Image of the cover page of the YES report



Youth Empowerment Summer:
Crisis Response and Lessons for
the Future of Collective Action
and Work-based Learning

The Youth Empowerment Summer coalition formed in response to the Covid-19 crisis as New York City worked to transition to remote learning and following the announcement of the cut of the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program. With the goal of providing early work experiences for teens during Summer 2020, a group including more than 100 nonprofits, community-based organizations, private funders, advocacy groups, intermediary organizations, and, critically, youth activists, came together to ensure that as many teens as possible had high quality experiences. Its work combined efforts around policy and advocacy with supplemental partnerships, funding, and peer-led learning among youth workers and educators. The YES coalition successfully advocated for partial restoration of the city program and created a supplemental support structure for providers through over $1 million in grants leading to 55 implementation and technical assistance partnerships.



“I felt really proud to see how quickly New York City organized, how quickly New York City influenced policy. I just think that it just speaks to how powerful the CBO network is. I would love for us to do that more often.”

– Leader of a community based organization (CBO) and member of the YES coalition


Key Lessons from YES 2020

The report on the coalition’s efforts highlights the coalition’s collective impact, with a number of key lessons for the field:

  • Instruction: Summer youth employment programs can, and should, be seen as spaces to simultaneously engage youth people socially and emotionally while also developing vital skills that can support equitable futures.
  • Program features: While there is no silver bullet to remote work-based learning, careful consideration around key program features—staffing, curriculum, technology, synchronous and asynchronous engagement, scale, and youth agency—can result in powerful learning experiences.
  • Inter-generational collaboration: Youth leadership and voice is key in determining work-based learning policy and practice, and stakeholders like adult advocates, policy makers, and intermediaries should intentionally approach and support inter-generational deliberation and collaboration. 
  • Long term investments for rapid responses: Civic coalitions can mobilize quickly through rapid response designs, provided there is long term investment in field-level infrastructure and intermediaries.
  • Process and engagement: Community-led program design within work-based learning can result in models that are more robust, have greater buy-in, and better attend to local conditions. 

These lessons should inform future work on summer youth employment programs and the ways the field might imagine civic responses to learning and support for children. Read more in the report below.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1


1.1 Overview
1.2 A Context of Crisis
1.3 Life, Disrupted: Youth Futures under Covid-19
1.4 NYC’s Summer Youth Employment Program in 2020
1.5 The Youth Empowerment Summer Rapid Response Ecosystem
1.6 Research Methods
1.7 Report Roadmap

Chapter 2

Emergence of a Rapid Response Ecosystem: How the YES Coalition Formed

2.1 Overview
2.2 Formation of the YES Coalition
2.3 Analysis
2.4 Discussion and Implications

Chapter 3

Interventions and Impacts of the YES Coalition

3.1 Overview
3.2 Advocacy for funding restoration
3.3 Instructional policy influence
3.4 Instructional policy coordination
3.5 Instructional policy implementation support
3.6 Discussion and Implications

Chapter 4

Organizational Leadership in the Context of Summer 2020

4.1 Overview
4.2 Spring 2020
4.3 Restoration and Policy Roll-out
4.4 Discussion and Implications

Chapter 5

Levers for Impact in Design of Remote Work-Based Learning Models

5.1 Overview
5.2 Case Examples
5.3 Key Levers and Questions for Program Leaders and Policy Makers
5.4 Conclusion

Chapter 6

Humanizing Pedagogy through Social and Emotional Supports in Work-Based Learning

6.1 Overview
6.2 Building Community
6.3 Holding Space for Vulnerable Sharing
6.4 Revitalizing Hope
6.5 Developing Networking Skills
6.6 Unpacking Workplace Discrimination
6.7 Encouraging Help-Seeking Behavior
6.8 Orienting Toward Change
6.9 Conclusion

* Read our “Humanizing Pedagogy” practice briefs




Appendix A: Methods
Appendix B: SYEP Summer Bridge 2020 Program Overview
Appendix C: Timeline of YES Coalition Formation Period
Appendix D: List of YES Awardees
Appendix E: YES Design Committee

Lessons from a summer of crisis

The story of YES took place across a wide range of sites and settings that all shaped the educational opportunities and experiences of young people living in New York City in the summer of 2020. The municipal offices where policy deliberation and decision-making took place. The social media feeds, pages of local press and online petitions where advocacy for restoration played out. The Zoom meetings, ever-present under Covid-19, where groups of educators collaborated to develop alternative visions for how to support youth during a pandemic. And, of course, the youth development organizations where young people worked with and were supported by educators working under crisis conditions. The work conducted to research and document this effort spanned all of these, and the analysis provided in this report is intended to offer lessons across them.

Download the full report









The YES coalition was organized and co-led by ExpandED Schools, Beam Center, and Hive NYC Learning Network. Student Success Network and Telos Learning co-led research and documentation, with support from the Wallace Foundation.