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LEAPS for Environmental Literacy


The LEAPS (Leadership and Evaluation to Advance Program Success) for Environmental Literacy Initiative is comprised of 17
Bay Area youth leadership and environmental stewardship organizations. The learnings below highlight results from LFA and
LEAPS organizations’ efforts to collectively measure a subset of core program components across LEAPS cohort
organizations in one of three cluster study topics to better understand how to most effectively: engage adolescents in
supportive early employment experiences; foster meaningful engagements with the environment; and create safer
and welcoming spaces for youth populations traditionally underrepresented in the environmental movement.
The icons at the bottom of each “lessons learned” box map back to the cluster study in which the findings were observed. For
further detail, please refer to the individual comprehensive cluster study reports.

T h e
Workforce Development
This cluster explores ways in which
organizations’ success in creating
relevant, supportive, paid early
employment experiences
corresponds to greater achievement
of youth workforce and
environmental outcomes.

C l u s t e r s

Meaningful Engagement
with the Environment
Organizations in this cluster explore
how youth define, connect with, and
meaningfully engage with the
environment through their

Our environmental education programs are more effective
when the following components are in place:
 Programming is relevant, meaning youth get to work on
an issue or skill they care about.
 Youth get out of their “comfort zone” – but not so far
that anxiety gets in the way of learning.
 Youth see staff as facilitators to their learning about the
 A program atmosphere that promotes accountability,
meaning that when someone breaks a rule or agreement,
the issue is addressed proactively.
 Youth have the opportunity to collaborate, share
opinions, and work in teams.
The more “true” each of these conditions was from the youth
perspective, the higher they rated their level of connection to
the environment.

Safer Spaces
This cluster looks at how programs
create safe and welcoming spaces
that support youth in overcoming
fears and bringing their full selves as
program participants.

Youth focus group and survey responses both reinforced
and expanded the way we understand meaningful
engagement and stewardship.
More so than program components like field trips, time with
friends, sharing learning, classroom instruction, and class
projects, youth value spending time in nature, hands on
learning, doing fun activities outdoors, exploring the
outdoors, and relationships built. Youth who had been in
programs less than one year, however, rated field trips more
valuable than youth who had been in programs more than
three years (average of 3.5 compared to 2.6**).
Ahead of traditional conservation measures (such as
recycling, conserving water, picking up litter) youth show
greatest gains in more personal dimensions of their
relationship to the environment, including being aware of
their surroundings, seeing everything as connected,
understanding how personal choices influence the
environment, interest in learning about the environment, and
sense of responsibility to protect the environment.

LEAPS for Environmental Literacy: Cluster Studies Lessons Learned | Learning for Action | June 2015


Outdoor immersive experiences – particularly for youth who
may have less access to such experiences – can markedly
amplify or accelerate positive youth development outcomes,
while deepening connection to the outdoors.

Providing paid, supportive workforce opportunities may offer
a range of benefits for environmentally-focused
organizations seeking to attract youth who might not
otherwise participate.

Youth and staff highlight the way outdoor trips help youth
bond to peers and adults, support youth in setting aside old
patterns of behavior for new ones, and inspire greater
connection to the natural environment.

 Valuing youth’s time through compensation may not only
attract youth who might not participate, but also
contribute to participants feeling a greater sense of
safety. Compensation appears particularly important for
attracting first year participants, half of which “probably
not” or “would not” have participated otherwise.
 Improvement in workforce skills was often significantly
correlated with youth belief that they can reach their
goals, do well on professional tasks, and succeed in future
jobs. Youth narrative responses suggest that growth
experiences – such as building communication skills,
working with a supervisor, managing challenges, or
building leadership – contribute to this improved selfefficacy.
 Improvement in professional skills and improvement in
connection to the environment emerged as highly
correlated with one another; the more youth grew in one
outcome area, the more they tended to grow in the other
as well.

For environmental stewardship organizations seeking to
serve traditionally underrepresented populations, building
safer and welcoming spaces may support youth in
developing their voices, a critical component of long-term
Many youth and staff describe the connection between safe
space and development of voice. They commonly cited how
when youth learn that they will be accepted, others want to
hear them, and they can speak up without fear of what
others will think, they move past performing or hiding, and
develop a more authentic voice.

Speaking up with friends and family about the environment
appears to be a dimension of connection to the environment
that may be harder or take more time to develop than many
other dimensions we measured.
For organizations looking to develop this form of
stewardship, working with youth over multiple years may
help more fully realize this outcome.

Serving youth populations in the Bay Area that are typically
underrepresented in the environmental field means a
commitment to continuously navigating many forms of
learning and definitions of relevance.
Within our cluster studies:
 The majority of youth were youth of color.
 Youth varied in ethnicity, gender, free/reduced lunch
status, languages spoken at home, and past work
 Youth cite a range of experiences with safe and unsafe
spaces, conditions at home, connection to school, level of
exposure to violence, level of support outside of
programs, and level of access to outdoor experiences.
Across the safer spaces cluster, youth focus group
participants often described a lack of support, safety,
relevancy, or engagement of the school environment in
contrast to the program environment.

The time, resources, and intentionality it takes to create safe
and welcoming spaces for youth, supportive staff
relationships, and meaningful opportunities is often
significant and easily under-recognized in formal avenues
such as organization mission statements, budgets, and
program objectives/goals.
Recognizing the critical role that safe spaces and meaningful
opportunities play in driving outcomes, we recommend
organizations and their funders recognize those program
components more formally.

Involving youth in evaluation design – such as participating
in focus groups to design surveys – helps ensure the
development of more accurate and relevant evaluation
When planning a participatory process, programs and
funders should keep in mind that prioritizing greater youth
input and/or leadership in evaluation design and collection
also requires more resources devoted to support, training,
and engagement.

LEAPS for Environmental Literacy: Cluster Studies Lessons Learned | Learning for Action | June 2015