In January 2014, the City of Boston launched the first youth participatory budgeting process in the United States called Youth Lead the Change: Participatory Budgeting Boston.
This process allows teens and young adults to decide how to spend $1 million of the city’s capital budget. Through this work, youth propose ideas for improving their communities, develop the ideas into concrete proposals, and vote on the best ways to make Boston a better place. The project was renewed in 2015.
Laura Correa-Franco, who grew up in Boston and is currently a freshman at Emmanuel College, participated in this process in both 2014 and 2015.
Afterwards, be sure to read our “Applying the Framework” summary that connects Laura’s story to the Students at the Center Framework.
When I was a junior at the Woodward School for Girls in Quincy, Massachusetts, I was invited to participate in the City of Boston’s participatory budgeting process. This program is a $1,000,000 project that would lead to innovations in Boston to benefit youth. I was introduced to this work through my involvement with the Flagship Computer Clubhouse located at the Museum of Science. It was a great experience to be able to participate in twice—in 2014 as a volunteer and 2015 as a job experience. At the beginning of the 2015 school year, I was hired as a Youth Associate for the program. During the first few weeks on the job, I got to see a more in depth view of what happens behind the scenes in Boston City Hall and worked hand-in-hand with city officials. Along with six peers/co-workers and a supervisor, I planned the meetings and ways of gathering information for determining how the $1,000,000 would be spent.
To share responsibility of such a big community project was astonishing. Getting the word out, collecting ideas, voting, and meeting with the Mayor was amazing. Being able to say “Yes, we are making the communities all around Boston a better place” is something to take pride in.
The Youth Participatory Budget team secured funding and completed many projects around Boston during the two years of my involvement, which included: art walls around the city, restoration of sidewalks, playground renovation, a camera installation to a park for protection, and an upgrade to the Franklin Park Zoo, complete with playground and picnic area. Additionally, we provided Chromebooks for three Boston public high schools (Charlestown, East Boston, and South Boston).
All of the students who participated all began the process as shy teens with open minds, and with these opportunities given to us, we have been able to grow, mature, and lead. After the project was finished, I saw how my coworkers progressed: one received a full scholarship to Northeastern University because of her leadership capabilities, and another had the chance to meet President Barack Obama because of his involvement in such programs.
Because of this experience, I am interested in serving my community. I’m now a freshman at Emmanuel College, currently taking Microeconomics, Business, Catholic Theology, and Sociology. I’m also actively involved in a few clubs and organizations in my college, such as: HUELLAS (the Latino club), BSU (the Black Student Union), Chronic Illness Support and Awareness, and ECPB (Emmanuel College Programming Board).
Having the ability at my young age of 16 to say I had a voice really meant something, it meant I was capable of completing much more than what I was characterized as by those around me. With my involvement in such activities, I’ve had the chance to grow, to become a strong leader with a voice, and an engaged student. I approach community involvement both in and outside of school quite passionately due to the abilities I’ve acquired through work and volunteer experiences.
Authored by Laura Correa-Franco
- The Youth Participatory Budget Process required students to quickly master new content. Research demonstrates that civic education can be a powerful tool for deeper learning and the development of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and academic skills. Laura’s work with the budgeting project required a deeper awareness of community needs. Laura & her peers had to research, synthesize information, and collaborate in new ways to achieve their goals.
- Students had agency and ownership of their projects. The youth cohort involved in the budgeting process had complete responsibility over where the money was distributed. Laura’s voice mattered in the conversations that directly influenced community improvements around Boston. Studies show authentic youth engagement can lead to many positive outcomes while improving the overall student experience.