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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.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 8, 2008, p. 1677-1705
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15155, Date Accessed: 8/3/2021 1:47:44 PM

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About the Author
  • Karen Strobel
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    KAREN STROBEL is a senior research associate at the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University. Her research focuses on adolescent development in school and out-of-school settings, achievement motivation, and low-income community contexts. Recent publications include “Leadership Development: An Examination of Individual and Programmatic Growth” (with Jerusha Conner in the Journal of Adolescent Research) and “Studying Early Adolescents' Academic Motivation, Social-Emotional Functioning, and Engagement in Learning: Variable- and Person-Centered Approaches” (with Robert Roeser and Gisell Quihuis in Anxiety Stress and Coping).
  • Ben Kirshner
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    E-mail Author
    BEN KIRSHNER is an assistant professor in the School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder. His research interests include youth participation in school reform, youth-adult research partnerships, and supports for resiliency among linguistic and cultural minority youth in urban neighborhoods. Recent publications include “Moral Voices of Politically-Engaged Urban Youth” (in New Directions for Youth Development: Shaping the Ethical Understandings of Youth) and “Apprenticeship Learning in Youth Activism” (In S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, J. Cammarota, Eds., Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America's Youth).
  • Jennifer O'Donoghue
    Stanford University
    JENNIFER O’DONOGHUE recently completed her Ph.D. at Stanford University’s School of Education. Her research interests include community-based education and public engagement of traditionally marginalized groups, youth participation and development, and citizenship and democracy. Her recent publications include “Taking Their Own Power: Urban Youth, Community-Based Youth Organizations, and Public Efficacy” (in S. Ginwright, P. Noguera, J. Cammarota, Eds., Beyond Resistance! Youth Activism and Community Change: New Democratic Possibilities for Practice and Policy for America's Youth) and “Directivity and Freedom: Adult Support of Activism Among Urban Youth” (with Karen Strobel in American Behavioral Scientist).
  • Milbrey Wallin McLaughlin
    Stanford University
    MILBREY WALLIN MCLAUGHLIN is the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy at Stanford University. She is the author or coauthor of books, articles, and chapters on education policy issues, contexts for teaching and learning, productive environments for youth, and community based organizations. Her books include Building School-Based Teacher Learning Communities (with Joan Talbert), Teachers College Press, 2006, and School Districts and Instructional Renewal (with Amy Hightower, Michael Knapp, and Julie Marsh, Teachers College Press, 2002).
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