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Study Offers Blueprint for Quality After-School Arts Programs

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

What tweens want from after-school arts programs may be just what they need, according to a new study from a private foundation. The report uses market research to provide a window into the expectations of low-income urban youth and, with their help, developed a blueprint for nonprofit arts programs to attract more individuals in this demographic.

The study, issued by the Wallace Foundation, took a supply-and-demand approach to developing guiding principles for creating effective and high-quality arts programs that would be attractive to disadvantaged students. (The Wallace Foundation supports Education Week's coverage of extended and expanded learning time, as well as arts learning.)

Researchers interviewed more than 200 tweens and teens and eight groups of parents for the study. Over the course of one week, the young participants kept photo journals to document their decisionmaking processes about how they spent their free time.

From these journals, in conjunction with interviews and analysis, three key insights emerged:

  • Multiple barriers exist that limit the demand for structured arts programs, including the general appeal of what's available as well as practical issues;
  • Tweens possess a high degree of control when choosing their out-of-school activities and are prone to disengagement; and
  • Young people seek specific features in the structured art programs they choose, such as expert instructors, experiential learning, and the prospect of new friendships.  

These features that tweens look for, according to the study, aligned with what experts also so say make good arts programs.

The study paired the student feedback with information gathered from interviews with researchers and experts, as well as case studies of eight youth organizations to develop ten guiding principles for high-quality out-of-school arts programs. These principles, many of which directly reflect what students said they wanted out of programs, include: ensuring strong leadership from an executive director who has a commitment to quality; holding public events with real audiences where students can showcase their work; a focus on hands-on skill building; and providing a physically and emotionally safe place for youth.

The report also profiles eight after-school programs across the country that it deems of especially high quality. It was authored by Denise Montgomery, Peter Rogovin, and Neromanie Persaud of Next Level Strategic Marketing Group.

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