For the past twelve years, the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Community Development Branch has
operated the Youth Institute (www.lbymcayi.org ), a year-round program that uses technology as an
integral mechanism for promoting positive youth development and developing pathways to post
secondary education and career readiness of low-income, culturally diverse urban high school youth.
The goals of the Youth Institute are:
1. To improve academic achievement and stimulate interest in post secondary education
among low-income, culturally-diverse, urban high school youth;
2. To improve the technology, career, leadership and decision-making skills of these youth to
promote readiness for post secondary education or career entry after graduation; and
3. To promote bonding to pro-social adults and community attachment among urban youth to
ensure that they remain engaged in their schools and communities.
Program Description: The project is divided into two components, the Summer Youth Institute (SYI)
and the Year Round After School Youth Institute (AYI). Every summer 85 incoming youth and 15 alumni
(graduates of the summer program) participate in a full-time (35 hours per week), eight-week summer
program. Program recruitment occurs in the spring. We target youth for recruitment from referrals by
high school counselors, other youth serving agencies and youth themselves. 8th and 9th grade youth
are specifically targeted for program entry because research done by the Harvard Civil Rights Institute
found that over 60% of youth who drop out of high school do so in their transitional year between
8th and 10th grades. Targeting youth early also increases the length of time they are involved in
the program and ensures that academic supports are available for them at the beginning of their
high school careers rather than waiting until it is too late. Youth are chosen based on the risk factors
they face which might influence high school completion. The factors may include neighborhood
violence, poverty, family conflict/poor family management, poor academic performance or lack of
commitment to school, and involvement with antisocial peers. Youth are selected to ensure ethnic
and gender diversity. Of the 900 youth served to date, 39% were Latino, 22% were African American,
19% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 11% were European American, 7% were of mixed ethnicity and <1%
were Native American. About half (51%) were male.
The first week of the SYI is spent on a wilderness retreat that focuses on team building, bonding,
cultural diversity training, decision-making and life sciences. Youth are assigned to diverse project
teams that are maintained throughout the summer. The focus of the retreat is to help youth develop
the collaborative and problem-solving skills they will need to work in their project teams. Youth also
participate in activities to help them to better understand their own culture and to develop an
appreciation for other cultures. Thus, a strong bond among the youth, their peers and the staff is
developed. This is where the ‘family’ in the YI begins.
During the remaining seven weeks of the summer program, project-based learning approaches are
used to teach Digital Media Arts skills using the latest software and hardware. Literacy is an important
aspect of the program and all projects involve creative writing, scripting, storyboarding, and oral
presentations. Youth take part in college preparation activities, visit local universities, engage in life
path exercises and share family histories using multiple types of software. The youth then create digital
films and music, a magazine, 3D animation, and a website. The summer culminates in the largest
Youth Film Festival in Long Beach. Graduates receive a $400 academic stipend and a certificate
from California State University Long Beach Film Department. Graduates become alumni and can
participate fully in the year-round afterschool YI.
The Year Round After School Youth Institute (AYI) operates 30 hours a week. Every day over 80 youth
come to the AY I to enhance their technology skills, get help with homework and college applications,
do service learning projects, and socialize in a safe and supportive place. Staff provides academic
and emotional support, Internet access and assistance to complete school assignments. The AYI is
critical to school success since many of the youth need to improve their academic performance
but do not have access to technology at home or school. The AYI offers up-to-date software that
is not available in most urban schools where teachers often do not have the knowledge to teach
high-end, corporate technology skills. The main focus on the Year Round Youth Institute is to offer
pathways to support high school graduation, post secondary education access and completion. The
Youth Institute College Readiness program helps youth who are first generation college attendees.
It provides help with college applications, financial aid, scholarships, college visits, SAT and Pre-SAT
placement exams, counseling youth and parents on taking the right A through G required classes to
qualify for a University and classes for parents to learn how to support their child in getting them to
college and keeping them there. Once again, we target youth who are both on target to graduate,
struggling and disengaged with traditional education.
Since research indicates that youth who are involved in their communities have better long-term
outcomes, YI alumni participate in community projects and service learning. For example, alumni
serve under the supervision of YI staff as Tech Tutors for elementary school students at YMCA afterschool
sites. They implement project- based lesson plans using technology to complete projects
such as a school news show, a year book, or an Internet research project connected to in-school
themes. Youth also provide community service through an annual Haunted House and Family Picnic.
These projects help youth to become more bonded to their community and to further build their
leadership and career skills. Youth also apply their technology and leadership skills as paid interns in
their work with our social enterprise, Change Agent Productions (www.changeagentproductions.org ).
Evaluation data of these internships indicate that these experiences help youth to develop important
technology, interpersonal, and career skills.
Evaluation of and National Recognition for the YI: California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)
School of Social Work is responsible for program evaluation. Evaluation data suggests significant
improvement in diverse leadership and technology skills as well in areas of positive youth development
such as cultural competence, life skills, positive core values, social competence, community
involvement and caring relationship with adults. YI youth, in comparison with other high school
youth, have also been shown to have better grades and attendance and evidence improvement in
academic self-perceptions. Ninety-two percent of YI youth graduate from high school while only 68%
of Long Beach youth with similar demographics do so. The majority (81%) of YI youth enroll in a two or
four-year college or trade school, while only 37% of their Long Beach peers do so. Our evaluations
also indicate that YI participation helps youth to explore and determine what careers will best suit
them in the future. These outcomes have been consistent over a long period of time. Our evaluations
have been published in two academic journals. This program has a proven track record of providing
academic and social supports and a unique pathway to high school graduation and post secondary
education for urban youth.
Over the past twelve years, the YI has received many accolades as a program that prevents high
school dropout, increases college attendance, prevents youth violence, and promotes positive youth
development. Organizations such as YouthLEARN, the American Youth Policy Forum, SEDL, Fight
Crime, Invest in Kids, and the Youth Worker News have us highlighted on their websites and in their
For more information, please contact:
Bob Cabeza, Youth Institute Founder and Vice President of Community Development