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Developing Quality After-School Programs

Peter A. Witt

Abstract


There has been tremendous growth in the number of after-school programs available for children from pre-school through high school. Support for development of programs is wide spread among a variety of groups, including the public at-large, schools, and law enforcement officials. Although after-school programs are created by a variety of organizations, have a variety of goals, and serve a range of children, the rationale for programs can be grouped into three categories: (a) the growing need for child care, (b) the value placed on decreasing negative behaviors and increasing thriving behaviors, and (c) interest in using the after-school hours for improving educational achievement. However, stakeholders differ on which after-school objectives to emphasize. For example, it has been noted that children want competence, relationships, and autonomy; parents want their children to be supervised and in an enriched environment; and the public at large wants prevention of risk behaviors and improved academic performance. School personnel may be interested in programs mainly as a means for extending the school day and thus improving test scores. Thus, a central issue in after-school program design is the balance among stakeholders’ views. Given the potential for tension between competing agendas, partnerships are needed between service providers and other stakeholders that can give full voice to the differing views of what is an after-school program.

This paper discusses a variety of issues related to after-school program development including sources of funding and program content and structure. Several issues related to program development are also discussed, including unrealistic expectations for early program success; the politics of competing with private providers; program staffing; the need for parental and community involvement; bringing programs to scale; sustaining programs over time; transportation; participant recruitment and retention; and parental involvement. In addition, the necessity of a well thought out evaluation plan is discussed. Finally suggestions are presented for increasing park and recreation’s role in offering after-school programs. For example, it is noted that ultimately stakeholders will not base decisions about program success on the reported amount of fun participants say they experience. The ultimate utility of after-school programs will be based on the extent to which they deal with critical issues, such as: (a) providing meaningful alternatives to activities that promote risk behavior for young people during the dangerous period from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m.; (b) helping young people to do better in school and not drop out; and (c) enabling young people to develop to be fully functioning adults. While fun and enjoyment are necessary to keep youth involved, they are not the primary goals of most programs. It is important to develop programs that enrich the after-school hours and are more than just recreation or efforts to keep young people safe and off the streets.


Keywords


After-school programs, stakeholders, program development, evaluation.

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