Staff are the Key to Quality OST Programs
Even though our legislators and government don't always appear to see the importance of out-of-school time (OST) programs, those of us who have worked in the field or have children who attend these programs, know that they make a huge difference in the lives of children and families. Why are they so effective in supporting youth success?
What the Research Says
In an effort to better understand the value and effectiveness of out-of-school time programs, RAND researchers examined the evidence base on OST programs. In this helpful appendix, the researchers compare various program evaluation studies and their outcomes.McCombs, Witaker, and Yoo (2017)found that OST programs can improve student achievement (if they provide academic instruction), improve supervision and safety of youth, and can provide positive impacts on developing social and emotional skills. These outcomes make sense –if youth receive additional academic support outside of the school day, student achievement during school should improve. If youth are in an OST program instead of on their own, their safety should improve and engagement in risky behaviors should decrease. If programs are teaching social-emotional skills to youth, youth should have gains in these skills.
Staff - The Key Dimension
These outcomes all have something in common –staff. Staff are needed to teach and provide supervision for youth. McCombs et al. (2017) noted that instructor-child relations were a key dimension related to youth development. Caring and supportive adults are what make OST programs successful. Without staff, you have no one to teach the academic programming or supervise youth as they engage in physical activity, or help youth learn social-emotional skills. If you are a staff member, you know how impactful the work that you do is. And as someone who supports the work leaders, trainers, and staff do in afterschool –I know how impactful the work that you do is. After a hard day filled with difficult behaviors or an activity that didn’t work, remember that you just being there and spending time with youth makes a difference. A study cited in the RAND report notes that program characteristics like a positive climate and stability in staffing are related to positive student experiences (McComb et al., 2017).
Continuing to Improve Impact
The report referenced in this blog outlines recommendations for policy and practice. A highlight is incentivizing and supporting OST providers’ efforts to develop high-quality programming. Research supports that staff who have had professional development opportunities (i.e. OST organizations invested in them) have a positive impact on youth (Yohalem & Pittman, 2006; Bowie & Bronte-Tinkew, 2006). Ongoing professional development and training can also improve staff retention, another program characteristic that impacts a positive youth experience. So, we need to fund programs, but we also need to fund our staff. Increasing staff salaries and investing in their development will have a positive impact on the quality of OST programs and the measurable outcomes that researchers and providers can document.
Resources to Help
We need to continue using research, evaluation, and stories from staff, youth, and families to make the case for the importance of funding the programs and our staff. In the bulleted list below, you will find links to resources to help you accomplish this task:
- Afterschool Alliance has a plethora of resources to support the various aspects of managing afterschool programs –from advocacy to planning and managing programs.
- My favorite section of their website is the research repository with fact sheets, issue briefs and full reports documenting how afterschool programs are keeping youth safe, inspiring learning, and supporting families.
- National AfterSchool Association offers free ambassador memberships to all staff working in OST with access to tools and resources to grow careers and strengthen programs.
- Be sure to celebrate Afterschool Professionals Appreciation week every April to let your staff know how important they are to the field!
- The National Institute on Out-of-School Time uses research, training, evaluation, and program development to advance the OST field.
- Global Family Research Project connects research, policy, and practice to improve children’s learning and development.
- The repository of articles and research supports decision making for afterschool programs. The organization is working on transitioning all past articles to the new website.
I've touched on the research that supports why OST programs are important and necessary to the healthy development of our youth, how staff are key to high-quality OST programs, and resources that support making the case for OST programs and staff development.
I leave you with a final thought from my perspective as a former afterschool staff member and someone who supported professional development providers and trainers: Making time for staff development is important. It can be burdensome when you have to be in ratio because someone called in sick, or when you are dealing with a difficult family situation or youth behaviors, or when you have to write a grant to support your community garden program. But offering regular professional development to staff shows them that you care about their growth and development, that they are an important part of the program, and increases their skills and competency working with youth on any topic. Just taking time to brainstorm possible solutions to program issues, watch a webinar together and have a discussion, or getting together to plan out curricular units will benefit staff members and in turn your program. If you've been able to implement a successful professional development model into your program or organization, please share what you did in the comments below to help your peers out!
Bowie, L., & Bronte-Tinkew, J. (2006). The importance of professional development for youth workers. Child Trends, 17. Retrieve from: https://www.childtrends.org/publications/the-importance-of-professional-...
McCombs, J. S., Witaker, A., & Yoo, P. Y. (2017). The value of out-of-school time programs. Rand Corporation: Santa Monica, CA. Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE267.html
Yohalem, N., & Pittman, K. (2006). Putting youth work on the map. Washington DC: Cornerstone for Kids. Retrieved from: http://forumfyi.org/files/YouthWorkOnTheMap.pdf