Beyond academics: How after-school programs play an essential role on youth development & learning

Philp, K. (2022). More than homework help: The critical role of afterschool programs for youth learning and development. Theory Into Practice.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Despite the growing popularity of after-school programs (APS) in America, their impact and funding are still controversial.
  • This journal article reviews findings about after-school programs to highlight the impact after-school programs have on student development and learning.
  • American society’s negative perceptions of caregiving and teaching (e.g. are “low-skilled” professions) reinforce traditional gendered labor.
  • There are ASP accessibility gaps based on income and race.
    • For instance, ASPs for low-income families tend to focus on academic remediation or harm reduction and neglect to provide programming that focuses on youth empowerment and development.
  • Learning environments that provide targeted practice on youth interests can strengthen student self-efficacy, increase ability, and promote positive youth outcome expectations.
  • Given how schools and ASPs are interconnected, ASPs are encouraged to adopt ecological frameworks.
  • Adopting ecological frameworks and leveraging the expertise & benefits of ASPs are necessary to make them more equitable and address current controversies.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Afterschool programs are increasingly recognized as valuable opportunities for learning that can create social capital, expose students to topics of interest, and build personal identities. Yet poor policies and ineffective practices driven by outdated ideals abound, including an emphasis on the caregiving function of afterschool programs for working families, as well as a focus on academic skill-building and remediation, often to the detriment of adolescents and students of color. I review historical trends and recent controversies alongside empirical and theoretical research to demonstrate the importance of afterschool for learning and development, particularly for students who are most likely to disengage from traditional school cultures. Using learning ecosystems models, I offer insights into how education leaders can leverage the strengths of afterschool programs to support academic achievement without simply extending the school day into afterschool.

Implications (Reprinted from the Conclusion)

Moving beyond traditional assumptions of afterschool programs, leveraging the strengths and expertise inherent in ASPs, and adopting ecosystems frameworks are key to resolving controversies and achieving more equitable opportunities afterschool. As education leaders consider how best to support students who experienced detrimental impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, afterschool time should be viewed as a critical resource for learning that functions in distinct ways from the school day rather than an opportunity for more school. The additional resources contained below can help practitioners assess program quality and move towards collaborative approaches. Understanding ASPs as part of a healthy ecosystem can shift us towards understanding how school and afterschool activities can work as reciprocal mechanisms for learning and development.

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