What Makes a Good After school Program
Shared from the American Psychological Association. Read the full story here.
A recently released policy report written by Columbia University psychologists Jodie Roth, PhD, and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, concluded that good afterschool programs “are best characterized by their approach to youth as resources to be developed rather than as problems to be managed.”
According to the report, “What Do Adolescents Need for Healthy Development? Implications for Youth Policy,” good programs should:
- Help young people develop strong, positive relationships with adults.
- Build on the young person’s strengths rather than focus on his or her weaknesses.
- Provide an environment that helps young people develop positive relationships with peers.
- Give youth challenges they can rise to.
- Provide enriching, creative activities they can participate in.
- Give youth opportunities to develop leadership and decision-making skills.
- Focus on the developmental needs of young people by nurturing teens’ autonomy at the same time the programs lend them guidance.
- Provide all of these opportunities over the long term.
The team began from a perspective that embodies the spirit of youth development: with the kids themselves.
“In the course of doing community-based work in the early 1980s, I ran into kids from really challenging backgrounds, all of whom were doing quite well,” McLaughlin recalls. “Despite terrible odds, they were still in school, they weren’t on drugs and they had positive feelings about the future.”
When she investigated why this was so, it turned out the teens were self-selecting programs–whether it was YMCAs, sports programs or the local dance troupe–that were structured, supportive and challenging.
“These kids didn’t want to be in ‘let’s just hang out and have fun’ kinds of places,” McLaughlin says.
One feature many programs shared was a tendency to be “assessment-centered“–focused on giving feedback to kids in a variety of arenas. The young people were constantly asking program adults for feedback on their performances, and the adults were continually supplying it.
McLaughlin also noticed the presence of an “embedded curriculum”–a holistic, life-oriented teaching approach that went beyond the subject at hand. The teachers weren’t just showing kids how to dunk a basketball or act in a play. They were also coaching them on life skills such as good table manners or how to interact with peers–basically, being great mentors.
The long-term follow-up of 60 of the study’s youth shows how well these programs served them. At age 25, all but four were doing well in life, holding good jobs and actively participating in their communities. The young people fared well on self-reported academic measures, too: 26 percent were more likely to report having received recognition for good grades than American youth generally, and those who attended the programs frequently were more than twice as likely to report such recognition.