Who We Are

yccs nu_logo_sm

The Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) has served as the leading provider of alternative education programs in Chicago since 1997. YCCS is the only chartered alternative education system that is solely dedicated to serving the growing population of dropout and at-risk students in Illinois. See Fact Sheet

What We Do

Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) has collaborated with national organizations as they set policy for students who are deemed over aged and under-credited in the areas of college access, higher academic standards, and work readiness preparation.  The fundamental design principles created by YCCS (have) been shared with administrators from school systems in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and others.

The purpose of the Fundamental Design Principles is to create solutions (to meet) the challenge of providing adaptive school structures and systems that maximize student learning opportunities::

  • Adaptive school structures that build on the strengths of students and the collective school organization
  • Quality school instruction that motivates at-risk students to learn and grow academically and personally
  • Strong academic leadership that builds strong school teams
  • Assessment driven instruction culture shared by all members of the school
  • High expectations for all students
  • Professional environment that has continuous professional development and career opportunities
  • Continuous program improvement that leads to improved learning outcomes for all students
  • Community based programming that connects learning to the community
  • Accountability for all aspects of the school program
  • Organizational commitment to advancing alternative education under the umbrella of YCCS

20 Campuses with Unique Education Programs

Click on the following link to see the different education programs that are offered through YCCS’ Campuses

YCCS Education Programs 

Best Practices

A look at how the fundamental design principles are put into practice at YCCS Campuses

Post-Secondary Education and Career Preparation

Attendance and Accountability

Community-Based Programming

Pathways Strategies

Adaptive and Differentiated School Structures



In 1997 Youth Connection Charter School (YCCS) was created to address the high dropout rates of minority youth in Chicago’s high schools.  At the time, the dropout rate for African American youth was 40%, for Latino youth 34 %, and for white youth 17 %.  The need for reengagement opportunities for the dropped out student was, and still is, great.  Supported by the Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas to address this problem, Youth Connection Charter School became one of Chicago’s first charters and the only charter school authorized by Chicago Public School to serve the high risk and at-risk student population.

Prior to the creation of YCCS, Chicago high risk and at-risk youth were offered alternative programs such as GED, remediation, adult education, job and literacy programs by twenty eight non-profit private community-based organizations.  Some of these organizations were private nonprofit schools and some were simply programs, but all provided educational and social service programs to youth in their communities.  The creation of YCCS as a charter-holder provided a unique opportunity to develop an infrastructure in which to contain and provide services for those twenty eight non-profits. The YCCS infrastructure established administrative policies and procedures, educational research, and opportunities to develop alternative approaches to education, and it also provided stable umbrella funding. The YCCS infrastructure converted rich community programs into solid “public schools” as the programs changed from being providers of disparate short term programs for high risk and at-risk students to being innovative high schools in their communities.  The Community Organizations continued to maintain their independence as Community Based organizations, and this is the uniqueness of YCCS of being one school.


Since its inception, YCCS has changed the culture of alternative high schools and provides,

  • Centralized compliance, fiscal reporting and administration, research, and special education services
  • A common Educational Design that drives quality and provides a framework upon which each campus builds instructional capacity
  • Safe environments conducive to student learning
  • Certified, highly qualified, competent, and caring teacher pool
  • Leveraged resources and institutional supports from a cross-section of community and state agencies to support student learning and engagement
  • A range of community partnerships that support student academic and non-academic experiences.
  • Technology rich learning environments
  • College going school cultures
  • A higher graduation rate than the Chicago Public Schools



1997    YCCS chartered with 28 community-based youth serving agencies. Executive Director Sheila Venson hired.  One board of directors formed to oversee all 28 programs as one charter school

Enrollment:                                            1,000

Cumulative Graduates:                      322

1998    Established a unified school infrastructure. Developed an accountability framework and policies and procedures.

Enrollment:                                            1,200

Cumulative Graduates:                     672

2000    YCCS Board implements programmatic initiatives – e.g. Math and Science Academies, Enrichment Academies.  Identified challenges to high standards and high graduation rates outcomes.  Data gathered.

Enrollment:                                           1,550

Cumulative Graduates:                     1,336

2002    Paradigm shift in philosophy and strategy. Chicago City Council Recognizes Youth Connection for its work.

Moved from credit based graduation criteria to standards based graduation criteria, closing the achievement gap and focusing on college graduation as the end goal. Charter renewed for second 5-year contract with 25 schools.

Enrollment:                                         1,700

Cumulative Graduates:                  2,055

2003    Campuses adopt an aggressive plan to improve quality.

Enrollment:                                        1,900

Cumulative Graduates:                 3,324

2005    YCCS implements Quality School Measures, develop a campus that provides occupational skill training and opens a direct YCCS operated Campus.

Enrollment:                                      2,500

Cumulative Graduates:               4,972

2006    YCCS promotes the development of a state wide task force on Growth Models, YCCS is appointed as a member to the Illinois Task Force on Growth Models and YCCS is appointed as a member to Illinois Task Force on Re-enrolling Students Who Dropped out of School.

Cumulative Graduates:               5,927

2007    Charter renewed for third 5 year contract with 21 schools and YCCS implements Essential Skills Framework and the Fundamental Design Principals.

Enrollment:                                     2,800

Cumulative Graduates:              7,010

2009    YCCS develops a brick and mortar school offering online education for students who are under-credited and over-aged.

Enrollment:                                     3,100

Cumulative Graduates:              9,060

2010    YCCS opens a second direct YCCS-operated Campus.

Enrollment:                                    3,525

Cumulative Graduates:             10,256

2012    Charter pending for fourth 5 year contract with 22 schools.

Enrollment:                                    4,004

Cumulative Graduates:             12,872



YCCS is on a serious mission. Executive Director Sheila Venson and her staff were concerned that while students were graduating high school with the necessary credits, many still lacked the reading, writing and math abilities to secure a good job or continue on to college. Venson’s team decided to adjust YCCS curriculum to upgrade the skill level accomplishment. The result was the development of the Essential Skills Framework that is implemented on all 20 campuses.
“The Essential Skills Framework is unique to YCCS,” said Dr. Linda Goodwin, Chief Education Officer. “By shifting focus from simple credit attainment to actual skill level attainment, we are better preparing our students for productive futures.”  Read more