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Cultivating positive youth development, critical consciousness, and authentic care in urban environmental education


Physical and social features of an urban environmental education leadership program act as affordances in promoting youth assets and critical consciousness

Narrative inquiry was used in this study to explore participant experiences in an urban agriculture internship program conducted by East New York Farms! (ENYF), a food justice organization in Brooklyn, NY. The study focused on how interns viewed the program in relation to the development of critical consciousness and the development of youth assets. Critical consciousness refers to a moral awareness linked to an in-depth understanding of social and political actions in the larger world. The positive youth development approach used by ENYF assumes that all youth have the capacity to become successful adults, if given appropriate support.

ENYF employs up to 35 youth as agricultural interns each year for nine months during the growing season. In addition to learning agricultural skills at the ENYF farm and in nearby community gardens, interns also learn about health, community development, leadership, the environment, and social justice through on-site workshops and off-site conferences. Some interns participate in the program over a period of several years. In addition to learning more specialized knowledge (about producing and selling food), returning interns also take on greater responsibility. They lead crews of first-year interns, conduct workshops, and make presentations at conferences.

For this study, nine returning interns participated in two open-ended interviews, each approximately one hour in length. The first interview focused on the intern’s life-story and personal background. The second interview focused on the intern’s ENYF experiences, including their interactions with other youth, staff, and community members. Questions addressed during the second interview also focused on what the interns learned through the program and how this was helpful to them outside the program.

The interns described ENYF as somewhere to belong, to be pushed, to grapple with complexity, to practice leadership, and to become yourself. The researchers used these themes to develop a theory of change that emphasizes authentic caring as a foundation for cultivating developmental assets among youth who participate in ENYF programs over several years. These developmental assets include caring, contribution, and competence, and incorporate critical thinking and consciousness.

This paper adds to the literature by expanding earlier notions of urban affordances for child development. While earlier notions focused largely on physical features of the environment, the theory of change presented in this paper adds social features (including authentic caring) as affordances. The theory of change also includes the idea that youth afforded opportunities to develop assets by contributing to the community can then, in turn, become part of the social affordances for the development of assets among new interns.


Delia, J., Krasny, M.E., (2018). Cultivating positive youth development, critical consciousness, and authentic care in urban environmental education. Frontiers in Psychology, 15


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