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September 23, 2022

Diverse group of students running in a parkThe school dismissal bell is a phenomenon that should be studied. The second that the sweet chimes grace the ears of students, a sort of shapeshifting happens. Children and youth transform from slow-moving students to track stars hurtling toward the finish line! As they rush out the door to their buses, chaos ensues. Imagine a slow-motion replay of their exit as Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube,” plays in the background as they improvise their “school dismissal dance.” You get the picture.

But not all students head out the door. For some, their out-of-school time (OST) programs are just getting started. This is where the learning continues. This is where it’s all happening.

America After 3PM, a 16-year study published this spring by the Afterschool Alliance, confirms that parents and communities truly value OST programs. The findings below highlight some advantages of OST programs and ideas for making them even better. But wait — there’s more! You already have an OST program that supports student success and values family engagement. Why keep that all to yourself?! Read to the end for some tips on connecting with policy leaders in your school district, reaching out to colleagues in neighboring communities, and expanding your program’s outreach to spread the word on the value of your OST program.

Not Just “Another Brick in the Wall”

The OST programs of today are not where imagination and creativity go to die, and just like students, they’re not “one size fits all.” According to the Afterschool Alliance study, parents recognize a wide array of benefits:

  • Technology is great, but unproductive screen time is a real problem. More than eight in 10 parents in the study agreed that afterschool programs provide opportunities for young people to live beyond the screen by learning life skills and building confidence. Sounds like a recipe for a productive member of society!

Try this: Not all screen time is created equal. Building digital literacy is important to ensure that students can successfully navigate the digital age. That’s why Y4Y created the Digital Literacy Click & Go especially for you. Learn about digital literacy and what your program can do to teach digital literacy skills to youth. Let’s face it — the last thing parents want to do is play the part of FBI agents when it comes to tracking down their children and monitoring their every move. Luckily, most of the parents surveyed (84%, to be exact) agreed that OST programs help to reduce risky behaviors.

  • Physical activity and nutritious foods are super important factors for parents. In fact, these OST benefits were cited by 84% and 71% of parents surveyed, respectively. These factors only grow in importance when considering low-income families, families living in urban communities, and Black and Latinx parents.

Try this: See the Y4Y Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day Click & Go for tools and detailed information to help you make health and wellness a priority for you and your staff!

Let’s Give the People What They Want

You know that OST programs like yours provide students with the tools they need to be successful in and out of the classroom. However, there are areas of opportunity for OST programs to support families as well. Consider the following findings as you seek to fill any gaps you may have in your program to ensure that families feel valued!

  • One of the most important factors in fostering student success is bringing families into the conversation. Children tend to model their attitudes and self-image after family members, so it’s critical that families feel included in their student’s OST journey. However, the Afterschool Alliance study found that only 43% of parents reported that their child’s program offered parent and family activities.

Try this: Y4Y recognizes that children thrive when families are valued, so we created an entire course on family engagement, complete with useful tools!

  • Even though helping your students strengthen relationships in their community can also positively impact their “health outcomes, educational achievement, feelings of connectedness to the community, and economic prospects,” only 36% of the parents surveyed stated that their child’s OST program prioritizes this. Including service learning and community service is a great way to make sure your program is meeting the needs of students and their families.
  • Some parents and families believe that enrolling their child in OST programs might expose their child to “negative influences, experiences, and values, such as bullying and peer pressure.” Unfortunately, only one in four parents said they feel there’s substantial information on OST programs within their community. Parents want to be in the know! Keep them updated with newsletters and social media, and encourage open communication about your program.

Shout It From the Rooftops

Wait, you’re telling me that you already have an OST program that caters to students’ needs, prioritizes family engagement, and provides opportunities for service learning — and you’re not performing a song and dance about it? The world needs to hear about your program! Thankfully, there are ways to make this happen.

Try this: Check Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course. You and your staff will get an in-depth understanding of how to identify strategic partners in your area and develop an outreach plan to engage them and to develop strong partnerships. To convey the value of your program, you’ll also need a killer elevator speech that lets potential partners know what your program is all about and why your program is the one they should work with! The Y4Y course also comes equipped with an abundance of tools that cover important topics such as community asset mapping, conveying needs to partners, and developing an effective memorandum of understanding. We know you’ve got a hectic schedule, so we tried our best to think of everything!

Out-of-school time programs really are a priceless gem that sets students up for success — and parents already agree! So use this knowledge to your advantage! An open and continuous dialogue between families and your staff will only enhance what your program can do. Furthermore, learning how to make the most of partnerships (and the resources and connections they provide) is a surefire way to take your program to the next level.