Participation in afterschool programs by middle and high school-age young people can result in higher rates of everything from graduation to school attendance. But programs still struggle to attract and engage youth in this age group. What’s more, disadvantaged tweens and teens typically have fewer afterschool opportunities than their more privileged peers. This study, which looks at almost 200 programs in six cities that serve mostly low-income youngsters, pinpoints five program characteristics that lead to sustained participation: providing leadership opportunities to the young people, ensuring that staff members stay informed about students’ lives outside of programs, being community-based in nature, enrolling at least 100 students and holding regular staff meetings. Other effective retention and recruitment practices include providing developmentally appropriate activities and incentives as well as using peers and staff members as recruiters. Program leaders also reported important differences in meeting the needs of middle-school vs. high-school students. For example, successful middle-school programs create structures that make youth feel comfortable and safe, while high-school programs focus on giving young people more responsibility through job-like programming, apprenticeships and mentoring. Cities can support these initiatives by analyzing data about the location of and access to programs, where underserved youth live, participation rates and quality across the initiatives, among other steps.

 Points of Interest

  • Giving teens leadership opportunities in afterschool programs may contribute to retention by providing them with a sense of belonging and a highly visible role—important connections they may not get elsewhere.
    Give teens leadership in %23afterschool to boost retention; they may not get sense of belonging/visible role elsewhere.
  • Staff members in high-retention afterschool programs do more than interact informally and one-on-one with youth. They also make school visits, collect report cards, contact parents regularly, and know about and recognize the accomplishments of participants outside of the programs.
    Staff in high-retention %23afterschool programs make school visits, recognize youth accomplishments outside programs.
  • To fuel family engagement, staff in high-retention afterschool programs on average use 7.6 ways to reach parents, such as sending home information or meeting one-on-one; just over half (52 percent) reported providing courses for parents.
    Staff in high-retention %23afterschool programs use avg. of 7.6 ways to reach parents, fuel family engagement.

 Supplementary Materials