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Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS)

March 29, 2019


Program Summary: The Jobs for Youth Program was a unique collaboration between the University of Illinois at Chicago, Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS), and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). The program sought to provide key vocational training and transition preparation to students with disabilities attending YCCS. The program used evidence-based practices for supporting transition and worked in collaboration with community partners and the local VR agency. The majority of students attending YCCS are those for whom the traditional public high school is not working, those who are at risk of dropping out, and those who need credit recovery options and extra support. The students who participated in the program were low-income, had a documented disability, and ranged in age from 18 to 22. Through utilizing evidence-based approaches, such as inclusion in general education courses, coordination of service providers, vocational preparation and education including internship opportunities, and case management support that engaged families, the Jobs for Youth Program assisted many participants with receiving their high school diploma, earning industry recognized employment certificates, enrolling in VR, and participating in paid internships. Since the end of the Jobs for Youth Program in 2016, YCCS has maintained many of the key strategies that made it such a success and expanded the internship opportunities for their students.

Program Structure/Design: The Jobs for Youth Program worked with 116 students with disabilities who attended Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) in Chicago from 2011-2016. Most students who attend YCCS are ages 16-21 and have either already dropped out of school or are at risk of dropping out of school. The Jobs for Youth Program provided students with disabilities at YCCS with career development opportunities to prepare them for the transition out of high school. Students enrolled in the program were assigned a case manager from their own neighborhood who talked with them about their interests and goals for the future. Case managers assisted students in working with the local Vocational Rehabilitation office to get a case opened and acted as a liaison between the school and the VR office to make sure that the student support was coordinated. Once a student’s case was opened with VR, he or she worked with a VR counselor to develop an Individualized Plan for Employment. Students were matched with 8-week paid internships based on these plans and the opportunities available. Before entering their internship, students participated in workforce preparation classes at the school to learn more about what to expect from their job site. Students were also encouraged to participate in a workforce certification preparation course before entering their internship. These courses prepared students for certification tests in areas such as food handling or retail customer service. Some internships required that students obtain a certain certificate before starting work and students were able to obtain those certificates in the supportive environment of their school setting.

Since the end of the grant period in 2016, the YCCS internship program has continued in two forms. YCCS has maintained a relationship with VR and works with VR every year to get 30 cases opened for YCCS students. Additionally, a career development pathway provides 200 students, including students with disabilities, with internship opportunities every year. YCCS continues to work with City Colleges of Chicago to provide students with workforce certificate preparation classes and opportunities to test for workforce certificates.

State of Operation: Illinois

Youth Targeted: Youth with disabilities ages 16-21 who attend Youth Connection Charter School in Chicago

ODEP Funded: Yes, during grant period. Since the grand period ended, funding has been through YCCS budget allotment, local grants, and Vocational Rehabilitation.
Profile Year: 2019


School-Based Preparatory Experiences

High School Diploma: The majority of students who attend Youth Connection Charter School are those for whom the traditional high school environment did not work. While some students select to attend YCCS over their neighborhood school due to the availability of career development and concurrent enrollment with the City College, most attend YCCS for credit recovery purposes or because they need the extra support offered by YCCS for their unique situation. YCCS offers students ages 16-21 who have dropped out of school or at-risk of dropping out the opportunity to earn a high school diploma with holistic, individualized support. YCCS utilizes a combination of small student-to-teacher ratios, technology, and an extensive support network to meet students where they are and help them to get on track to graduate. A competency-based curriculum allows students to work towards mastery of core competencies for success to reach graduation, as opposed to checking off required courses or credits. All students with disabilities at YCCS participate in the general education classroom in adherence to the least restrictive environment requirement of their individualized education program (IEP). YCCS has a robust special education department providing students with access to any accommodation that they may need in order to participate and succeed in their courses. Of the 116 students with disabilities who participated in the Jobs for Youth Program, 95% earned their high school diploma.

