Beyond the Paycheck: The Power of a Summer Job

For teens in Chicago, a summer job can mean a lot more than a paycheck. It’s an opportunity to develop skills, grow personally, and test out the working world to find their passions. Through an apprenticeship program spearheaded by After School Matters (ASM), teens learn marketable skills from professionals in a range of industries – from the culinary arts, sports, music, fashion design, and more – in a summer apprenticeship. This summer, over 9,000 teen in Chicago will participate – double the number from just four years ago.

ASM apprentices practice teaching softball skills to young students.

Working with young students, ASM apprentices find that encouragement is key.

Recently, Every Hour Counts toured an ASM apprenticeship program in action and heard from students what it meant to them. We visited Curie Metropolitan High School where ASM’s Sports37 program offers an apprenticeship for students to learn about athletics and prepare to become a youth sports instructor. In the spring semester, Sports37 participants attend an after-school program where they learn sports skills as well as the skills to develop lesson plans and manage a group of young children. On our visit, we saw teens working with kindergarteners on the mechanics of throwing a ball and hitting a ball off a tee. Balls were flying, the kindergarteners were having a blast, and the teens got to practice their coaching skills one-on-one. By the summer, these teens will be ready to secure paid jobs within the Chicago Parks Department as youth coaches. In a tough job market for teens, After School Matters participants have the skills and the hands-on experience to land a great summer job.

At other ASM sites throughout Chicago, teens train to become lifeguards, experiment with graphic design, and tackle challenges in coding and programming. And while they’re learning critical hard skills, teens also have a chance to work in groups, practice communication skills and critical-thinking, and manage a project from start to finish. The programs are structured so that students can build on their previous learning experiences – moving from pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, and advanced apprenticeships and eventually to paid internships. Just like a real job, teen must apply and interview, show up on time, and are awarded a stipend for their participation. After School Matters makes it all happen through a strong system of partnerships with businesses, the city government, schools, and community organizations. And it’s not just over the summer: ASM also offers high-quality learning programs year-round. As an intermediary, ASM provides training and professional development for instructors, leverages resources, and manages a unified application and enrollment system.  For teens, it means one-stop shopping for a huge range of high-quality apprenticeships that can put them on a path towards college and career success.

Practice makes perfect for young softball players-in-training, and for their coaches.

Practice makes perfect for young softball players-in-training, and for their coaches.

We’ve long known about the benefits of summer learning, and recent research has found that a summer job can be just as powerful. A summer job can help teenagers at risk of dropping out of school back onto a more positive life trajectory. The apprentices from Curie put it best: their apprenticeships have offered them new skills, greater self-confidence, and the opportunity to be a leader.  For teens in Chicago, summer is a chance to find their future.


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