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Children in School Bus

Best Practices

Proven Approach

Out of school time programs are an essential component of keeping kids safe, inspiring learning, and helping working families. With so much benefit to be gained, it is important that out of school time programs understand and implement research-based best practices.

Components of a Quality Program 

  • Prepared Staff

  • Intentional Programming

  • Alignment with School Day

  • Promotion of Varied Youth Engagement

  • Development of Strong Community Partners

  • Promotion of Safety, Health and Wellness

  • Sustained Student Attendance and Access

  • Ongoing Assessment and Improvement

"A memorable experience that has provided me with learning opportunities and new skills."

Prepared Staff

Forming healthy relationships with program staff can lead to a positive emotional climate for students, allowing them to feel comfortable learning and exploring. Factors that serve as a catalyst for establishing these bonds are a small staff-child ratio and a well-prepared and compensated staff. Professional development in both content areas and youth development contribute to staff becoming role models and informal mentors for participating young people.

Alignment with School Day

Intentional alignment with school instruction allows struggling students to catch up to their classmates, while helping all students hone the skills necessary for success in school. Learning the same content through different and innovative approaches that only afterschool can offer is extraordinarily helpful in content understanding and retention for students.

Development of Strong Community Partners

Effective partnerships allow programs to leverage otherwise unattainable resources. They also provide youth with multiple constructive environments, thus reinforcing healthy attitudes and behavior more consistently. Similarly, family involvement also promotes continued participation and engagement.

Sustained Student Attendance and Access

In order for youth to take advantage of all that afterschool offers, there must be steady attendance and access to programs over a significant period of time. Programs that contain components of quality-specifically safety, youth engagement and supportive relationships-are more likely to yield increased participation and keep kids coming back. Additionally, studies have shown that the more a child participates in afterschool, the more likely they are to show academic and social gains. Access to summer learning programs is similarly linked to preventing summer learning loss in youth. Attendance Works is a great resource full of webinars, research to support student’s attendance in school.


Intentional Programming

The best programs are structured with explicit goals and activities designed with these goals in mind. For instance, program goals might address improving a specific set of social skills, building on previous knowledge, meeting age-specific developmental needs or maximizing engagement in school.

Promotion of Varied Youth Engagement

The afterschool space represents an unparalleled opportunity for students to grow not just academically, but holistically as well. Quality programs that feature enriching, creative endeavors such as art, music or physical activity present kids with options they want to explore. This ‘whole child’ approach also allows for autonomy in program choice since kids are more likely to participate in activities in which they are interested.

Promotion of Safety, Health & Wellness

For a program to work, it is necessary to have enough space, supervision and psychological and physical security. With the comfort and freedom these factors provide, kids can focus solely on the task at hand. In addition to physical safety, the best programs provide opportunities for exercise and access to nutritious meals and snacks that otherwise might be unavailable. Studies have shown that improving a student’s physical well-being can build higher self-esteem, leading kids to participate with greater frequency and confidence.

Ongoing Assessment & Improvement

Programs that employ management practices focused on continuous improvement have the most success in establishing and maintaining quality programs. Frequent assessment, both informal and formal, and regular evaluation, both internal and external, are ingredients needed to refine and sustain exemplary programs. 

For a great resource, check out Measuring Youth Program Quality: A Guide to Assessment Tools.  This document is very helpful to learn of the various validated assessment in school.

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