Elements of High-Quality Programs
In order for children and youth to receive the benefits of OST programs, those in charge of the programs must hold their work to certain standards. Some key programmatic elements of high-quality OST programs include:
- Providing a wide array of enrichment opportunities — Programming reflects participants' input and also exposes them to new experiences and activities that can help develop career interests, foster stronger connections between school day curriculum and the “real-world”, and spark new interests. Students are able to choose activities.
- Offering diverse opportunities for skill-building and mastery — These opportunities should compliment, build upon, and extend beyond what students are learning in school. This includes cognitive skills like literacy development, as well as “soft skills” like leadership development, project-based learning, working in teams, etc.
- Hiring effective, experienced leaders and staff — Programs hire qualified staff who have experience working with young people and can deliver program content. These programs provide staff with ongoing training and professional development opportunities.
- Engaging family members — High-quality programs establish regular channels of communication with family members, address their needs and concerns, and include them in programming (e.g. computer skills training, ESL courses, family nights).
- Making efforts to communicate and align with schools — Programs, especially those that are school-based, establish shared goals, ongoing communication mechanisms, shared personnel, and joint planning processes with schools to ensure that they are working seamlessly to support the young people they serve.
- Fostering strong, supportive, and caring relationships between adults and youth — In high-quality programs, staff nurture participants and make an effort to get to know them personally, including their interests, hobbies and family life. Conflicts are addressed and resolved appropriately, and a warm and inviting atmosphere is actively maintained.
- Having strong administrative structures and being financially stable — Program leaders have strong management skills and have implemented sound operational practices. They also have experience raising resources to support activities. There are multi-year sustainability plans and programs supported from varied sources of funding to ensure that they can continue to operate.