Some Essentials in After-School Programs

Although these professional development modules are created to support the teaching and learning of academic content, there are some basic and critical needs beyond good teaching strategies and curriculum for any program to be successful.

Effective after-school programs are designed to meet local needs and combine elements that often reach beyond academic goals. This is not only laudable, it is essential to develop healthy, well-rounded individuals.

The C. S. Mott Foundation stresses the value of partnerships between school and community, attention to specific needs of the population being served, and an outlook that leads to connecting school skills to the use of those skills in children’s lives:

“…both practitioners and researchers have found that effective programs combine academic, enrichment, cultural and recreational activities to guide learning and engage children and youth in wholesome activities. They also find that the most effective programs develop activities to meet the needs of the communities they serve.” (Mott, 2005)

A 2005 study by Birmingham, Pechman, Russell and Mielke found that highly effective after-school programs were characterized by:

  • a broad array of enrichment opportunities;
  • opportunities for skill-building and mastery;
  • intentional relationship-building;
  • a strong, experienced leader/manager supported by a trained and supervised staff; and
  • the administrative, fiscal and professional-development support of the sponsoring organization.

Another review of extended-day and after-school programs by Fashola (1998) sought to identify specific programs that had a positive impact on student achievement in out-ofschool settings:

“Among programs intended to increase academic achievement, those that provide greater structure, a stronger link to the school-day curriculum, well-qualified and well-trained staff, and opportunities for one-to-one tutoring seem particularly promising, but these conclusions depend more on inferences from other research than from well-designed studies of the after-school programs themselves.”

Of 34 programs studied in Fashola’s work (2008), only 11 had been evaluated in afterschool settings. Six were found to have evidence of effectiveness in that setting (Memphis Extended Day Tutoring program, Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI), Howard Street Tutoring Program, HOSTS and Big Brothers/Big Sisters). These all were one-on-one tutoring programs, an unlikely design for schools offering after-school programs to large numbers of students. One-on-one assistance is vital, however, and may be provided during homework assistance time, before school or during lunch hours. Tutoring should also have a place in a total after-school program but the sheer numbers required for one-on-one help for large numbers of students is a challenge, especially as student grade level increases.

While several reports talk about the benefits of additional time, there is little evidence about what is particularly effective in after-school day settings beyond individual tutoring. There is growing research on the effects of after-school and extended-time programs, but its limited nature requires us to make some inferences from research and experiences related to how people learn, using both general and subject-specific research.