After-school programs may foster academic achievement

07/06/05

After-school programs for economically disadvantaged children can significantly improve children's academic performance, according to a new study published in the July/August issue of the journal Child Development. The study, conducted by researchers from Yale and New York universities, found that over time children in such programs read at a higher level than children in any other kind of after-school care, and are rated by their teachers as having higher expectations for their own success compared to children whose after-school care consisted of relatives/babysitters and some time alone.

The findings are particularly relevant given the growing numbers of children enrolled in before- and after-school programs, which increased from 1.7 million in 1991 to 6.7 million in 1997. Additionally, the federal government targets $1 billion for after-school programs called 21st-Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC). These programs, located in low-performing schools in disadvantaged areas, serve approximately 1.2 million children each year with the goal of improving students' academic performance. Nonetheless, the existing research has been unclear on whether participation in such after-school programs affects academic performance.

This study used data on 599, ethnically diverse, school-aged children (ages 6-10) enrolled in three public schools in a disadvantaged Northeast city. Sixty percent of the children in the study were living in poverty. The researchers identified four common patterns of after-school care: after-school program participation in 21CCLC centers, parent care, some parent care combined with some time alone, and some care from relatives/babysitters and some time alone.

In addition to the higher reading achievement, researchers also found that children the after-school program staff rated as being highly engaged in the program were more motivated when it came to school work.

"We conclude that simply attending the program may increase children's expectations for success on schoolwork and reading achievement," said lead researcher Joseph. L. Mahoney, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "However, to increase student motivation, the program must engage students by being interesting, challenging and enjoyable."

Since motivation is linked to academic performance across childhood, he said, to foster long-term improvements in academic outcomes future research must explore which programmatic features children find most engaging and include those in program content.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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