Low-income teens can learn about dream jobs in new program

The Chicago Housing Authority’s Learn and Earn: Career Connections program for the first time will partner with After School Matters.

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Students work on a math lesson during the 2019 Learn and Earn: Career Connections program put together by the Chicago Housing Association. 

Students work on a math lesson during the 2019 Learn and Earn: Career Connections program put together by the Chicago Housing Association.

Provided/Chicago Housing Association

Starting Tuesday, 520 teens in public housing will get the opportunity to try out their dream careers — whether that be working as a restaurant owner, doctor, graphic artist or a wide range of other careers.

The Learn and Earn: Career Connections program has been offered by the Chicago Housing Authority for years. This is the first time program organizers will partner with After School Matters, a non-profit focused on after-school and summer programs for teens, to offer the opportunity.

The new partnership will allow teens ages 13-15 access to unique field trips and opportunities to hear from experts in their dream fields, said Ebony Campbell, CHA’s senior director of resident services.

“We want to encourage young people to think about what they might want to be when they grow up, what they want to do, and how they want to change and impact the world and their community,” Campbell said.

The five-week program will be a hybrid of online and in-person learning, with weekly trips to colleges around the city, among other locations.

This is 14-year-old Christopher Green Jr.’s second year participating in the program, and he is particularly excited to learn more about coding in various fields, he said. The program will be important to show him the different fields that use computer science, he said, and will allow him to build upon his foundational skills. Christopher lives in Altgeld Gardens and will attend Chicago Urban Prep next year.

“It is really important because it opens up new avenues for him,” said his mother, Ethiah Williams. And access to City Colleges is an amazing opportunity, she said.

The students all had to be a part of CHA programs to apply, and once accepted, they were matched to their specific field of interest, said Melissa Mister, After School Matters chief programs officer. Each will receive a stipend, a feature of all After School Matters programs, she said.

This program is important for keeping up students’ education through the summer, when kids often experience learning loss, Mister said. Most of the online aspects will be a curriculum designed to teach mathematics and literary skills, she said.

“The summer slump is real, and teens tend to lose ground over the summer. We want it to be that no academic losses happen,” she said.

This program will also provide a haven for at-risk teens during the summer months, which can be particularly dangerous in Chicago, Campbell said.

“Programs are a violence prevention strategy, in many ways, because young people need to be in a safe environment, even if it’s virtual,” she said.

More than anything, though, the goal is for the students to have a fun time and get to know what fields pique their interest.

“We want to make sure that our young people have these early working experiences, and even if they don’t figure out what they want to do, who they want to be, at the very least they can find out what they don’t want to do,” Campbell said.

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