Middle and high school students are more likely to enroll in and stick with after-school programs if they’re given lots of leadership opportunities within those programs, according to a new study.
“Participation in out-of-school-time programs can help keep [youths] connected to positive role models and engaged in their education at a time when many are beginning to disengage from schools,” says the study by the Harvard Family Research Project of Cambridge, Mass., and Public/Private Ventures. Giving older students leadership options may keep them coming back by providing a “voice, a sense of belonging, ... and a highly visible role,” it adds.
The study was funded by the Wallace Foundation of New York City. It distills five strategies for developing a successful program for adolescents by analyzing strong initiatives in Chicago; Cincinnati; New York City; Providence, R.I.; San Francisco; and Washington.
Besides leadership opportunities, those practices are: making programs community-based rather than school-based; ensuring that staff members meet and discuss their work at least twice a month; enrolling 100 or more youths; and giving staff members multiple opportunities to develop bonds with the young people they supervise.
The report also notes that programs should be interesting, relevant, and developmentally important for older children and teenagers, and that what works with elementary students is not likely to work with older, more sophisticated students.
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2010 edition of Education Week as Engaging Teens and Tweens