Putting Principles Into Practice: The Launch of Our Youth Apprenticeship Program

Without first-hand experience, how can you determine the guidance and resources needed to support others? We should all grapple with this question as we are in spaces where we are lending expertise and collaborating with a community. In our role at EdSystems, we often provide guidance and share resources with schools and community partners across the State of Illinois to inform the design and implementation of work-based learning experiences. While we are not all former educators or work-based learning coordinators, we have first-hand experience and a deep understanding of the policies shaping work-based learning in our state. 

At EdSystems, our commitment to advancing racial equity and preparing more learners for productive lives extends beyond providing guidance; it’s about embodying the principles we advocate. We recognize the importance of leading by example, which is why the launch of our Youth Apprenticeship is more than just a new initiative—it’s a testament to our dedication to practicing what we preach. By actively engaging in the mentorship of high school youth apprentices, we not only guide the next generation of leaders in education policy but also demonstrate a genuine belief in the transformative power of our mission. 

Youth Apprenticeship Overview

In a rapidly evolving world, traditional education alone may not be enough to prepare our youth for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Our Youth Apprenticeship program is a response to this need, offering a unique blend of hands-on experience, networking with industry professionals, and postsecondary planning. Youth apprentices will engage in:

  • Departmental rotations within EdSystems, including statewide policy, community-level engagement, and communications.
  • College visits and career exploration, including one-on-ones, guest speakers, and job shadows with education and policy organizations outside of EdSystems.
  • Independent projects in a topic area of interest within education policy.

The youth apprenticeship is a three-year program that strongly emphasizes developing essential employability skills and technical skills. Youth apprentices work 15–20 hours per week and receive an hourly wage that increases annually based on their growing responsibilities and performance and an education stipend for each semester enrolled in a postsecondary program. As they continue each year, youth apprentices will have the opportunity to mentor new apprentices. Upon completion, youth apprentices can apply for a full-time position; if they choose not to continue with EdSystems, we will facilitate connections to other education policy organizations.

Who Is an EdSystems Youth Apprentice?

For our inaugural program year of the youth apprenticeship, we collaborated with Career Launch Chicago to recruit a high school student to join our team. 

Education policy is not necessarily at the top of the list of career areas high school students are interested in–or are even aware of. Students are likely familiar with the various roles in a school–teacher, counselor, principal, etc.–but the world of policy may not be one they have been exposed to yet. To pique their interest in joining our team, we asked high school students if they were interested in: 

  • Helping more students get access to internships, college credit classes, and more experiences.
  • Using your voice and experience to influence decisions made by school leadership.
  • Changing systems so that more Black and Latinx students succeed during and after high school.
Maritza Ortega, Youth Apprentice

Our youth apprentice this school year, Maritza Ortega, is an incredible advocate for her community. She is consistently curious about how she can improve students’ experience at her local elementary and high schools. 

In spring 2024, we will be recruiting for the 2024–25 school year. If you are in the Chicago area and know a student you think would be a good fit for our program, please contact Heather Penczak, Innovation and Implementation Director, for more information. 

We will continue to share our youth apprenticeship journey with you all and look forward to more organizations in our field of work embarking on a similar process to put their principles into practice! 

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