Children from urban, disadvantaged neighborhoods do better in after-school programs than at home

Children from urban, disadvantaged neighborhoods of a Northeastern US city who participated in an after-school program (ASP) showed significantly better academic performance and motivation at the end of the school year than students in parent care, combined parent/self-sibling care, and combined otheradult/ self-sibling care.

The longitudinal study of 818 children by Joseph Mahoney and Heather Lord of Yale University and Errica Carryl of New York University is among the first to assess ASP participation by focusing on how students’ interactions with their environments affect learning and their sense of themselves. The ASPs, funded by a mix of local, state and federal sources, operated from 3-6 p.m. program throughout the district.

The broad goals of the programs were: a) to provide a safe and supportive environment after school and b) to promote the academic and social competence, and physical health of the participants. The ASPs were conducted separately by grade level (grades 1, 2, 3) with a lead teacher assisted by adult staff, youth workers and volunteers.

Time was allotted for snack, homework, enrichment learning (e.g., computers, visitors, musical instruments), supervised recreation (e.g., kick ball, basketball, board games) and art. Based on the School Age Care Environment Rating Scale, which rates programs on a seven point scale, with 1 being inadequate and 7 excellent, these programs averaged 3.82, or “minimal.”

ASPs boost success and motivation

Data was collected in the fall and spring and of the 2002-2003 school year. Parents and classroom teachers were surveyed and information collected on the academic performance and on reading comprehension. Two scales from EZ-Yale Personality Questionnaire were used to measure expectancy of success and effectance motivation.

Among the findings: reading achievement, expectancy of success, and effectance motivation were significantly higher for children in ASP care than those in each of the three alternative care arrangements. The researchers note that disadvantaged children traditionally have been found to have relatively low expectancies of success when faced with new or challenging tasks and “low effectance motivation with respect to internally guided effort and pleasure to pursue such tasks.”

Structure and educated adults

The researchers conclude that the apparent superiority of the ASPs may be linked to their structure, supervision by educated adults, a curriculum aimed at promoting academic skill development and a wide range of resources, including books, computers and classroom materials. The children also tended to spend more time in academic, enrichment learning and adult-supervised play than in family after-school arrangements. The researchers note, that “children in informal and unsupervised care arrangements are more apt to be involved in passive activities such as watching television and “hanging out.” “An Ecological Analysis of After-School Program Participation and the Development of Academic Performance and Motivational Attributes for Disadvantaged Children”, Child Development, Volume 76, Number 4, July 2005, pp. 811-823.

Published in ERN November/December 2005 Volume 18 Number 9

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