The latest research from Deborah Lowe Vandell and her colleagues at UC Irvine suggests that consistent participation in high-quality after-school programming by elementary school students (K-5) vastly narrows the achievement gap between students from low-income and high-income families by the fifth grade (see infographic). Vandell’s study did not describe the content of the afterschool programs in her study, but several other recent studies have shown that similar outcomes may result from a variety of program models:
- A YMCA study published earlier this year found that students who participated actively in their High School Youth Initiative program—a summer and after-school program focused on technology skills, leadership, and homework help—had higher grades and test scores in math and language arts, as well as improved overall GPAs and higher attendance as they progressed in school. Participating youth came from low-income families and diverse cultural backgrounds.
- A study of youth development in minority boys who participated in the Sport Hartford Boys (SHB) program indicated that involvement in the program positively influenced the participants emotionally and socially, as gauged by their development in the “6 C’s”— competence, character, caring, confidence, connection, and contribution. The “6 C’s” are a set of characteristics identified by developmental scientists as indicators of positive youth development and future success.
- A case-study series of four California schools found that implementing “student-centered” practices, such as connecting learning to real-world experiences and assigning student-directed research projects, dramatically improved the college readiness of low-income and minority students as compared to their peers in traditional schools in the same districts and across the state.
The programs profiled in these three studies differ widely in content, strategy, and format, but they have all delivered positive, quantifiable outcomes. This is in large part because of their shared emphasis on two key elements: positive adult-student relationships and student enjoyment or empowerment. These two components are not only crucial for student retention in what are almost universally voluntary programs, but they also happen to be the two factors identified by Vandell and her colleagues as reliable predictors of program quality.
Individually, each of these studies proves what everyone reading this blog already knows: after-school and expanded learning programs have the potential to dramatically reverse the academic and developmental disadvantages associated with low-income and minority students. Taken together, their overlapping qualities and practices offer insight into how best to unlock and take advantage of that potential.