Outcome Study of an After-School Program for Youth in a High-Risk Environment
Keywords:youth development, after-school programs, outcomes
AbstractCurrently, thousands of youth-based programs exist to promote education, enhance development, and instill a sense of belonging and competence in inner-city/urban youth. After-school programs have been found to develop resilience in adolescents by providing opportunities for growth, increasing academic achievement, providing a safe environment, creating supportive and significant relationships, and keeping youth out of harm’s way. Several qualitative studies have been conducted to explain the importance of after-school programs; however, fewer studies have relied on the perceptions and experiences of youth participants. The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the developmental impact of an afterschool program for youth that reside in high-risk environments, and understand the program elements that contributed to or undermined programmatic outcomes. The study included 25 youth participants from two program sites who were interviewed individually about their experiences in their afterschool program; 21 of the 25 youth participated also in follow-up focus group interviews. Two program coordinators from each site were also interviewed, and observations were conducted at each site. Triangulation of the data was achieved through youth participant individual and focus group interviews, after-school coordinator interviews, and field observations. Although differences were found between the two program sites, the results indicated that, overall, youth participants gained valuable developmental outcomes. Four outcomes were expressed both by the youth participants and after-school coordinators. These outcomes included: experienced a nurturing and enjoyable environment; learned positive values and behavior; tried new activities and learned new things, thus developing a perception of competence; and started to develop a positive plan for the future. Although it was clear from the interviews that the program provided the youth with important developmental assets or resources, the interviews and field observations suggested that only a minority of the staff offered the “optimal” level of nurturance, opportunities for character development, competence building, and future planning to the youth participants. The after-school program may have been much more powerful and influential if all of the after-school staff had played a greater role in the facilitation of positive developmental outcomes.?
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