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Engaging Teens and Tweens

If you want middle and high school students to enroll in and stick with your after-school programs, give them lots of leadership opportunities within those programs. That's one of the findings in a new study from the Harvard Family Research Project and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV).

"Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies to Support Sustained Participation in Out-of-School Time" makes clear that expanded learning programs are important in the lives of adolescents and teenagers, not just young children. "Participation in out-of-school-time (OST) programs can help keep [youths] connected to positive role models and engaged in their education at a time when many are beginning to disengage from schools." And giving older kids leadership options may keep them coming back by giving them a "voice, a sense of belonging, ... and a highly visible role."

The study was funded by the Wallace Foundation. It offers five key tips on how to develop a successful program for tweens and teens by analyzing the common strategies used by strong initiatives in Chicago; Cincinnati; New York; Providence, R.I.; San Francisco; and Washington.

The five key practices identified are:


  • Offering a large number of leadership opportunities for participants;

  • Making programs community-based, not school-based (as older kids hang around school less than their younger peers);

  • Ensuring that staff members meet and discuss what they're doing at least twice a month;

  • Enrolling 100 or more youths; and

  • Making sure staff members have multiple opportunities to develop relationships with the young people under their supervision.

I'd recommend that anyone interested in this topic check out the report's research synopsis, at the very least. It offers down-to-earth insights on what seems to work best, including the very logical take-aways that programs should be "interesting, relevant, and developmentally important" for older kids, and that what works with elementary students is not likely to work with older, more sophisticated kids.

The Wallace Foundation also just released a study entitled "AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs." I plan to read it this weekend and write about it next week.

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