What can we learn from historically marginalized youth’ experiences with after-school engagement?

Sjogren, A. L., & Melton, T. N. (2021). The Complexities of Student Engagement for Historically Marginalized Youth in an After-School Program. Journal of Youth Development, 16(5), 105–121. https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2021.1068

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although after-school programs are known for promoting positive youth outcomes, families from under-resourced backgrounds are less likely to have access to quality after-school programming.
  • This study explores the experiences historically marginalized youth have with out-of-school engagement.
  • Findings indicate that youths from marginalized backgrounds primarily conceptualize engagement through behavioral and affection elements.
  • Participants identified student behavior and repetition of content as barriers to after-school engagement.
  • Practitioners need to collaborate to establish curriculums that promote growth, integrate youth perspectives, and adopt culturally appropriate interventions.
  • Results highlight that people experience engagement differently.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

As researchers continue to address issues of equity within educational settings, it is important to also consider the role of equity in high-quality after-school programs. Evidence suggests that families from communities with fewer resources, along with families that identify as Black or Hispanic, report less access to quality after-school programming for their youth (Afterschool Alliance, 2020). This is especially problematic, as after-school programming has been associated with a number of positive outcomes for youth. In this study, researchers highlight youth perspectives to illuminate the challenges related to engaging historically marginalized youth in a school-based after-school program. Findings suggest that youth from marginalized backgrounds typically discuss engagement in terms of behavioral and affective experiences. Further, youth identified a few barriers to engagement, including repetition of program content and disruptive behavior. As a result of these findings, researchers suggest that practitioners integrate youth perspectives, work collaboratively to develop curriculum that fosters growth, and adopt policies and training that support staff in implementing culturally appropriate discipline approaches in after-school programs.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Historically, engagement has been discussed for students in a way that assumes all students experience engagement in the same way. However, researchers (Garcia Coll & Szalacha, 2004; Spencer, 2008; Williams & Deutsch, 2016) have brought attention to the fact that experiences within a youth development program, along with the meaning drawn from those experiences, are influenced by an individual’s social identity. Therefore, it is important to consider that these commonly used concepts may look different in different populations. Results from this study extend prior literature by providing initial evidence around creating after-school programs designed specifically with the goal of engaging youth from historically marginalized communities. According to stage-environment fit theory (Eccles et al., 1993), students are most likely to engage in educational spaces where they feel a sense of belonging and their needs are met. Thus, it is crucial that youth development professionals consider youth perspectives around barriers to engagement when seeking to engage more students from historically marginalized communities. Below we provide programmatic recommendations to address the aforementioned youth-reported barriers

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