by Alyssa Shupe
Structured after-school programs have been found to be a significant context for adolescent and positive youth development. This means not just filling in the time allotted until parents arrive, but instead offering youth a variety of structured activities that can be beneficial. Providing supports, opportunities, programs, services (SOPS), and variety is essential in delivering quality recreational programs for youth. Variety reduces boredom and encourages regular attendance. Diverse activities may promote academic achievement, physical and mental health, and overall positive development while offering youth a break from traditional classroom instruction. Some youth will be more easily drawn to less structured activities, such as pick-up basketball, while other youth prefer an organized group activity (e.g., theater production or baseball) with clear goals. As well, providing supportive relationships with adults and peers attracts youth to after-school programming. Successful staff members are those who enjoy participating in, rather than simply supervising activities.
In my experience, when youth are happy with their after school program, they describe it as a family. They develop trusting, caring relationships with the after school staff members and volunteers. Youth not only think of after-school programs as a family, but as “home places” or a “third place” characterized by supportive family like relationships that provide a district space for identity development. Third places contribute to the life worth living. They root us; they give us an identity; they restore us; they support us. After-school programs depicting a third place assists in connecting diverse groups of youth through wide-ranging activities that explore potential, foster talent, raise aspirations and channel energies that will help combat increasing hopelessness about the future.
I believe encouraging youth to partake in after-school programming can provide a safe, caring, supportive, and inclusive environment that fosters positive youth and adolescent development.
However, prior to developing after-school programs, it is important to set goals that reflect the needs of youth in the community. This is where a program logic model comes into play with assessing appropriate resources, activities, outputs, outcomes, and overall impact.
Fostering the developmental assets and enabling youth voice are also key underpinnings to positive youth development while delivering quality after-school programs. Embracing youth voice where youth have the opportunity to express themselves and voice their opinions throughout development or implementation is ideal and effective in after-school programming.
Needless to say, providing a third place as an after-school program for youth can endorse positive youth development and promote supportive relationships. Not only will this attract youth to the program, but in turn will keep them involved within the program.
Participation depends on whether youth are sufficiently engaged to stay involved in a program long enough to reap its potential benefits. Practitioners, parents, and communities should seek to understand promising strategies for recruiting and retaining youth participation in after school programs so that youth can reap the benefits from these programs.