Over the past decade, funding for and participation in after-school programs has grown substantially. To ensure that their promise is effectively delivered, evaluating their relative benefits and required factors for success is critical.
A 2008 review by the Harvard Family Research Project of available studies, “After-School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What It Takes to Achieve It,” contains important information on such programs. The review found that children and youth who participate in after-school programs can reap benefits in four outcome areas:
- Academics, including better attitudes toward school and higher educational aspirations, higher attendance rates and decreased tardiness, fewer disciplinary actions, lower dropout rates, better performance in school (including higher test scores and grades), greater on-time promotion, improved homework completion and higher engagement in learning.
- Social/emotional areas, including decreased behavioral problems, improved social and communication skills and/or relationships with others, increased self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy, lower levels of depression and anxiety, development of initiative and improved feelings and attitudes toward self and school.
- Prevention issues, including avoidance of drugs and alcohol, decreases in delinquency and violent behavior, increased knowledge of safe sex, avoidance of sexual activity and reduction in juvenile crime.
- Health and wellness, including better food choices, increased physical activity, increased knowledge of nutrition and health practices, reduction in body mass index, improved blood pressure and improved body image.
The review also determined that three interrelated factors are critical achieving positive outcomes from after-school programs:
- Access to and sustained participation in programs
- Quality programming, particularly appropriate supervision and structure, well-prepared staff and intentional programming
- Partnership with families, other community organizations and schools
While making after-school programs successful can be challenging, the literature review indicates that when key factors are addressed, well-implemented and high-quality after-school programs have the potential to support and promote healthy learning and development.
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