CYCP Program wraps up its first year – Field Report from recipient of 2023 Climate Action Award

by Sarah Ranney, Chair, Climate Literacy Committee, SF Bay Chapter

On a chilly night in December, 40 high school students from around California gathered on Zoom to share their policy case studies and celebrate their graduation from the California Youth Climate Policy Leadership program (CYCP), a new initiative from the Climate Literacy Committee of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter that empowers students to take climate action into their own hands. With them to celebrate were representatives from Sierra Club California, Ten Strands, UndauntedK12, and the 20+ mentors who worked with the students every step of their way.

Over the course of five months, the student leaders of CYCP accomplished an ambitious learning agenda which included development of a personal leadership plan, field research to understand their school district’s existing environmental and climate policy, development of an advocacy campaign plan, building a coalition, and presenting their advocacy campaign at a school board meeting. Their advocacy plans included topics such as climate literacy, climate action plans, climate impacts and adaptation, zero waste, and transportation.

While young people often report high levels of climate anxiety and dread, it’s often said that action is the antidote to despair. Post-program surveys of CYCP students showed that the experience had a significant impact on student’s sense of agency and empowerment:

  • 100% of students agreed that this program deepened their belief in the importance of civic engagement and democratic participation, with 87% of them strongly agreeing.
  • 97% of students felt more or much more hopeful about the climate crisis and their role in it because of this program.

The idea of the CYCP program came together in the spring of 2023 as a partnership between Ten Strands, a leader in environment-based education in California, and the Climate Literacy Committee. For members of the Committee, this was a chance to put into practice many of the insights learned in their climate literacy work.

Since 2016, the Climate Literacy Committee has been a place for youth, teachers, activists, and organizers to pass and implement climate literacy policy in school districts in California, including successful efforts in the cities of Oakland, Fremont, and Berkeley. One thing these district policy advances have in common is the centrality of student leadership. In every district, students have set the vision, drafted the resolutions, formed the coalitions, and convinced the School Boards to take action. We have seen that students are a galvanizing force for climate action.

We took that knowledge, combined with deep program knowledge from Ten Strands, to design a program built upon our shared experience and values. Every student received training, tools, and resources; was paired with a knowledgeable Mentor; and received a $500 stipend at the program’s end for completing their personal leadership plan and advocacy campaign plan. The program design was built to ensure equity and attract students from diverse backgrounds, aspects that have often been barriers in climate work.

Our call for applications last spring was met with tremendous enthusiasm. The program received more than 300 student applications, of which 46 were accepted. We are proud that over eighty-five percent of CYCP student leaders identified as BIPOC, and more than eighty percent attend public schools. The cohort included students from across California, including twelve who live within the San Francisco Bay Chapter.

With the 2023 program now complete, we look back with pride at the huge strides the students took in five short months of working together. They gained confidence in talking to adults in positions of power, developed relationships with teachers, administrators, and board members, and got experience being agents for climate action.

Reflecting at the end of the program, Emma Wang of Pleasanton shared, “This program taught me a lot about how everyday citizens can have an impact on local decision-making and policy. I think students should attend programs like this one to better understand how they can play a role in making change.”

Congratulations to the graduates of CYCP 2023! And thank you to the mentors and supporters who made the program possible. You can read the students’ Final Case Studies or learn more about the California Youth Climate Policy program at A toolkit of district policy resources will be made available later this spring.

To inspire local action, Sierra Club’s Climate Emergency Mobilization Team offers Community Climate Action Awards to a limited number of Club Chapters and Groups. The California Youth Climate Policy Leadership program was one such recipient in 2023. The awards provide modest financial support to kick-start or sustain projects that address the local causes of climate change and advance environmental justice and community collaboration. If you would like to learn more, please reach out to us at climateemergency[at]sfbaysc[dot]org.

This article was first published in the Spring 2024 issue of the Sierra Club Yodeler.

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