This study brought together both survey data from a large sample of out-of-school-time (OST) programs for older youth and in-depth interview data. Researchers collected and integrated qualitative and quantitative data, weaving together findings to understand program characteristics and support from city initiatives.
Participation in out-of-school-time (OST) programs by middle and high school-age young people can result in higher rates of graduation and school attendance. Yet, programs still struggle to attract and engage youth in this age group.
With that in mind, this study evaluated almost 200 programs in six cities that serve mostly low-income youngsters. It pinpoints five program characteristics that lead to sustained participation:
The study explored other effective retention and recruitment practices, including:
Program leaders also reported important differences in meeting the needs of middle school students vs. high school students.
For example, successful middle school programs create structures that make youth feel comfortable and safe. High school programs, on the other hand, focus on giving young people more responsibility through job-like programming, apprenticeships, and mentoring.
Cities can support these initiatives through a variety of steps. They include boosting recruitment efforts, developing tools for assessing program quality, and forming effective working relationships with school districts.
Once older youth have enrolled in OST programs, meaningful and sustained participation is a key factor in attaining positive outcomes.
The study evaluated participation in a single program. But older youth are likely to take part in a variety of OST programs over the course of a year. As a result, there may be other factors that predict sustained participation more generally.