Organize a Summit: Develop Programming

D. Developing a Good Program

1. Interactive Productive Programs

Crucial to the success of a program is the development of a supporting agenda that is engaging, issues-driven, interactive, multi-sensory, and focused on the desired outcomes. To this end, apply some common best practices for motivating students. Students need to be kept busy, but also need constructive downtime so that they can network and have valuable “kid-to-kid” peer interaction.
The key to a successful outcome is to provide consistent and differentiated reminders of the essential issues being addressed during the Summit without coming across as overbearing. On average it takes a participant five times hearing a piece of information to remember it and apply the knowledge. Significantly, a multi-sensory approach best supports learning. Offering multiple opportunities to involve all the senses can greatly enhance the program. Students can experience cultures and regions through involvement with historic places that reflect diverse cultures. They can taste local cuisine, listen to music, watch a dance, or actually join in a dance or ritual. Seeing and touching can better imprint memory and awareness of a place and experience.

Some ideas that can help you plan an interactive program include:
  • Focus all program activities on an essential questions and desired outcomes.
  • Although discussions can be adult-led in part, they should be mainly student focused. Allow recommendations to come directly from students. Their energy will come forth and shine in this effort.
  • Limit Youth Summit presentations in lecture format to 20 minutes. The common attention span for presentations for adults is only about 40 minutes, with 20 to 30 minutes lecture being the maximum for optimum attention.
  • Students need to be active and involved. Over-plan agendas with engaging, fun activities that allow students to get to know each other, learn from each other, and work together to problem-solve.
  • Begin Summits with interactive ice-breaker activities that can break down barriers, build friendships, and set the tone.
  • Allow for opportunities for fun that can build relationships that are sustainable for working together during and after the Summit.
  • Downtime is also important. Plann time and settings for activities such as an impromptu volleyball game, porch chat session, or snacktime to allow students to get to know each other throughout the event.
  • Students can help with the program and specific tasks. For example, students can report to media throughout the event and will be more focused and attentive if they have to blog, Facebook, or Twitter about the events.
  • Create numerous opportunities for interaction, such as using sentence starters, a round robin list of things they remembered about the day, or providing worksheets for each activity that stimulate reflection and evaluation.
  • Think of jobs you would normally assign to an adult volunteer and consider which ones can be done with a student in charge. Students will need training, some guidance, and an explaination of expectations. But, let them rise to the occasion — they will do so!
  • Gear all program and supporting agenda activities towards the development of final student recommendations compiled for presentations.
  • Conclude each day with work time to summarize recommendations and share through blog and/or written assessment.
  • Ensure that final presentations and interactions with partners and stakeholders are student focused; this is critical!
  • Holding a Town Hall or public presentation is a good way to conclude and share the Summit experience. An adult can act as moderator with students and experts fielding questions. Then conclude with audience participation.
  • Include leaders, elected officials, and dignitaries in the program as much as possible to raise the profile. Students want to know their opinions are valued — and their voices are heard.

2. Curriculum and Lesson Plans

The Summit program is not just for students, but also for educators and mentors. One goal is for these adult leaders to expand the Summit experience through continuing the learning opportunities in the classroom or with a service activity. Providing curriculum and lesson plans for the participating educators or mentors can be a huge asset to the program. If possible, provide these in advance to help outline expectations and introduce Summit themes.

Some of the questions to ask of educators and mentors ahead of time to reach a common understanding include:
  • Are they participants as well?
  • Will they participate in all activities?
  • Will they be responsible for chaperoning during the day and/or at night?
  • Will they be willing to follow up with youth in their teaching or service mentor roles when Summit is over?
  • What type of support materials do they need in advance, during, and after the Summit?
  • Do they have requirements or expectations to fulfill for peers, colleagues, or supervisors?
  • Are they seeking certification?
Also invite local partners to provide any curriculum or other materials that they offer as part of any existing local programs. Then see if their information can complement what is offered in Summit program.

An advantage to appointing a liaison to work with educators and mentors is that this person can assess their needs and expectations, while helping them to connect the Summit outcomes and experiences to their own classrooms or service activities.

Some things that can assist educators in integrating this content into the classroom or activity from the Summit are:
  • Focus on higher level critical thinking skills through development of recommendations and public presentations.
  • Provide primary sources from the area being studied and the historic locations you visited to provide authenticity.
  • Offer educators activities that they can do in their classrooms or as service activities. If possible, have Summit personnel model some of these during the Summit with students. This provides an opportunity for the educator or mentor to participate then implement the same type of thing if possible.
  • Provide educators and mentors with a list of web resources that they can access to assist them in gaining more information for both teaching and service opportunities. Consult with your stakeholders and partners on this effort so that you can access the quality sites they have already vetted.
  • Tie program to state and national standards to give educators a heads up on how this content connects. One of the best options is to have a list of state standards that are tied to the historic place and the Summit for educators to reference.
To encourage true integration of the Summit content in the classroom or service activity, schedule time during the Summit for the educators and mentors to work together and allow them to reflect on their own learning as well as that of their students. Integrating the results of the Summit into curriculum will be successful if educators are able to learn, reflect, design, and implement content. This takes time.

3. Advocacy

In developing programs, consider the impact on advocacy. Students, especially when together, can have a strong positive impact on elected officials. Invite elected officials from the local to federal level and encourage them to attend. Making civic awareness and political engagement a part of Youth Summit program benefits the partners involved and boosts the civic commitment of young people, while also providing an appealing venue for elected officials to learn more about preservation issues.

4. Service Learning
A goal of the Youth Summits is to inculcate a stewardship ethic for future generations. Including a service activity as an essential part of the program is likely to result in long-lasting benefits, because a service project provides a multi-sensory, hands-on memory of working to improve a site. Public lands managers and service and volunteer organizations can provide guidance. In organizing and selecting a service activity, consider the desired outcome, length of time allowed, necessary skills, equipment needed, and risk. The project needs to be enough of a challenge to motivate interest and generate learning, while allowing for completion in the time allotted.

Partnering on a project with a service organization can expand knowledge and skill-sets learned on site as well as share the benefit of working with groups dedicated to managing volunteers. Service projects may also require additional release and liability forms. For more information on service learning, visit or
Click here to download the complete Youth Summits Guide and Planning Tools as a .pdf

Last updated: January 19, 2017

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