School district celebrates 10 years of giving students a “YES” to their career goals

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– The Champaign School District recently hit ten years of the “YES” program, which created an opportunity for kids to get a headstart on their career path of choice or simply get a much-needed summer job.

In the summer of 2021, 66 kids in the city were employed with the help of “YES”, and in the last ten years, about 750 kids have gotten involved.

Centennial High School sophomore Cameron McCullough was just looking to line up a summer job when he turned to his school for help.

“Since it’s my first time, I didn’t know exactly what to do,” he shared.

After joining the “YES” program, things fell into place.

Mindy Smith is the program supervisor at the school district for “YES”, or Youth Employment Services.

“It’s one of those matches where you know, pretty fast like, this is going to be something that’s kind of magical to watch happen,” Smith shared about working with McCullough.

“YES” launched in 2011 as a simpler summer jobs program. Ten years later, Smith said it’s morphed into a career mentorship program too.

“There were students or youth who wanted to be working, and there weren’t opportunities clearly available to them,” Smith added.

“And then particularly students whose families fell at a particular economic level who maybe didn’t have access to the same resources as other students might have access to.”

McCullough said he wants his future career to involve technology and science, so with a hand from a research group at the University of Illinois, his high school summer job was tailored specifically to him.

“I’ve always had ambitious dreams, but the program — meaning the job I had this summer — was science-oriented and it showed me the cool little science part behind everything,” McCullough shared.

Katie Stawiasz worked closely with McCullough in the lab. She’s a graduate student studying chemistry, something she said she enjoys mentoring others on.

“We did a lot of hands-on training and stuff I hadn’t done until I was in college,” she said, adding McCullough caught on quick.

“One of our first days here I was doing some synthesis with Cameron and I showed him our solvent system, which is for dispensing solvents under inert atmosphere,” Stawiasz shared.

“It’s not something that’s super trivial to pick up, and I taught him one day and a couple of days later we went back and I said, ‘Hey, do you remember how we did this the first time?’ And he went through every single step and explained why we were doing all of the things we were doing, and it just blew my mind.”

“He came here and just knocked everybody out of the water,” Smith added.

Stawiasz said regardless of career path, spending this kind of time immersed in science does volumes for developing critical thinking skills, and McCullough got more out of it than the paycheck.

“Having the summer job gave me a sense of leadership,” the sophomore said.

He said since this summer, he’s accomplished a lot, including becoming one of his sophomore class presidents.

Mccullough said he would love to work at the lab again next summer if the opportunity is available, and recommended the “YES” program to any of his peers that could use a hand in making the connections needed to get that headstart.

Smith said “YES” services have been available beyond the summer months since 2017. Students involved in the extra-curricular program can get resume and interview help year-round. She said they also host a career fair in the spring.

Moving forward, Smith said she would like to be able to offer these services to all students and make “YES” into a for-credit class for interested kids.

Click here to find out how to get involved as a student, family member or employer.

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