After-school programs strongly benefit at-risk students

After-school programs strongly benefit at-risk students

(N.Y.) Students in urban, low-income communities tend to have stronger academic skills and self-confidence when enrolled in high-quality after-school programs, according to a new study from New York University, Steinhardt.

Researchers from the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that after-school programs with good social dynamics, responsive instruction and behavior management improved academic outcomes for students both with and without social and behavioral difficulties in grades three through eight.

And because after-school programs are spaces where instructors are often more similar to the students in age and background, they can often facilitate diverse, productive interactions that help children reach social and academic goals.

“Because of their unique position at the juncture of school, neighborhood, and home, after-school programs may be particularly important for youth on a path toward school disengagement or risky behaviors,” Elise Cappella, associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and author of the study, said in a statement. “After-school classrooms observed to be positive, responsive, and organized had youth with greater academic skill development over the school year.”

Regular participation in after-school activities has been shown to boost attendance rates and improve math scores for up to four years among at-risk elementary school students, according to past research from the U.S. Department of Education. And because after-school programs play a vital role in providing safe places, meals and homework assistance for low-income children, a handful of states have sought in recent years to expand access to high-quality after-school programs.

In California, for instance, lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 that gives low-income children priority enrollment in state-funded after-school programs, and waive any enrollment or meal fees for students identified as homeless, low-income or foster youth.

Researchers at NYU used data gathered from five after-school programs run by Good Shepherd Services, a nonprofit provider of educational and mentoring services in the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The 256 youth studied, ranging from third through eighth grade, were predominantly Latino and African-American. Among students, researchers measured reading skills, youth perceptions of their academic abilities, and academic engagement; they also looked for factors including supportive relationships between youth and adults, student engagement in activities, and chaos in the classroom.

Positive after-school programs were linked to increased academic skills and confidence among students in their own academic abilities–and the connection was even stronger among children with social and behavioral difficulties, who saw greater jump in their perceptions of their own academic abilities. Authors of the report also found that, in classrooms with more positive environments, students with social and behavioral problems were more academically engaged.

Authors of the report note that a child’s confidence as a learner becomes increasingly important as they approach and enter early adolescence, and recommend policymakers consider the role of after-school programs and how they can support advancing academic outcomes for at-risk youth.