ERIC Identifier: ED402370
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
After-School Programs for Urban Youth. ERIC/CUE Digest No. 114.
The number of children and adolescents without family supervision after
school is increasing. Further, the once common notion that self-care led to
greater maturity has been replaced with the knowledge that many "latchkey"
children, home alone after school, may experience loneliness, fear, and worry.
They also risk injury, victimization, bad nutrition, and the negative impact of
excessive television viewing. Adolescents who care for younger siblings may
experience great stress and must forgo constructive after-school activities.
Those who "hang out" with similarly aimless friends may join gangs or engage in
premature sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and other anti-social behavior.
Idle youth are particularly prone to many negative influences in urban areas
Because studies show benefits for poor urban students who engage in planned
after-school activities (Posner & Vandell, 1994), a large number of such
programs have been implemented. They range from small projects with a single
purpose, such as raising reading scores, to well-funded comprehensive programs.
Over three million children participate in some type of after-school program
(National Study, 1993). This digest describes the creation and operation of the
larger and more structured programs, but community groups that want to initiate
small projects can incorporate relevant ideas and experiences into their own
Schools frequently sponsor after-school programs since many districts, public
agencies, or legislation require it. The advantages of school sponsorship
include credibility, a continuity of care, and easy access to good resources.
Also, programs in schools eliminate the need for children to travel to get to
them, and parents do not have to go to two locations to participate in their
children's education. The disadvantages include higher personnel costs if
after-school staff salaries must be equal to teachers', unexpected program cuts
if the after-school program budget is tied to that of the school, and a
perception by children that the program is merely an extension of the school day
(Latchkey Guidelines, 1987).
Many community and religious organizations, either profit-making or
non-profit, are also qualified to manage programs. Some operate independently,
while others have a service contract with the local school district. A potential
difficulty for non-school sponsors is the availability of a well-equipped site
that is an easy commute from school and home. Ideally, the site has both
educational and recreational resources, sufficient rest rooms, and a kitchen.
Independent after-school programs sometimes rent school space since schools have
the best facilities. Thus, they have some of the same advantages as a
Programs can either be self-supporting through tuition paid by participants
(possibly on a sliding scale); supported by grants and contracts; or funded
through a combination of both. In urban areas families usually pay nothing or
only a very small fee.
Many Federal and local government agencies offer funding for after-school
programs. For example, government anti-crime programs support afternoon
anti-gang activities and special education programs support remedial education.
It may be possible to combine special purpose funds from several agencies to
create a full-service program. Some foundations also fund programs. Local
businesses and organizations may contribute, possibly with in-kind gifts, such
as sports equipment or even a site (Carnegie Council, 1994).
PROGRAM DESIGN AND GOALS
Overall, after-school programs
strive to be fun, challenging, and comforting. They are freer than schools to
use innovative curricula and activities to promote children's learning. They can
be flexible in tailoring children's time to their needs, have a better student/
staff ratio, and benefit from multi-age groupings.
Specific goals and activities vary, but, in general, most programs have the
following goals (Latchkey Guidelines, 1987; Marx, 1989; Brooks & Herman,
1991; What Adolescents Want, 1992; Carnegie Council, 1994; Morton-Young, 1995):
*To make available responsible and caring adults who offer support and
*To foster the self-worth of each child and develop their self-care skills.
For adolescents, to foster an age-appropriate sense of independence, and develop
the ability to resist participation in premature sexual activity, substance use,
and anti-social behavior.
*To develop the youth's personal and interpersonal social skills, and to
promote appreciation of cultural diversity.
*To reinforce school day learning by integrating
personalized educational supports into each child's schedule.
*To provide time and space for quiet study.
*To provide educational enrichment activities and to spark youths' curiosity
and love of learning.
*To provide recreational and physical activities to develop physical skills
and to constructively channel energy pent-up after a day sitting in a classroom.
*To encourage participation in sports activities to help youth develop
self-esteem and learn lessons about cooperation and conflict resolution.
