What are youth perceptions of virtual after-school programming during COVID-19? New study has answers

Evans, C., Moore, R., Seitz, S., Jatta, I., Kuperminc, G. P., & Henrich, C. C. (2021). Youth perspectives on virtual after-school programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Youth Development, 16(5), 251–268. https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2021.1063

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • The pandemic has disrupted various aspects of youths’ lives. 
  • COVID-19 has forced after-school programs to think of new ways to support youth, such as providing virtual services. 
  • This study examined how youths’ after-school program experiences before the pandemic and the quality of their internet access affected their experiences with virtual programming. 
  • Although there were higher attendance rates before the pandemic, results indicate that pre-closure program attendance didn’t relate to any outcomes. 
  • Internet access affected youths’ access to virtual programs. However, students who could participate said that they had positive experiences.  
  • Students who received more support from staff members before COVID-19 strongly agreed that staff members talked with them about the virtual program. 
  • Students that were more active and had higher ratings of adult support before COVID-19 had more positive perceptions of the virtual program. 
  • After-school programs need to collaborate with communities, organizations, and companies to ensure that youth have the tools to access the resources they need. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

After-school programs provide a range of support for students. During school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many after-school programs were also forced to close or to find new ways to provide services to youth, such as through virtual after-school programming. We surveyed 244 youth who participated in virtual after-school programs about their access to virtual programming as well as their experiences. We considered their pre-closure experiences as well. We also surveyed 8 program directors of after-school programs who were providing virtual programming. We found that Internet access hindered the ability of more than 1 in 4 students to access the programs. Pre-closure program experiences, including ongoing relationships with program staff and positive peer relationships contributed to more positive experiences with virtual programming. Whenever students were able to access the programs, they generally reported positive experiences. This work has implications for after-school program providers, parents, and policymakers.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The results provide insight into how virtual programming is being implemented, received, and affecting youth. We were interested in how program attendance and pre-closure experiences were related to virtual program access (including internet access) and virtual program experiences. Students reported high attendance before the shift to virtual programming. However, most of the students who reported high attendance before school closures did not access programming virtually, as only one third of virtual program participants reported attending “a lot of times.” In spite of these differences in attendance before and after school closures, we found that pre-closure program attendance was not related to any outcomes. We did find, however, that program directors and youth both reported that internet access was related to youths’ abilities to participate in virtual programming. When youth were able to participate, they tended to report positive experiences.

We also found that different facets of pre-closure program experiences were significantly associated with virtual programming experiences. Youth who reported having more support from program staff pre-pandemic agreed more strongly that staff communicated with them about the online program. Also, youth with higher program engagement and higher ratings of adult support pre-closures rated virtual programming experiences higher. These findings are supported by work done by Ungar (2011) showing that resilience fostered by community factors before a major event help to buffer negative effects in the midst of and after a negative event. These findings also align with previous research about components that make after-school programs of good quality. Having high student engagement and having strong, supportive staff–youth relationships are related to positive after-school youth experiences (Kuperminc et al., 2019; Leos-Urbel, 2015).

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