What Makes Learning Work in the Out-of-School Hours?

Photograph of a girl sitting outdoors studying.

With young people going back to school this month, we thought we'd re-post our round-up of reports on out-of-school learning. These publications are all a few years old, but we think they still offer valuable information for youth workers who want to encourage young people to prepare for work and life by participating in expanded learning opportunities.

Research shows that providing expanded learning opportunities for older youth in the out-of-school hours may make adolescents more likely to go to school, finish their homework, do well on standardized test scores, and have good study habits and high motivation. Such opportunities may also make youth less likely to drop out of school. A trio of articles demonstrates that these benefits are most often achieved when the programs are of high quality and collaborate with the local community and schools. (Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.)

The authors of "Learning Around the Clock: Expanded Learning Opportunities for Older Youth" (PDF, 1.64MB) (American Youth Policy Forum, March 2009) state that high quality expanded learning opportunity programs occur 24/7, draw upon the resources of the community, and blur the lines between schools and other valuable teaching institutions, such as colleges, community organizations, museums and employers. The authors present 22 evaluations of effective programs, highlighting what makes each a quality program in four main areas: academic performance, career preparation, social and emotional development, and health and wellness.

In "After School Grows Up: Helping Teens Prepare for the Future" (PDF, 365 KB) (Forum for Youth Investment, April 2009) the authors take a look at several expanded learning programs in California, Chicago, New York, and New Hampshire. In particular, California’s BlairLEARNS boasts strong connections between Blair High School and seven-day–a-week programming. The program mandates tutoring for sports teams, facilitates peer-to-peer mentoring, and provides students with opportunities to recover academic credit, learn English, and prepare for the SAT. BlairLEARNS also offers activities such as digital media, drama, and culinary arts. The authors of this report include an interview with leaders of a New Hampshire expanded learning program, who discuss how strong links between extracurricular programming and school have led to widespread high school reform in their state.

The authors of "Afterschool: The Challenges of Recruiting and Retaining Older Youth" (Afterschool Alliance, April 2009) remind us that students are more likely to benefit from expanded learning opportunities if they participate consistently. Some youth drop out of after-school programs because they have jobs after school, feel disinterested with the activities, wish to relax after school, or have family responsibilities and transportation limitations, the authors explain. They highlight a few successful afterschool programs that have been able to address these barriers by promoting strong relationships among youth, schools, families and the community. Examples of the programs’ innovative strategies include providing leadership and real world experience (not to mention the opportunity for youth to earn income) through internships, responding to youth’s specific needs (i.e. homework help, exploration of a variety of interests), and offering flexible attendance policies, accessible locations and free or low-cost transportation support.

Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.

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