Qualities That Attract Urban Youth to After-School Settings and Promote Continued Participation
by Karen Strobel, Ben Kirshner, Jennifer O'Donoghue & Milbrey Wallin McLaughlin - 2008
Background/Context: Studies carried out over the last two decades have established structured after-school programs as significant contexts for adolescent development. Recent large-scale evaluations of after-school initiatives have yielded mixed results, finding some impact on adolescents’ attitudes toward school but limited impact on their academic performance. One clear conclusion of these studies, however, is that it matters how often and for how long young people spend time in after-school settings.
Purpose/Research Question: This study describes the features of after-school settings that are most appealing and engaging to youth growing up in low-income communities.
Setting: Analyses focus on a network of five after-school centers that serve predominantly racial and cultural minority youth living in low-income urban neighborhoods.
Participants: Participants in the study include 120 youth who varied in their frequency of participation in the after-school centers. Of these participants, 20 were in elementary school, 76 were in middle school, and 24 were in high school. Forty-two percent identified themselves as Asian American, 22% as African American, 13% as Latino/Latina, 7% as European American, and 5% as Filipino, and 10% were categorized as “other” or “unknown.”
Research Design: This study is a qualitative investigation geared toward understanding young people’s subjective experiences and meaning making. Data are drawn principally from focus groups and individual interviews with participants over a 2-year period and supplemented with field work conducted by a team of trained youth ethnographers.
Findings: Our analysis of these data points to three features of the youth centers that youth identified as valuable: supportive relationships with adults and peers; safety; and opportunities to learn. Results highlight the meaning and significance youth ascribed to each feature, while also underlining the important function that centers with these features play in adolescent development.
Conclusions/Recommendations: After-school settings have the potential to serve as a unique developmental niche by meeting needs that are not consistently met in other contexts. Youths’ descriptions of supports and opportunities also underscore the interrelationships among the positive features they perceived. Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers are encouraged to recognize after-school programs as core contexts of development that should be assessed according to the full spectrum of adolescents’ developmental needs.
To view the full-text for this article you must be signed-in with the appropriate membership. Please review your options below: