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Reflections on 3 years of leading youth climate programs

By Megan Phelps, former Youth Program Coordinator

Growing up, the start of a new school year came with a sense of excitement and possibility–plus nervousness and nostalgia. It meant sharpening my pencils, meeting new friends, learning new things about the world–and also missing my old classes and teachers. 

As I transition out of my role as the Youth Program Coordinator, I once again feel in sync with this change of seasons: I’m excited for the next chapter of my life but nostalgic for the vibrant program that I’ve been lucky enough to build.

Youth4Climate started as a small but mighty team, supported by one high school intern and a group of adult supporters. Since I joined as the first Youth4Climate adult staff member in 2020, I’ve watched it grow into a flourishing program: it now has over 8 teams, 3 paid high school interns, and over 60 active members. 

These young people and adult supporters regularly exceed my expectations of what I thought was possible through their creativity, commitment, and courage to imagine a climate-just future. Here are some examples of what we’ve accomplished in my past three years with Youth4Climate:


Megan Phelps with youth in the Youth4Climate program.

In the past 3 years, we have offered paid staff positions to 15 high school students, who have gained professional skills and experience while enriching our programs with their expertise and lived experience. We’ve also hired 6 adult part-time staff since 2020 to support our programs. 

For my part, it has been an honor to be trusted with empowering these employees. I’ve learned so much about creating a healthy work culture, effectively managing concurrent projects and priorities, and the importance of open communication.

Fun fact: I remember each of my intern cohorts based on their music tastes. Check out this playlist I made, dedicated to all of the incredible interns I’ve worked with! 

Picture to the right: Me, posing with 5 high school interns and 3 volunteer youth leaders! 3 are now off to college 😢

Youth v. Oil

A group of youth holding a Youth v. Oil sign.

The Youth v. Oil campaign started in 2020 and has grown into the largest youth-led campaign ever to exist in SanDiego350. They aim to pressure Governor Newsom to end oil extraction in California. 

Youth v. Oil has successfully passed a resolution through multiple school districts–including San Diego Unified, the second largest in the state, the San Diego County Board of Education, and the San Diego City Council. We are winning!

This team is full of energy and has expanded into a legislative team that meets with the Governor’s office regularly, a creative and hilarious social media team, and a climate mentees team to support youth in passing resolutions.

School District Electrification

Youth holding signs on abc 10 news channel.

In 2023, we banded with the Building Electrification Coalition and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) President Cody Petterson to get SDUSD to fully electrify their campuses. Our youth advocates organized powerful speeches underscoring the importance of creating fossil free schools to advance a climate-just future for all students. Their resolution was unanimously passed through the San Diego Unified School District in April 2023!

Climate strikes

After pausing in-person civic actions during 2020, we joined a Global Day of Youth Climate Action in fall of 2021, turning out over 4,000 people in school strikes and a central downtown San Diego strike. (photos)

In 2022, we repeated that success with over 3,000 attendees in Downtown San Diego and Chula Vista, plus 20 schools throughout the County! (photos)

This year, the youth team is continuing on, aiming for school strikes at over 20 schools throughout San Diego. If you’re interested in planning a strike at your school, fill out this interest form to receive coaching.

Oil Spills

Youth laying down with oil on them

Since the 2022 climate strike oil spill, our youth have organized various oil spills as a powerful visual of the destruction of fossil fuel extraction: Big Oil is destroying our futures and taking lives. They’ve organized 3 so far and plan to continue! 

Eco Club Coalition

We started an Eco Club Coalition at the beginning of 2021 to bring together eco club leaders throughout San Diego. Since then, it has blossomed: 22 clubs are part of our ECC, and 17 of those clubs received funding in April of 2023 to host Earth Day events at their schools.

Check out our map of schools below:


Large group of youth smiling

We’ve hosted a yearly summit (sometimes 2) since 2019, turning out dozens of youth throughout San Diego.

Our most recent August 2023 Summit turned out over 60 people at the vibrant WorldBeat Center in Balboa Park. Our powerful youth team spent 6 months planning and spreading the word about this summit, deepening their event planning, communication, and project management skills.

Participants’ favorite part was a climate science talk by SD350 member Scott Kelley, followed by an AfroBeats dance workshop with Stephanie Osuocha, painting project with Kim Lande, and intersectionality speech with Kumeyaay tribe member Kyla Curo.

Sense of Meaning, Empowerment, and Fun

Securing campaign wins, hosting successful events, building relationships have all been extremely gratifying. The reason? Because all of those endeavors have given me and my teammates a sense of purpose, made us feel powerful, and been infused with fun!


We keep climate justice at the front of our mission when designing events, crafting campaign messaging, and designing demands for our direct actions. We are united in our vision for the future, helping us feel like what we are doing matters.

Megan Phelps and a small group of youth smiling and holding up a Youth v. Oil sign


We build leaders and empower them to meet with guest speakers and elected officials, facilitate meetings, and speak at events. They build confidence, connections, and impeccable skills!


We start every meeting with a silly icebreaker, get to know (and playfully tease!) each other, and have in-person socials to build community and just relax. 

Having fun and feeling connected is key to letting our vision for a climate-just future enrich our lives in the present. 

As the Youth Program Coordinator, I was energized by my purpose, empowered to make a difference for these young people, and engaged with opportunities for fun along the way! While I am sad to say goodbye, I can’t wait to see SD350’s Youth Program continue to bloom as other inspiring change makers continue to add their magic and vision to make a difference for our world.