Chicago has seen a staggering increase in violent crime over the past three years, with violent crime rates that are over double the national average. Violent crime rates tend to rise during the summer months, a time when students in Chicago lose the refuge of school and often have few options for safe, productive activities, leaving them more vulnerable to violence.

Youth-Led Tech addressed Chicago’s surging youth violence problem by engaging at-risk youth in productive activities that build marketable work skills during the summer months. The six-week summer program, operated by the Smart Chicago Collaborative and funded by Get IN Chicago, served youth between the ages of 12 and 19 in three disadvantaged, violence-prone communities in the city of Chicago, as well as in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

The Youth-Led Tech program was structured around a curriculum that supported positive youth development through technology-based projects in an effort to achieve several goals. First, Youth-Led Tech’s community program wanted to prevent engagement in and exposure to violence among at-risk youth over the summer. Second, the program incorporated technical and soft-skills lessons to build confidence, community, leadership skills, and technical capacity that might lead to better outcomes in school and work. Finally, in the longer term, Youth-Led Tech hoped to help diversify the computer science workforce by instilling a love for technology in its participants and teaching foundational technical skills that would prepare participants to pursue technical professions.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Youth-Led Tech evaluation assessed how Youth-Led Tech operated on the ground over the summer in 2016, both in the community and in the detention center. The study examined the program model and population the program intended to serve, how instructors delivered the program, and how youth experienced the program.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

MDRC conducted an implementation study of the Youth-Led Tech program. The program operated in three communities within the city of Chicago; specifically, the Austin, Roseland, and North Lawndale neighborhoods. Youth-Led Tech also operated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC).

Data sources included application data, youth attitude assessment surveys, staff and administrator interviews, observations of program activities, and interviews and focus groups with participating youth at several Youth-Led Tech locations.