Youth Engagement Strategy: Schools & Education
Connecting with youth when they’re at school can help them develop an awareness of – and an interest in – planning when they’re otherwise still forming political interests and habits. For newcomers, children often serve as interpreters of civic life for their parents, broadening the impact of connecting with them in schools.
Formal education occurs beyond the classroom as well, including through skill-development programs, workshops, and summer camps. Since these programs help build youth capacity in areas they’re already interested in, they’re a good way for City Planning to connect youth’s existing interests to planning and to provide youth with transferable, marketable skills.
The Actions in this Focus Area aim to connect City Planning to youth in these two different educational settings.
Action 1: Develop a "Planners in Classrooms" (PiCs) educational outreach program
A Planners in Classrooms (“PiCS”) program would bring city planning out of City Hall and into Toronto’s schools, with the short-term objective of teaching a younger generation about city planning and the long-term objective of mobilizing them to take ownership of and engage in city planning throughout their lives. A team of planners in the City Planning Division with an interest in and facility for education and youth engagement could lead the program, delivering existing curricula in high schools and elementary schools (such as those developed by Number 9, Maximum City, TDSB EcoSchools, Jane’s Walk or the OPPI). Since these curricula already exist, City Planning would need only to train some of its planners to deliver them.
Through the program, these planners would deliver an engaging, hands-on curriculum steeped in real-world problem-solving tasks and authentic planning challenges in Toronto. The program could take place over 1-3 classroom visits at each school.
A long-term objective of the program could be the eventual development of an on-site City Hall School component for school groups visiting City Hall. This would require a physical space in City Hall and would use the same team of trained City planner-educators as facilitators of the program. Schools could pay a fee to participate, as in some other Canadian cities with well-established City Hall schools. For example, Calgary’s City Hall School is now in its fifteenth year and charges about $1,000 for a week of customized programming for elementary and high school students, and offers free teacher-training workshops.
Action 2: Develop a recognition or accreditation system for schools participating in PiCs
A PiCS recognition or accreditation system would give the PiCS program credibility and desirability among Toronto’s Schools. Other education programs, such as TDSB and Ontario EcoSchools, have successfully developed a recognition system that awards points and levels of certification (e.g. Bronze, Silver, Gold) for participation and achievement in environmental categories such as Energy Conservation and Waste Minimization. EcoLeader students and staff within schools keep track of points and require only occasional external auditing. Similarly, the PiCS point system could award points and levels of certification in categories such as a Mobility Score for increasing active school transportation or hosting bike workshops; a Neighborhood Stewardship Score for adopting a local park or participating in/hosting a public meeting; or a Curriculum Score for adopting lessons about urban planning in certain classes or having students participate in a design charrette.
Action 3: Partner with skill-development organizations to build youth capacity
There are a number of organizations in Toronto that host workshops or programs that relate to city planning (such as neighbourhood walking tours organized by Jane’s Walk, hackathons organized by the Canadian Open Data Institute, or photo editing software workshops organized by Microskills). City Planning should partner with these organizations to deliver their programs through a city planning lens, providing participants with real-world skills they can add to their resume or apply in their work, while also functioning as a “hook” into city planning.
These workshops or programs should also function as engagement opportunities, giving City Planning valuable insights about a planning issue or project. For example, City Planning could partner with an organization to teach participants the basics of photo editing, with the goal of helping them to create a series of photo montages re-imagining a public space in the city.