For many students, participation in after-school programs is voluntary. This makes it important to establish a program to which students will be attracted and in which they want to continue participating. For those who are attending involuntarily, the need to motivate engagement and interest is even greater. After-school programs will not strengthen academic learning without the consistent presence and personal engagement of the students. Following are some critical considerations:
- The atmosphere should be welcoming and convey the belief that the students can succeed.
- A good learning environment should be established in which rules and procedures are clearly developed and taught as one would teach content. Although the environment may be less formal than the regular school day, limits and expectations must be clear.
- Staff should know strategies and protocols for rare instances of extreme behavior.
- The tasks should be intentionally planned to engage students’ current interests or to create curiosity about others.
- The tasks students engage in should be intentionally chosen or created to link to the content standards and expectations of the school district.
- Attention should be paid to findings from youth development research. Addressing the needs of adolescents is crucial to engage middle and high school youngsters and, even though most are also relevant for younger students, will lead to some differences in the activities planned for the different age groups. Older students need to:
• know that the adult cares about them;
• feel capable of achieving the tasks set for them;
• feel that they belong to a community;
• have the opportunity to make choices;
• focus on something of interest to them;
• engage in challenging but doable tasks;
• have a chance to show what they have accomplished; and
• feel safe emotionally, physically and socially.
- All students also need clear, specific and timely feedback about what they are doing.