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Engaging tweens with high-quality arts programs at national organizations

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Engaging tweens with high-quality arts programs at national organizations

A new study commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, Designing for Engagement: The Experiences of Tweens in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth Arts Initiative, indicates that large, national, multi-disciplinary organizations can offer high-quality arts programming that attracts and retains tweens.

Growing evidence surrounding the arts demonstrates the added value that arts education can bring to a child’s life. The Wallace Foundation recognizes that not every child has access to the rich experiences and opportunities that arts education has to offer. To address this issue, The Wallace Foundation, in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of America, launched the Youth Arts Initiative (YAI) to improve and expand exposure to arts learning for underserved youth. A previous investigation into the initiative showed that a national, generalist, youth-serving organization like the Boys & Girls Club (Club) was able to replicate the elements of high-quality programs typically found in smaller, more specialized organizations. A new study followed up on this research, suggesting that these high-quality arts programs are able to successfully engage tweens, an age group typically difficult to attract and retain.

Report Findings

Programs based on the Ten Principles for Success attracted and engaged tweens. YAI employs the Ten Principles for Success of high-quality arts programming outlined in the 2013 study, Something to Say: Success Principles for Afterschool Arts Programs from Urban Youth and Other Experts; these are professional practicing artists, executive commitment, dedicated spaces, high expectations, culminating events, positive relationships, youth input, hands-on skill building, community engagement, and physical and emotional safety. Integrating the Ten Principles into program practices (research on implementation reported in Raising the Barre) helped make the arts more visible and attractive to youth at the Club, allowing arts classes to successfully recruit existing Club members amidst competition from other program opportunities. Youth were regularly seeing and talking about the arts, and in this setting, informal word-of-mouth became the most effective recruitment strategy over more formal recruitment strategies, such as posters and flyers.

A challenging skill-development program engaged, rather than deterred, tweens. Despite the drop-in nature of the Boys & Girls Club, a majority of participants showed up regularly and returned the following year. The strong youth development practices (as identified in the Ten Principles) sparked a passion for the arts, motivating youth to put in the effort even when classes were rigorous or demanding. Participation was also encouraged by holding youth to high expectations, such as adhering to an attendance requirement; this was achieved in part by fostering parent support and engagement. Some barriers to participation that arose include managing program growing pains and navigating overlapping or competing program schedules.

Youth, parents, and Club staff perceived high-quality arts programs as valuable. YAI enriched the quality of programming Clubs were able to provide, generating a more positive Club experience for youth. Youth learning was not limited to gaining new artistic skills—youth also reported building social and emotional learning competencies such as self-awareness, self-management and persistence, and relationship skills. Likewise, Clubs experienced benefits through increased attendance and retention, particularly when looking at YAI participants versus non-YAI Club members.

Key Recommendations

This study offers a number of suggestions for future research, practice, and policy to better understand how to attract and retain tweens in afterschool arts programming. Some recommendations include:

  • Be intentional in demonstrating the value of arts to recruit tweens. Features such as high-quality studio spaces, professional teaching artists, new equipment and technology, and public culminating events make art programming both visible and attractive to tweens. Encourage peer-to-peer word of mouth recruitment. 
  • Strengthen youth engagement by coupling challenging content and high expectations with adult support and mentorship. Youth make deeper connections to the program and are more likely to return.
  • Focus on quality to promote retention and positive youth outcomes. The support tweens experience from strong youth development practices—including providing a safe environment, interactive and hands-on activities, and programming driven by youth interests—keeps them engaged.
  • Ensure adequate funding for tween programs. Without support from policymakers and funders, afterschool programs often lack the capacity to produce the high-quality programs needed to attract and retain older youth.

Read the full report, Designing for Engagement: The Experiences of Tweens in the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Youth Arts Initiative, for more.

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New issue brief: Afterschool fostering protective factors

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