Benefits for Youth, Families, & Communities
Effective afterschool programs bring a wide range of benefits to youth, families and communities. Afterschool programs can boost academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, promote physical health, and provide a safe, structured environment for the children of working parents.
- Attending afterschool programs can improve students’ academic performance. A national evaluation found that over 40 percent of students attending 21st Century Community Learning Center programs improved their reading and math grades, and that those who attended more regularly were more likely to make gains (Naftzger et. al., 2007).
- Effective afterschool programs can improve classroom behavior (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2010), school attendance, academic aspirations, and can reduce the likelihood that a student will drop out (Huang, Leon, La Torre, Mostafavi, 2008).
- Participation in afterschool programs has been associated with reduced drug use (Investing in Our Young People, University of Chicago, 2006) and criminal behavior (UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, 2007).
- Afterschool programs can play an important role in encouraging physical activity and good dietary habits. Participation in afterschool programs has been associated with positive health outcomes, including reduced obesity (Mahoney, J., Lord, H., & Carryl, 2005).
- Working families and businesses also derive benefits from afterschool programs that ensure that youth have a safe place to go while parents are at work. Parents concerned about their children’s afterschool care miss an average of eight days of work per year, and this decreased worker productivity costs businesses up to $300 billion annually (Brandeis University, Community, Families and Work Program, 2004 and Catalyst & Brandeis University, 2006).
Afterschool activities can vary widely depending on factors including age, background, and the community of participating youth. Research on afterschool programming finds that the most effective activities adapt to individual and small group needs. Furthermore, programming should be as engaging as possible, incorporating hands-on activities and connecting with students’ interests and experiences (Beckett et al., 2009).
Different types of afterschool activities include:
Academics and Enrichment
These types of activities are intended to build on and enhance student learning outside of class time. They can take the form of more traditional instruction, complete with assessments, or more interactive activities intended to actively engage youth. These activities should be well aligned with what students are learning during the school day. The U.S. Department of Education’s You for Youth site provides strategies for connecting afterschool activities to the school day.
Community Service Projects
Community service projects provide an enriching experience for youth that connect them to their community and instill feelings of empowerment. Furthermore, these activities can provide valuable work experience, particularly for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds (Spring, Dietz, & Grimm, 2007). The Corporation for National and Community Service provides resources to help plan community service projects for afterschool programs, including the Resource Center for Volunteer and Service Programs and the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse(link is external).
Field Trips are an exciting way to enrich a child’s life outside of the normal classroom environment. They can include trips to museums, parks, zoos, aquariums, or any other local attraction that youth might find engaging and interesting. If there are no suitable locations in your area, many federal sites, such as the Smithsonian(link is external) and the National Zoo(link is external), offer virtual tours and other online resources that could be enriching for your program.
Physical Activity and Nutrition
Afterschool programs are in a unique position to improve youth health outcomes, as they often serve populations most at risk for adverse health outcomes and occur at a time of day when many youth are traditionally inactive (Afterschool Investments Project, 2006). Such activities can help youth make better nutritional decisions and promote physical activity while increasing self-confidence and emotional well-being.
A high-quality workforce is essential to providing afterschool programs that lead to positive outcomes for children and youth.
The afterschool workforce is comprised of a diverse group of afterschool workers, youth workers, credentialed teachers, social workers and other professionals, with varying levels of education and experience.
- The workforce is generally well-educated. Two-thirds of afterschool staff have a 2-year college degree or higher and 55 percent have a 4-year degree or higher (Yohalem, Pitman, and Moore, 2006).
- Many afterschool staff work part-time and hold multiple jobs. Twenty-seven percent of full-time and 53 percent of part-time staff hold a second job (Yohalem, Pitman, and Moore, 2006).
- 80 percent of afterschool staff report that they are happy with their job and find the work fulfilling (Yohalem, Pitman, and Edwards, 2010).
- Many see a job in afterschool as supplemental or temporary, and yearly turnover may be as high as 40 percent (Yohalem, Pitman, and Edwards, 2010).
- Pay is the primary factor that causes afterschool staff to leave the field (National Afterschool Association, 2006).
States and communities have worked to build and strengthen professional development systems for the afterschool workforce by providing scholarships for education and training, establishing training registries, defining core knowledge and competencies for afterschool workers, and offering credentials and certifications for staff that further their education (Afterschool Investment Project, 2007). Additionally, websites such as the Department of Education’s You for Youth site provides online training and resources to afterschool professionals.
Health and Nutrition
Afterschool programs are well-positioned to promote health and nutrition among young people because these programs:
- Serve many groups of children most at risk for being overweight, specifically minorities and those in poverty;
- Occur during a time of day when children are likely to be sedentary if not given active options;
- Reach children at the developmental stage when they are forming the health patterns they will carry into adulthood;
- Provide meals and snacks that can serve as nutritious examples for dietary habits;
- Act as liaisons to parents who make critical nutrition and physical activity decisions for their children;
- Have experience in making learning fun and modifying lessons for the needs of their students and clients;
- Offer a supportive, safe environment in which children can feel comfortable trying new activities and building new skills; and
- Are led by caring adults who can act as role models with positive influence on children’s health and nutrition choices (Afterschool Investments Project, 2006).
Afterschool programs can encourage healthy outcomes for youth by providing opportunities for physical activity, promoting good nutrition, and engaging parents to encourage healthy choices at home (Afterschool Investments Project, 2006).