Student Well-Being

Report Looks At Impact of After-School STEM Programs on Students

By Samantha Stainburn — July 22, 2014 2 min read
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A report published this month by the Afterschool Alliance examines the impact of after-school and summer programs that offer science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) learning experiences on the students who participate in them.

The report’s authors find that engaging in activities like hands-on science experiments, computer modeling, and citizen science projects outside the school day increases students’ interest and engagement in science, knowledge of STEM careers, and for some, test scores in math and science.

The researchers gathered outcomes data from 11 after-school programs that have a reputation for excellence, including Girlstart, an Austin-based STEM program for girls, Science Club, a science experimentation program from Northwestern University and the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, and Project GUTS, a computer skills program for middle schoolers in New Mexico. All the programs studied serve high percentages of low-income students and students of color.

Among the report’s findings:

  • After-school STEM programs are successful in engaging and retaining large numbers of students from diverse populations. For example, 82 percent of Project GUTs participants persist in the 22- to 26-week program to build a working computer simulation model. Eighty-four percent of Science Club students attend weekly, participating for one-and-a-half years on average.
  • As they participate, students gain real skills. For instance, 95 percent of students who spend three years in 4-H Tech Wizards, a technology program from 4-H, demonstrate mastery of skills in website development, video and podcast production, GIS and GPS technologies, and LEGO robotics.
  • Participants show an increased awareness of career options. Programs like Science Club and Techbridge, a Bay Area, California, STEM program for girls, use science graduate students or STEM professionals as mentors and role models, which helps expose students to the variety of STEM careers that exist.
  • After-school STEM programs can have an impact on academic performance. One example: An evaluation of Techbridge found that girls who participated in the program had higher scores on the California Standards Algebra II and Biology tests, a higher calculus grade, and a higher weighted total cumulative GPA when they graduated high school than girls from their schools who didn’t participate.

After-school programs enroll as many girls as boys and high numbers of students from ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in STEM fields, and therefore provide a venue in which to begin to develop a more diverse group of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, the authors note. According to Afterschool Alliance data, 24 percent of African American, 21 percent of Latino, and 16 percent of Native American children attend after-school programs, above the national average of 15 percent.

“Spaces such as after-school and summer programs, libraries, science centers and other such OST settings offer great resources and capabilities as partners in providing STEM learning experiences for youth,” the report’s authors write. “It is vital to acknowledge after-school and other OST [out-of-school-time] settings as necessary partners to the formal education system, and not just a luxury.”

Read the full report here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.