Academic Goals for After-School Programs

There is little guidance on what constitutes a successful focus on academics in an afterschool program. After-school is understood variously as: tutoring, extended learning time, extended day, extended year, enrichment, remediation, homework time and even child care. Most students are not with their regular-day teachers or paraprofessionals after school, and in most places students are not required to attend. An after-school academics-oriented program is not intended to teach new content, although sometimes that will happen as students engage in planned activities. It is a time for enrichment and support, practice and application.

While homework assistance can and should be part of the after-school agenda and tutoring on specific skills is valuable and necessary, the AFT believes after-school programs must go beyond that. We must spark students’ enthusiasm, persistence and curiosity about what they are learning in regular school and sometimes connect that knowledge in a new way. Students who are struggling can review skills and concepts, get a chance to apply them in different settings and attain a sense of success that will provide increased confidence during the regular day.

Assessment in after-school settings also varies from the standard assessments of learning used by school systems to grade and compare students. There are a variety of assessment tools—from daily observation to portfolios, products and productions. The setting also allows observation of growth in areas not generally graded and tested.

The AFT believes that after-school academic programs, in addition to the more traditional emphasis on tutoring, should endeavor to:

  • ignite a passion for learning that students can carry back to their regular day classes;
  • provide application and practice for school day skills and knowledge in a way that strengthens learning, builds connections, demonstrates the usefulness of content and builds confidence based on accomplishment; and
  • enhance learning with the kinds of experiences that the school day has less time to provide.

Many people still believe content must be learned through the traditional model of a teacher telling students how to do something, demonstrating it, and having students practice. Although there are some things that must be conveyed through lecture, we know this is often the least effective strategy, especially when developing flexible and higher-order thinking that allows learners to apply their knowledge in the real world. Yet, this is the way the Third International Mathematics and Science Classroom 1999 Video Study described the typical eigth-grade U.S. mathematics class, although we know there are many places where things are done differently and progress is being made continually. One of our aims is to promote a model of learning that can ignite the interest and curiosity of students, and also develop habits of work and mind that will benefit students as they pursue more education and work.