5 Ways to Improve Your After-School Programs

Administrators for after-school programs targeted to teens are challenged to provide two, intertwined justifications:

  • That the programs show successful outcomes
  • That they deserve public support

The most important outcome for U.S. teens is receiving a high school diploma as a first step toward attaining a higher education contributing to an increase in earning power.

Secondary outcomes include the provision of a safe and secure environment—particularly for at-risk teens—so they have the opportunity for increased learning, involvement in community programs, and other activities that add value to their lives and the community.

According to a survey at the Department of Justice Studies at Rhode Island College, after-school programs are a necessary component in combating teen delinquency, reducing dropout rates, and mitigating the chances for teen pregnancies.

The Afterschool Alliance provides data supporting the importance of after-school programs in developing higher interest in STEM careers and learning. In a summation of other polls and surveys, the Afterschool Alliance also found that voters believe after-school programs “…address areas beyond a traditional safety and academic focus,” including reducing dropout rates, helping youth prepare for college, and helping build strong, safe communities.

A successful program is measured by increasing the high school graduation rate while decreasing the chance that the youth of the community become entangled in legal and social problems. The latter can be measured by a reduction in the local crime rate, drug use, gang affiliation, and other related societal ills that can occur when there are no safe spaces or positive activities.

As the people of the community observe the positive changes in their youth and neighborhood, they will become more committed to retaining and improving the program and supporting an increase in funding.

Public engagement and support is important for increasing youth participation as well as advocating for your program and assisting in fundraising efforts. The community must be willing to speak for the value of the opportunities your program brings in terms of improved security for their children and property as well as opening up opportunities to youth for better education and jobs.

As an administrator, you need to move your program forward in the funding cycle by proving it brings this value to the community.

Below are five ways you can increase the public awareness and opinion of your program along with some tools to help you support and illustrate your goals and desired outcomes.

#1 Build strong partnerships

Partnerships between your program and the local schools and businesses build important pathways for guiding youth toward more positive life outcomes. The best and strongest partnerships are built with a variety of stakeholders including:

  • Families of the students
  • The school district and facilities
  • The surrounding communities

Open communication between stakeholders and the program is essential to building these partnerships. At the family level, an online parent portal provides parents and guardians with real-time access to information about their children as well as about opportunities available for different activities.

Parents can access bulletins and calendars describing your various programs, when they’re available, and other pertinent information of interest to both the youth and the family. Teachers and other stakeholders can urge parents and teens to check the portal for options that interest them and enroll in those options immediately, if desired.

#2 Automate billing

Automating your billing and statement process lets you spend more time with the students and less time shuffling paperwork to keep up with billing. It is up to you and your program to provide enriching and creating activities and build positive relationships between the teens and the adults in their world.

Because you can’t be in two places at once, it’s critical to your program participants that you be as available as possible. Using a software program to take care of the busywork of preparing and mailing bills and processing payments significantly increases the time you have to spend on the students.

#3 Increase participation

Students make larger gains if they participate in the program on a regular basis. Tracking attendance can give you the data you need to learn about the frequency of student participation and how to build program that promotes sustained attendance.

Attendance tracking and reporting are simplified with the proper technology, saving you and your staff time during arrivals and departures as well as determining the average number of days each student has come to your program each week.

The ability to obtain a report that shows attendance graphically and automatically calculate key attendance measurements can help you justify the use of your program and gain continued support.

#4 Measure, measure, measure

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, because you have no way to compare the before with the after. Those who fund and support social programs increasingly want to see the impact of their money on participants and the community.

A software application can process and generate reports on specific performance indicators and measurements. This information not only shows your supporters how your after-school program impacts students and their neighborhoods, it gives you actionable data to make further improvements.

The Continuous Improvement Cycle

Studies show a significant correlation between successful after-school programs and the behavior of students vis-a-vis:

  • Work habits
  • Engagement in learning
  • Persistence
  • Positive social behavior

Measuring the appropriate indicators provides a baseline against to show progress. Reports based on the various inputs from your processes show you where improvements are needed and what is working well.

Reporting is an essential part of incorporating continuous quality improvement systems and accountability into your after-school program.

#5 Increase access and sustained participation

Political scientist and community researcher Milbrey McLaughline, Ph.D., says, “In the course of doing community-based work in the early 1980s, I ran into kids from really challenging backgrounds, all of whom were doing quite well. Despite terrible odds, they were still in school, they weren’t on drugs, and they had positive feelings about the future.”

A study by the Harvard Family Research Project indicates that students benefit the most from programs tailored to their particular interests, needs, and schedules. It also shows that many students self-select activities that promote learning, growth, and safety in a structured way.

Calendar-based enrollment software provides students and parents with the ability to check for desired activities and incorporate participation into family plans. Over time, the data from such an application can guide your selection and scheduling of future activities so you are providing the best mix for the youth in your programs.

Technology supports and helps improve after-school programs

Software and automation support repeatable, sustainable processes with fewer errors. High levels of communication and flexibility increase the effectiveness and attendance in your after-school program. Continuous quality improvement must have data to measure impact and create effective changes to increase student and program success.

Software can also ease accountability and transparency with quick access to actionable data to inform you and your stakeholders of the positive outcomes of your program and justify continued financial support.

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