Older Youth and Afterschool: Partnering to Improve Results

Access to quality afterschool programs is critical for our youth, our working families and our communities. Students who regularly attend quality afterschool programs consistently demonstrate better academic performance and behavior in the classroom, stronger peer relations and emotional adjustment and lower incidences of delinquency.

As the nation struggles to improve high school achievement and prepare the next generation for college and the 21st century workforce, it is clear that older youth in the middle grades are critical. More time is often needed to ensure that students are prepared during these transition years for long-term success. Unfortunately, communities across the country have been forced to make difficult choices with limited funding for afterschool programs, leaving older youth with fewer options.

The research and policy briefs linked below make clear that programs for middle and high school students must be designed to attract, engage and meet the varied needs of older, more autonomous youth. The typical afterschool program designed for younger students is less likely to appeal to older youth who see themselves as young adults.

Programs for older youth should include elements to overcome barriers that often keep this age group away, including the need to work, family responsibilities and disinterest. These programs should include relevant learning opportunities that are grounded in the real world, such as part-time work, internships or apprenticeships. This type of real-world learning helps keep students engaged in school and provides them with marketable skills for their future in the workforce.

One solution is legislation that would provide dedicated grant funding for quality afterschool programs that serve older youth at the middle and high school levels. In the 111th Congress, Senators Lincoln (Ark.), Franken (Minn.) and Bayh (Ind.) introduced the After-School Partnerships Improve Results in Education Act (The ASPIRE Act) that would:

  • Authorize a national demonstration project to create multi-state, multi-site afterschool programs. These programs would serve to expand the knowledge base for other afterschool interdisciplinary education programs and to disseminate best practices.
  • Award competitive grants to expand or establish afterschool programs that increase student engagement in learning. Grants are provided for terms of 3 to 5 years, and can be renewed for one additional term, based on performance. Grantees must match the grant amount with private funding on an equal basis.
  • Support the expansion and development of afterschool programs that demonstrate how academic content relates to career opportunities, provide opportunities for civic engagement and service learning, and equip students with marketable skills. Programs best suited for ASPIRE grants improve academic achievement by reinforcing core curriculum while also providing opportunities for students to broaden their curriculum through learning outside of the traditional classroom.
  • Give priority to programs that target services to students who are struggling in school, come from low-income families, or attend schools in a rural area.

A fact sheet on the legislation can be accessed here. These efforts continue in the House of Representatives as well.

Related Research 
Older Youth Need Afterschool Programs
Although much of the funding and programming for afterschool targets younger children, there are myriad advantages for older youth participation in afterschool. This brief examines the growing need for afterschool programming for teens.

Afterschool: A Place for Older Youth to Mentor and Be Mentored
Mentoring is a critical element in every child's social, emotional and cognitive development. It builds a sense of industry and competency, boosts academic performance and broadens horizons. Along with parents, mentors help young people realize their potential by providing them with support, advice, encouragement and friendship. Afterschool programs, with their history of supporting families and communities, are an ideal platform for successful mentoring programs.

Afterschool: Providing a Successful Route to Credit Attainment and Recovery
Afterschool provides older youth with critical academic supports including credit attainment and recovery opportunities. Many educators are turning to afterschool programs to reach students who fail one or more courses, become disengaged, or want alternatives to the traditional path to graduation.

Afterschool: A High School Dropout Prevention Tool
Over one million students who enter ninth grade each year fail to graduate with their peers four years later because they drop out of school. Seven thousand students drop out of school every day, and each year roughly 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school. More than half of these students are from minority groups. Afterschool programs are a proven way to address the issues and risk factors that lead to dropout and provide a path to graduation and beyond.

Recruiting and Retaining Older Youth in Afterschool
Not only are middle and high school-aged youth difficult to engage in afterschool activities, but they are more likely to have unique demands on their time in the hours afterschool. This issue brief highlights the challenges providers face in serving older youth and the innovative strategies that programs have used to recruit and retain older youth in afterschool.

Afterschool and Workforce Development: Helping Kids Compete
Equipping today's youth with the skills necessary to compete in the 21st Century workforce is a top priority of our nation's schools, communities, policy makers and businesses. This issue brief examines how afterschool provides kids with the opportunity to develop skills to help them succeed in an increasingly competitive labor market.

Afterschool programs: At the STEM of learning
In order to better compete with their international peers in the 21st century, American students will need to be better prepared to work in the growing fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. This brief explains the ways in which afterschool can engage kids in these fields, collectively known as STEM.

Afterschool Programs: Helping Kids Compete in Tomorrows Workforce
This brief discusses the unique opportunities afterschool programs can offer students to prepare them for the workforce, including developing interpersonal, thinking, and leadership skills. It also cites several examples of successful programs focusing on such skills.

High School Reform and High School Afterschool: A Common Purpose
With a job market that requires nearly all workers to have a high school diploma, America faces a huge challenge with the dropout crisis. This brief examines the potential role high school afterschool could play in decreasing dropout rates, tackling the achievement gap, and keeping kids on track towards successful futures.