Chicago high school students have been spending their after-school hours with their hands in the dirt. From building garden beds to designing logos to crafting a smart business model for a farmer’s market, Chicago’s After School Matters program has put the reins of running an urban farm in the hands of local teenagers. And that’s just one of the after school program’s empowering ventures.
Curious about computer animation? Running your own restaurant? Cancer research? Writing publishable stories? After School Matters, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust, has you covered.
With paid apprenticeship-like programs, After School Matters provides Chicago high school students with the tools and confidence to master their nearing transition into the workforce over the course of a school year. The program, which has seen more than 100,000 teens since 1991, has become a model for a slew of similar programs popping up across the country.
Studies show that students enrolled in After School Matters have higher class attendance rates, lower dropout rates, and improved grades. However, programs like these go past improving high school standards, they send a new type of employees into the job market. Armed with real work experience, mock job interview skills, and an understanding of standard workplace know-how (like using common computer programs or managing a work schedule), these teens already grasp the core values of being a capable employee—an aptitude employees of any age may lack.
“The whole point of education is to prepare our kids for the workforce,” Jodi Grant, Executive Director of nonprofit Afterschool Alliance, told Newsweek in 2014. “They need academic skills, but they also need social skills, emotional skills, professional skills, confidence and collaboration—these are all things that kids can get in after-school programs.”
A Northwestern University study found that the After School Matters program “led apprentices to be more likely to believe that there was a place for them in the adult employed world, an important developmental concern for adolescents.” Considering that the majority of U.S. high school seniors are pessimistic about their career options, this outcome is significant.
And the teens involved agree. Meghan Bestler joined ASM’s opera program, which worked with the Chicago Opera Theatre to give students a top-notch experience. After graduating high school and finishing the program, Bestler spent a summer in Italy for an opera internship.
“After School Matters gave me so much training,” she said. “The program gave me courage and confidence to do what I want to do. I would be nowhere today if it wasn’t for the program.”