How do youth after-school program experiences & sustained youth engagement impact academic outcomes?

Seitz, S., Khatib, N., Guessous, O., & Kuperminc, G. (2021). Academic outcomes in a national afterschool program: The role of program experiences and youth sustained engagement. Applied Developmental Science. 

https://doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2021.1993855

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • It’s unclear whether youth program participation correlates with academic outcomes, given mixed findings from different studies. Differences in program quality might play a role in this.
  • This longitudinal study assesses the relationship between youth-reported program experiences and three academic outcomes (self-reported grades, academic expectations, and perceived value of school) at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA).
  • Baseline levels of program experiences correlated with an increased value of school over time.
  • Findings also indicate that increased youth-reported program experiences correlated with increased self-reported grades, academic expectations, and perceived value of school.
  • Youth sustained engagement in after-school programs has the potential to promote better academic outcomes.
  • Continuous quality improvement initiatives can also reinforce positive academic growth.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Researchers have documented positive associations among youth program quality and academic outcomes, primarily based on cross-sectional data. This study examined longitudinal associations among youth-reported program experiences and academic expectations, self-reported grades, and perceived value of school using data from the national evaluation of Boys and Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). The sample included 101,050 Club attendees at 2,741 BGCA sites throughout the United States from 2015-2018. Latent Growth Curve Modeling was used to examine change in youth-reported program experiences as well as the longitudinal associations among perceived program experiences and academic outcomes over time. Baseline perceptions of program experiences were associated prospectively with increased perceived value of school. In addition, gains in youth-reported program experiences predicted gains in each of the academic outcomes. These findings suggest that youth programs can promote positive academic trajectories when youth perceive the programs as continuing to meet their needs over time.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Many youth programs seek to promote academic success (Gardner et al., 2009; Hurd & Deutsch, 2017). Previous research has documented the importance of program quality for promoting a range of positive youth outcomes, including outcomes related to academic achievement (Durlak, Weissberg, et al., 2010; Grogan et al., 2014; Pittman, 2017; Vandell et al., 2020). However, much of this research is cross-sectional and the existing longitudinal studies often examine associations across only one year (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2016; Shernoff, 2010; Smith et al., 2017). The goal of this study was to examine longitudinal associations of youth-reported program experiences and three academic outcomes (academic expectations, self-reported grades, perceived value of school) over a four-year period in a sample of BGCA members who participated in the program for at least two years. As in previous research, youth perceptions of program experiences were positively related to each of the three academic outcomes. In support of our hypotheses, we found that baseline levels of program experiences were associated with increases in perceived value of school over time. We also found that increases in youth-reported program experiences were associated with increases in all three academic outcomes.

Longitudinal associations among program experiences and academic outcomes

The findings extend previous research documenting positive associations among youth program quality and academic outcomes over time (e.g., Ciocanel et al., 2017; Durlak, Weissberg, et al., 2010; Grogan et al., 2014; Leos-Urbel, 2015; Pierce et al., 2010). Baseline levels of youth-reported program experiences were associated prospectively with gains in one outcome: perceived value of school. One potential explanation for this association draws on the relational developmental systems framework (Lerner, 2017; Osher et al., 2020). Specifically, high-quality youth programs provide developmentally rich environments (e.g., supportive relationships, safety, engagement) in which learning is optimized (Osher et al., 2020). Since youth programs often seek to implement educational activities that are engaging and connect to real-world situations (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003; Urban, 2008), high-quality youth programs are uniquely situated to help young people gain insight into the value of school and academics. These types of personal connections to educational activities within developmentally rich contexts have the potential to strengthen young people’s perceived value of school (Dawes & Larson, 2011; Priniski et al., 2018; Walkington & Bernacki, 2014).

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