Igniting the Fire: Background and Research

Igniting the Fire
In another era "after-school" meant staying as punishment for misbehavior when others went home. After-school evolved as a time for both extra help and enrichment opportunities. As the percentage of working mothers rose, after-school programs also became a refuge to keep children off the streets in a safe and supervised environment. Today the nature of after-school programs differs widely, ranging from YMCA and Boys’ and Girls’ Club programs, whose focus is homework help or nonacademic areas, to highly structured school-site programs that mirror closely what goes on during the school day. Some expand the idea of “after-school” to “out-of-school” time and include programs offered before school, evenings, weekends, summers and holidays that help youth grow, learn and develop.” (AYPF)

Since enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, the field has gained a horde of entities, mostly for-profit organizations, seeking to provide services as "supplemental education service providers" for students who are identified as not making adequate yearly progress. There is further interest in the after-school field by many who see U.S. students slipping behind our global competitors and are looking for ways to boost both interest and learning in essential areas of study.

There is often tension between those who seek enrichment for the whole child and those who seek to boost academic achievement in a few specific subjects. A similar tension is apparent between advocates of public education and some of its harshest critics. As with other heated controversies, solutions require common sense and recognizing that young people are human beings with diverse and changing needs.

One movement that seems to be gaining followers is extended or expanded day. In this model the school day is expanded, but during the day breaks of various kinds (arts, sports, special interest periods, etc.) are scheduled that make the day less academically intense and exhausting. This document addresses professional development for after-school programs that are not considered part of such a program, although the strategies suggested are certainly appropriate for any school program—regular, extended or expanded day. The AFT has a history of designing research-based professional development for regular school day staff that dates to 1981, so developing professional learning modules for after-school staff was a natural fit.

The AFT believes the after-school venue has great potential to enrich students academically, socially and as future workers and citizens. As the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) found:

After-school opportunities can … keep youth engaged in school. For many children and youth, the educational settings provided by after-school programs have been an incredibly important context for learning and development.

But after-school is different from the regular school program, and even school day instructors need to recognize the differences and plan accordingly. Students arrive at after-school with minds and bodies that have already been in school for six or seven hours. Any adult who has fidgeted through a two- or three-hour meeting or professional development session knows how eagerly students would seek opportunities to move, talk and have a change of pace.