YCD’s model is underpinned by the idea that when students are empowered, school culture improves.

Theory of Change Diagram

Click on the image below to download a copy of YCD’s Theory of Change, or continue reading below to explore the problem YCD is addressing, the intervention our programs make, and the outcomes and impacts for students our programs have.

Theory of Change diagram

Problem to be Solved

YCD exists because many students do not feel safe, accepted or respected in school and do not reach their educational potential.  These feelings may arise from any number of challenges or social dynamics, including racism and white supremacy, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, economic inequality, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression.

Theory of Change Problem Diagram

Common outcomes for students that derive from these forms of oppression include late graduation, dropping out of school, economic insecurity, drug use, crime and violence, homelessness, emotional distress, mental illness or even attempts at suicide.

YCD programs aim to change these patterns and paths for better outcomes, and we have empirical data to show their effectiveness.

YCD’s Intervention

Our programs leverage student-led experiences and a specific lens in order to teach and develop core skills for program participants.

Program Components

There are several different ways students can engage and participate in YCD programs, each requiring a different level of commitment and producing a different set of outcomes.

  1. The Student Executive Committee is a body of students from a variety of schools and identities that meet weekly and work collaboratively to plan a YCD conference or program. Each YCD conference has its own local Executive Committee controlling the content of their respective conference.
  2. We train student facilitators to run student-led discussion groups on the day of each conference. This is a one-time training that has less time commitment than participation on the Executive Committee, but is still deeply meaningful for those who can’t join regular meetings.
  3. In some cases, students will serve as workshop presenters at YCD conferences, sharing their knowledge on a topic with students from other schools and groups.
  4. And finally, conference participants join us on the day of the event for a day filled with numerous experiences:
    • Hearing from a keynote speaker
    • Joining in a student-led peer discussion group
    • Attending two workshops of their choice
    • Participating in a school meeting to brainstorm a project to improve the local school or community

Program Lens

YCD programs focus on social issues affecting teens as our lens through which to intervene and address the root problem we’ve identified.

Our programs are 100% student-led, so that students are selecting the issues and topics to be addressed, as well as the speakers and presenters to hear from at YCD events and programs.

Skills Taught

Through the various components mentioned above, YCD programs emphasize trainings, workshops, speeches, discussions and experiences that help students develop these core skills and associated qualities in our program participants:

Core skill   Resulting quality
Identity development Self-awareness
Authenticity Self-confidence
Perspective taking Empathy
Communication Understanding
Conflict resolution Mental wellness
Collaboration Connectedness
Integrity Accountability
Decision-making Empowerment

Theory of Change Intervention diagram

Outcomes and Impacts for Students

By teaching the skills and engendering the qualities mentioned above, YCD programs generate these outcomes and impacts for student participants:

  1. Students can define and explain their identity, values and beliefs.
  2. Students are proud of their identity.
  3. Students respect those who are different.
  4. Students communicate freely and openly to address problems.
  5. Students know they can navigate conflict when it arises with specific strategies.
  6. Students know they can call on allies and accomplices when faced with oppression, discrimination or uncomfortable situations.
  7. Students take responsibility for their actions.
  8. Students trust in their ability to make difficult decisions.
  9. Students are engaged in making positive social change in their school and/or community.

Theory of Change Impact diagram


Our vision is that one day, every teen in America will feel safe, respected and empowered to achieve their potential in school and their community.