Career Preparation and Work-based Learning

Paid Internship Opportunities: During the Jobs for Youth grant period, coordination between the YCCS and VR allowed for eight-week on-the-job training opportunities for students. Job developers were hired by the charter school to keep track of the different opportunities available in the community and share this information with principals along with any certificates required for the position. Throughout the internship period, employers tracked students’ hours as well as their progress and growth which was then shared with the VR counselor. Close collaboration between the school site, the VR counselor, and the employer provided students with the wrap-around support to be successful at their internship site by jointly managing any concerns that arose and assisting students with developing valuable workforce skills.

Since the end of the grant period, YCCS has continued to prioritize collaboration with VR and opportunities for paid internships. The school maintains a contract with vocational rehabilitation to have cases opened and VR counselors assigned with 30 students every year. By connecting to VR through their school, students benefit from having their cases managed by VR staff who have experience with YCCS and its student population. This often puts students at ease with the process which otherwise could be overwhelming and confusing for young people just entering the adult system of services. Students also benefit from the ways in which school staff and VR staff work together on transition planning and service coordination. Students work with their VR counselor and school staff to develop a plan for their transition that is tailored to each student’s interests. They utilize resources available through VR and through the school to implement the plan.

YCCS has also expanded its internship opportunities to the entire student population and maintained the funding for paid internships for 200 students every year. These opportunities are open to all students, including those with disabilities. YCCS is a multi-site school and students from any campus can be recommended to the career program by teachers and administrators at their site. Participants in each cohort of internship meet with school staff to explore their career interests, after which internship sites are located with business partners. YCCS works with employer partners such as Walgreens’ Corporate, White Castle, and McDonald’s.

After they are matched with internship sites, students participate in career readiness classes to help them to understand what to expect on the worksite. These classes cover topics including work attire, workplace communication, and conflict resolution. YCCS works closely with each employer partner to ensure that the competencies that are important to them in their interns are covered in these classes. Internship are typically four weeks long. Internship schedules vary widely from site to site, with a focus on arranging the best fit for both the student and the employer. Of the 200 students who participated in the internship program in 2017, 120 were hired by their worksite at the end of the four weeks.

Work Certificate Classes: Testing and work certificates are often part of gaining competitive employment. The Jobs for Youth Program encouraged all of its student participants to enroll in certificate preparation courses to prepare for these tests. Many internship sites in the Jobs for Youth program required a specific work certificate before beginning their internship, such as a food handling certificate or retail customer service certificate. All certificate training expenses and testing fees were paid for by VR. Throughout the Jobs for Youth Program, 56% of students earned a work certificate. YCCS has maintained opportunities for students to gain work certificates since the Jobs for Youth Program grant period ended.  

Certificate training opportunities are provided at YCCS through a collaboration with City Colleges of Chicago. Classes are mainly held at YCCS and taught by either certified school staff or City Colleges faculty. By offering the training and certificate testing at YCCS, the school is breaking down a lot of barriers that may prevent students from acquiring jobs that require certifications. Many YCCS students have had negative experiences with testing in the past which may deter them from pursuing any opportunities that require testing first. Offering students preparation for these tests in the school environment where they are already comfortable eases some of these concerns. Students also benefit from having access to the breadth of support and accommodations provided by the special education department at their school. Students are able to access preparation for nearly any work certificate that aligns with their goals due to the strong relationship between YCCS and City College. Some workforce certificate trainings offered include food handling, forklift operator, professional retail, small engine assembly, and the preliminary pharmacy license.

Youth Development and Leadership: The Jobs for Youth Program also offered opportunities for students with disabilities to develop entrepreneurial skills through mentoring relationships with students from the University of Illinois at Chicago or business mentors. This work has continued beyond the grant period with the formation of the Artfully Gifted Foundation. Students involved in this component of the program work with their mentors to develop a business plan to market a skill. The young entrepreneurs have created a variety of businesses including jewelry making, poetry, photography, and publishing. Artfully Gifted works with the young people, their families, and VR counselors to create a coordinated and collaborative system of support for each young person’s entrepreneurial goals, including having a fulfillment center on site to assist in completing orders. With a comprehensive business plan, youth are able to receive financial support from VR.

In addition to developing their business plans, Artfully Gifted participants spend time in the community sharing information about their business with others. These events are valuable opportunities to develop communication, leadership, and business skills. Though its capacity is currently limited, Artfully Gifted is aiming to secure more funding to continue to work in schools and bring in more young people.

