In 2021, the Appalachian Center for Equality had more students than ever register for the Summer Policy Institute (STI) in collaboration with the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. With a theme of ‘Emerging Stronger,’ the conference began with over 70 registrants, most of whom participated in our three content days including workshops on the West Virginia Legislature, state tax and budget, policy change, storytelling, and more.
We worked with about 43 students through the experiential learning section of the conference, where 14 policy issue teams developed legislative proposals. Students were assigned to teams based on their policy interests and passions which they shared with us through a survey prior to the conference.
13 of these teams pitched their thoroughly researched, detailed ideas to a panel of lawmaker judges, receiving feedback, encouragement, and even offers of partnership to work on furthering these policies in the upcoming legislative session.
One of AFSC’s goals for the STI has been to increase participation from high schoolers, who worked with mostly college and graduate level students in their policy teams, reporting very positive experiences. Feedback from registrant evaluations was overwhelmingly positive, and 86% of attendees who completed their post-conference evaluation said they would very likely sign up again or recommend to a friend. “I really enjoyed getting to present our policy pitches to legislators. I also liked getting to meet other participants in the conference and learning about opportunities for advocacy work in West Virginia,” reflected one participant. “I think it would've been even better if it could've been in-person.”
We plan to keep growing the youth involvement in SPI and hope to return to an in-person experience in 2022. We have successfully navigated the virtual planning and presentation of the conference and know that we can make a positive impact on youth regardless of where it takes place, and we look forward to building on the momentum we’ve created during the pandemic.
- Liz Brunello
WV Youth Program Director