This summer, high school students who rely on the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) to gain new skills and make money were told that the program would be severely scaled back. Children’s Aid quickly jumped in to fill that void with the Youth Action Summer Symposium (YASS) a project-based learning experience that offered students classes in a leadership track and a creative track.
A total of 278 high school students participated in the program, which took a team of 30 Children’s Aid staff members to develop in a very short time, according to Jamie Burke, a performance analyst with our Adolescence division.
Burke surveyed the staff to gage what kind of skills they could offer to students and also asked participants what kind of classes interested them. Offerings included budgeting and finance, sex education, a speaker series in partnership with Madison Square Garden, virtual cooking workshops, college prep classes from NYU, and more.
Shanda Holt, a family life and sexual education instructor, taught the “This Sure Isn’t Your Grandma’s Sex Ed Workshop: Ask Nikki.” Participants created apps or webpages to respond to questions from other young people.
"It was inspiring to work with YASS youth this summer on creating a website that highlighted Sexuality Education,” she said. “Their forward thinking on how to disseminate information to their peers, globally and factually was an experience I will happily never forget. YASS participants were savvy, creative, and showed up with good spirits while dealing with tough times during a pandemic."
One student created Tik Tok videos to educate people on the myths and facts around COVID. Others, who were enrolled in the Money Movers class, were assigned careers, housing situations, and other expenses and then tasked with creating realistic budgets.
Some students also took a website building class to highlight the dozens of projects participants worked on throughout the summer. Each student created short videos or slideshows to show what they had learned.
In addition to the classes, mentors checked in on each student and offered referrals to mental health counseling, tutoring, food resources, and more.
Educational Support Coordinator Leeza Salen, who was involved in creating the curriculum, said the teamwork displayed by Children’s Aid staff was instrumental in making the YASS program a success in such a short period of time.
“Working with the talented YASS staff to plan and refine their courses was such a pleasure,” Leeza said. “I loved seeing their talents and expertise shine through in such thoughtful ways. It is no surprise that participating youth were engaged and inspired to get their work and ideas out into the world.”
And, after a great deal of advocacy, Children’s Aid was able to leverage funds from the SYEP to provide a stipend for participating students – much-needed dollars that students have come to depend on in their summer experience through traditional SYEP.
To check out the work of the YASS participants, visit yasschildrensaid.com.