Family Involvement & Support: The Jobs for Youth Program’s comprehensive case management approach ensured that students were supported and had what they needed to participate in their internships. It also ensured that documentation was distributed to necessary parties. With the intensity of this case management approach, case managers also worked closely with the students’ families. The Jobs for Youth Program hired case managers from the youth’s own neighborhood to increase families’ willingness to discuss their student’s needs and their own concerns. Some families had concerns about their students entering the workforce. Case managers were able to work with the families to help them understand the benefits and the support they were eligible for and to ease some of these concerns. The closeness of the case managers to the families was crucial for the students’ continued participation in the program. The Jobs for Youth Program found that providing families with a case manager from their own community who understood the challenges of their area and the barriers that they were facing resulted in a level of family engagement that they may not have been able to achieve otherwise. Funding limitations have not allowed for this type of intense case management support since the end of the grant period.


The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was awarded a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) to support the Jobs for Youth collaboration. Central to the Jobs for Youth Program was creating a collaborative system of support for youth with disabilities to participate in vocational training and prepare to transition out of high school. As the awardee of the ODEP grant, UIC managed the collaboration of the different entities, passed grant funding to the charter school for services to youth, and evaluated the project. UIC hosted meetings every month with representation from VR staff, YCCS staff, and UIC staff. These meetings enabled the group to discuss student progress, any challenges or barriers that they were facing, and strategies for resolving these challenges. These meetings also allowed for discussions of the project as a whole, including the implementation process and recruiting new students. By working as a collaborative of entities, the Jobs for Youth Program broke down the silos that can exist between school sites and vocational rehabilitation. This allowed students to receive coordinated services and it streamlined the paperwork and documentation process to develop an Individualized Plan for Employment for each student involved. Better procedures for documentation ensured that all expenses were paid and students compensated for their internships.

By the second year of the grant, YCCS became an official vendor of VR. This allowed them to directly pay the internship salaries, again reducing the paperwork burden on employers and opening up more opportunities for students. By the third year of the grant, YCCS had secured an additional contract from VR to expand the internship program to more students and was awarded a local grant to expand the program to general education students. The collaborative approach enabled the team to coordinate their efforts to get all students’ cases opened with VR and streamline documentation and payment processes, allowing for more employer partners to be engaged in internship opportunities.

As principal investigator on the project, UIC also tracked progress among students and for the program as a whole in reaching their goals. With the end of the grant period and some changes in VR, the collaboration between the different organizations has changed, however the collaboration between YCCS and VR continues to remain strong. This collaboration includes a contract with VR that allows for 30 students per year to have cases opened. As a result, these students receive support from VR counselors and develop an Individualized Plan for Employment, which provides opportunities for financial support as they pursue their goals. Through its collaborative relationship with VR staff, YCCS is able to support students with disabilities in achieving their goals in a more holistic way by utilizing all the resources available.


Data and/or Third Party Documentation: The University of Illinois at Chicago conducted an evaluation of the Jobs for Youth Program participants’ short-term outcomes. Data was collected for five cohorts of special education students from 2012 to 2016. The evaluation findings were published in the 2018 article, “Jobs for Youth Program: An Intervention to Improve Transition Outcomes of Former Dropout Minority Youth” in the journal, Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals.

The evaluation results for the 116 student participants included the following:

  • 95% of students received their high school diploma
  • 100% of students were enrolled in Vocational Rehabilitation
  • 56% of student obtained work certificates
  • 37% of students participated in paid internships
  • After graduation, 35% of the graduates vocational rehabilitation cases were closed due to meeting the 90-day employment requirements

Source: Balcazar, F., Awsumb, J., Dimpfl, S., Langi, F., & Lara, J. (2018). Jobs for Youth Program: An intervention to improve transition outcomes of former dropout minority youth. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 41(3), 166–174. 

The Youth Connection Charter School also reported the following data from the 2017-2018 Internship Program:

  • 200 students participated
  • In the 2017-2018 school year, 120 students were hired by their worksite at the conclusion of the internship

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