own communities while collaborating with local agencies and organizations, such as Peninsula Clean Energy. These connections with community partners strengthen the impact of these projects by grounding advocacy and outreach in local challenges and opportunities while also creating opportunities for mentorship. Examples of past projects include the installation of rain barrels at school sites and hosting bike donation, refurbishing and distribution events in East Palo Alto. 

Participants have completed 113 Community Impact Projects. 

The YCA program is being recognized for its comprehensive approach to sustainability and climate action, particularly engaging with a diverse range of students from across San Mateo County. Crafting a holistic view of local climate action is achieved by leveraging extensive local data, networks and resources that are used to recruit students with diverse backgrounds from schools across the county. This proactive approach underscores the program's dedication to fostering inclusivity and broadening access to opportunities for all students.  

“The threats posed by climate change are front and center in the minds of our students,” said Nancy Magee, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools. “The Youth Climate Ambassadors Leadership Program builds students' confidence to tackle challenging problems, benefiting both them and their communities and creating the leaders our county and world need today and for the future.” 

The YCA Leadership Program is currently hosting its fifth cohort with 49 students from across San Mateo County, representing more than 20 local high schools.  

Learn more about the YCA Leadership Program