*To provide age-appropriate job readiness training.
*To provide information about career and career training options, preferably
through firsthand experiences with community business leaders and tours of local
Schools and districts that run an
after-school program inform parents about it in the same way as they provide
other information. Independent programs often forge a partnership with the
district to promote recruitment. Letters, flyers, and announcements in local
newspapers are simple recruitment tools. Materials can be supplied to local
employers for dissemination; doing this may also spark program support.
Personal contact with parents is a more effective strategy, however. Some
programs designate a staff member to serve as a "community representative" to
speak personally to families about the importance of after-school activities
(Brooks & Herman, 1991). Religious leaders, physicians, and social service
workers can also inform parents about programs.
Programs frequently recruit adolescents directly. Many urban youth are
anxious to have a safe place to go where they will receive personal attention.
They are likely to respond to the lure of good sports equipment and challenging
recreational and educational activities (What Young Adolescents Want, 1992).
Parent involvement in after-school
programs is important. Even before they enroll their children, parents are asked
what they want their children to learn, and what their children like to do
(Kids' Time, 1994). After the children begin attending, staff tries to meet
regularly with families, personally and in meetings. Staff helps parents develop
learning activities for their children at home, provides information on
parenting issues, and reinforces parents' experiences with their children's
school (Morton-Young, 1995). Also, communicating with parents of diverse
backgrounds about their children's needs, and their child-rearing methods and
expectations for their children, can prevent conflicts. It can also help staff
better appreciate diversity.
Since the entire community feels the
impact of youth self-care, establishing an advisory council that includes local
leaders is useful. Council members with relevant skills can provide services the
program would otherwise have to pay for: specialists in child development,
curriculum, public relations, and fund raising (Morton-Young, 1995). Community
members can also serve as tutors, mentors, and speakers for special programs.
Links with public health and social service agencies facilitate parents' use of
them (Kids' Time, 1994).
Each program usually has at least one
director and several counselors. The optimal staff/student ratio is 1 counselor
to 10 to 15 children. Staff can consist of credentialed teachers, school aides,
college students, and community members. Some funders require staff to be
certified by a state agency and to have completed special courses in child
development, school-age care, or recreation. Bilingual staff can be helpful.
Other desirable staff qualities include the following (Kids' Time, 1994;
Carnegie Council, 1994; What Adolescents Want, 1992):
*Strong interpersonal, communication, and organizational skills.
*Respect for and enjoyment of children.
*Appreciation of children's individual needs, differences, and diversity.
*Experience working with children the age of the participants.
*Punctuality, reliability, patience, and flexibility.
*A positive and optimistic outlook.
Most programs provide initial staff training that covers the developmental
needs of children at different ages, cultural sensitivity, creation and
oversight of activities, and effective communication with parents. Programs also
supply ongoing feedback, evaluation, and support (Kids' Time, 1994).
A recent national survey of after-school
programs indicates that participants and their families are generally happy with
them, but that the key criterion for satisfaction is simply their existence;
parents are relieved that their children have a safe place to go after school.
As yet, no systematic evaluation has been made of the impact of after-school
programs on children in general (National Study, 1993), although studies of
their impact on poor children have shown positive effects (Posner & Vandell,
Developing a mechanism for evaluating the effectiveness of a program will
help ensure that children are benefiting and that improvements are made. Indeed,
some funders require evaluation. Statistical components include enrollment,
attendance, and dropout rates. Another useful evaluation mechanism is a review
of individual participants' performance and group experiences. Student
portfolios, containing, for example, photographs, artwork, and writings, can
provide information about each child's progress over time. Joint review of these
materials by staff, families, and the participants themselves can enhance the
children's self-esteem and allow for self-evaluation. Yet to be assessed, but
important nevertheless, is the "prevention function" of the program: does it
prevent low self-esteem, gang involvement, and school failure (National Study,
1993)? Finally, the participants themselves can be asked how the program can be
made more fun, since the better time they have the more they will learn.
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