By Téa Villareal, DPS Summer Intern, Equity and Engagement
Téa Villarreal, 17, will be going into her senior year as a dance major at Denver School of the Arts. She is very passionate about equity and diversity, and interested in pursuing a career in communications.
Students from all over have the potential to succeed and accomplish their dreams. However, many of those students have a lack of access to opportunities. Having that access to opportunity is extremely important for their success.
The Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) helps youth find their first job experience. The program provides opportunities for work for students ages 14-24 in professional settings with mentorship. It is managed by the Denver Public Schools Family and Community Engagement (FACE) department in partnership with businesses and community organizations, and with support from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
This year’s employment program was strictly virtual due to the adaptations necessary to protect students and staff from COVID-19. The program has supported 240 students remotely as of Aug. 18 and continues to ensure that youth gain access to important employment skills over the summer, following the same processes that a typical SYEP summer would.
With the nature of the engagement this summer, the program has been extended through the end of the calendar year to ensure that all youth are able to finish the curriculum on a more flexible schedule. The team will continue to actively support and enroll over 200 additional youth.
Senior Manager of Youth Self-Sufficiency Services, Arys Subiadur, runs the program in the FACE department. He explained how important it is to continue this opportunity for youth remotely.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical that we ensure that Denver youth have the opportunity to engage in learning employment skills while also earning money to support themselves and their families,” Arys said.
The shift to remote work for youth in the program brings both challenges and silver linings, Mayor Hancock explained.
“Obviously we want youth to have real-world, in-office experience, but interestingly enough as these young people matriculate into their professional careers, they may find that’s the way that many more people are going to be working or at least in their lifetime, more people are going to be working from home,” Mayor Hancock said. “There’s a greater level of responsibility and accountability when you are assigned to be at home or work from home — you still have to deliver, right? You still have to produce.”
This year’s summer program moved to use the Google Applied Digital Skills platform to ensure youth have the ability to engage in this opportunity from the safety of their homes, working with school districts and community partners to ensure that participants have the proper access to technology to complete the coursework. Youth engaging in the program had one-on-one access to job coaches who helped them through the coursework, had conversations about postsecondary and career plans, and provided access to additional wraparound services to the youth and their families.
Through the program, students are assigned SYEP coaches and are supported throughout the entire process. There are 7 SYEP coaches who help their students with the onboarding process and with their orientation day. Students must register and attend hiring fairs and other events to discover the options available to them.
After applying and attending events, students are placed with organizations over the summer. The program works to ensure that students are engaged and involved throughout the entire process so they receive full exposure to real-life experiences.
The organizations that are interested in hiring youth attend these events to select the students they would like to work with. Students then select which organization they are most interested in working for and prepare for the application process with their SYEP coach. SYEP coaches provide support through the application process and help their students with resumes, communication, interview preparation, etc.
With an additional $60,000 in funding provided by a grant from Bank of America in partnership with My Brother’s Keeper and the Denver Office of Children’s Affairs and an additional $30,000 from Denver Economic Development and Opportunity through the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program grant, Family and Community Engagement leveraged $90,000 additional dollars this summer to provide 50 young men of color meaningful remote work experiences. This also supports the work of the African American Equity Task Force, which convened and adopted recommendations for the district in 2017 to help close the Opportunity Gap for our African American students and educators.
The SYEP provides job opportunities with nonprofits, tech companies, airlines, healthcare facilities, community work, day camps, libraries, and small businesses. This program also works with DPS CareerConnect. Once students complete their summer of hard work, the celebration begins. The end of summer celebration is where students can share their experiences and successes.
“It is filled with excitement and positivity because students get to see what they have accomplished,” Arys said.
Since this year’s summer transitioned to remote learning due to COVID-19, the 2020 end of summer celebration will be a speech delivered by Mayor Hancock.
With 60 employers per year and $400,000 going out to students’ summer paychecks, this program ensures the success of young people in the workforce. The SYEP usually serves 225 students each summer and has the potential to serve 375.
Having access to opportunities benefits all students, even those who are high achievers. Opportunities such as the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program help jump start the careers of many young individuals. Mayor Hancock offered some words of wisdom to our youth this summer:
“I encourage young people to ‘carpe diem’ — to seize this moment and learn as much as you can, and do it as often as you can.”