Research has positively linked youth development and academic success with Out-of-School Time (OST) programming. In order to improve program quality, it is of utmost importance for your United Way to understand the current research in the field and be able to use these findings to strengthen OST efforts. Overall, communities with high-quality Out-of-School Time programs experience more positive outcomes for children and youth. These outcomes generally fall into the following categories:
Evaluations of well-established programs have consistently found that students of all ages who regularly participate in Out-of-School Time programs improve their school day attendance. This outcome is particularly important since students obviously have to be present in school to benefit from instruction. Moreover, chronic absence in the early grades is linked to declining academic performance and in later years, and it becomes a significant barrier to earning the credits needed for a high school diploma. Multiple studies have also found that OST program participants experienced more positive feelings about school, increased their classroom participation and attentiveness, and expressed higher aspirations about attending college - all indicators suggesting increased engagement in learning. For middle and high school students in particular, this finding is critical as level of engagement is closely related to school day attendance and persisting toward a high school degree.
Sustained participation in high-quality Out-of-School Time programs is linked to stronger student performance on standardized tests - particularly in reading and mathematics; improved classroom grades; and higher grade-to-grade promotion rates. Similarly, students who participate in OST programs show increased work-study habits and task persistence (completing an assignment) in comparison to their unsupervised peers. Evaluations of programs serving middle and high school students link long-term participation to increased high school graduation rates and lower dropout rates in comparison with students who did not participate.
Evaluations show that Out-of-School Time program participation is linked to improved self-esteem, increased social skills — particularly interactions with peers (e.g. avoiding fights, exhibiting self-control), better classroom behavior, and fewer school suspensions. In addition, participants report making more positive choices (e.g. avoiding or reducing drug and alcohol use) as a result of attending the programs.
Research has documented that all students experience learning loss during the summer months when school is out. However, the magnitude of the decline varies by subject area and socio-economic background. All students experience learning loss in mathematics — two months on average. In regards to reading ability, middle school students actually show gains over the summer months, whereas low-income students in all grades show declines. A review of carefully designed and implemented summer enrichment programs suggests that these programs can reduce summer learning losses and lessen achievement gaps. Although some evaluations point to stronger outcomes for middle-class youth, studies of successful programs serving low-income youth suggest that specific factors (i.e. high program quality, highly trained staff, and enriching and engaging content) are needed to witness gains for all students regardless of family income levels.
Families of children and youth who participate in Out-of-School Time programs report improved productivity as they are better able to maintain a consistent work schedule, miss fewer days of work, and worry less about their children's safety during non-school hours. Parents report being able to work additional hours and attend job-trainings or classes because of their child's' involvement in OST programs. For United Ways, their corporate partners, and other local employers, these benefits can be measured in real dollars. In addition, schools report increased parent participation in parent-teacher conferences and other school events as a result of their child's participation in OST programs. Given the direct correlation between increased parent support and levels of student achievement, this is a particularly important finding.
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