After-School Programs as a “Third Place” Through Positive Youth Development

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.


About Charlene Shannon-McCallum

I passionately teach, research, blog, and tweet about leisure, recreation, and sport. My focus is on youth development, gender issues in leisure and sport, family, leisure education, leisure and health, and bullying in recreation and sport settings.
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3 Responses to After-School Programs as a “Third Place” Through Positive Youth Development

  1. I really liked this article because it hit many prefaces of what makes up a well-rounded after-school program. I think a big problem with organizing a good after-school program comes with the limited resources available to organizers. For instance, all the things listed in this article are great! But what are the chances that an organizer will have the funds and/or resources to implement all these positive features? I’ve taken part in several programs for youth that had lots of strengths but also had several weaknesses. And with each program, the strengths and weaknesses were never in the same areas. Some programs had amazing leaders but little publicity or volunteers while some programs had all the publicity they could want but poor leadership and organization lead to youth involvement declining sharply after the first couple get-togethers. So I guess it’s a matter of getting youth interested then getting them to stay like Alyssa said! All the theories are sound but realistically I think it would be difficult to implement.

    Mackenzie M.

  2. a74tu says:

    Nice post, you did a great job at looking at the reasons for youth adherence to a program. The use of the logic model is something that is essential to the longevity of a youth development program in my opinion. Beginning with the end in mind is a great way to think about the skills you want to instill in said youth.
    I really liked how you touched on the aspects of individualized needs of the community in terms of what the youth may need. This topic seemed to mirror the idea of resiliency to me. Depending on what challenges are present in the community there is always a need for programs to focus on ways to empower youth and overcome the problems they may face at home or in school. With this in mind, why wouldn’t youth come back if your program is providing a place where they feel safe and supported? Great view on this Alyssa.

    Scott A.

  3. b3emf says:

    I agree that having a third place is important in youth development , I personally never participated in any after school programs but the rinks were my third place because typically after school I would go straight to the rink for my hockey or my brothers. Having a third place was key for my development because it provided me with the opportunity to interact with other youths who I wouldn’t meet through school and have another support system outside of family. Your view on after-school programs as third places is interesting I can see you for youths who are involved in after-school programs could benefit from them as a third place and I agree that they are great ways to provide safe, structures, supportive and inclusive environments. If youth don’t participate in sport or recreation after-school programs can be a great way to get youth involved in the community and create new bonds.

    Sam B.

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