Report Cites Four Characteristics of Effective Afterschool Programs

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The most effective afterschool programs share four characteristics, according to a recent report from the Afterschool Alliance. The programs have a well-thought-out design, qualified staff, partnerships with schools and community, and an ongoing process of evaluation. 

The Alliance, an advocacy group for afterschool programs, surveyed 17 studies of more than a dozen programs. Afterschool program evaluations have increased in recent years, providing a body information to draw on. 

“We wanted to pull it together in a way that was easy and accessible for afterschool directors” and others, said Sara Simpson of the Afterschool Alliance. 

“We tried to define some best practices for afterschool programs,” she said.

Judging effectiveness starts with decisions about what afterschool programs should accomplish. Areas of measurement cited in the report included children’s school engagement, behavior and academic performance.



The report said effective programs are carefully and intentionally designed. Good design involves four elements that the report summed up using the acronym SAFE: sequenced, active, focused and explicit.

  • Sequenced activities allowing children to master as specific set of skills.

  • Active learning through hands-on activities.

  • A focus on appropriate amounts of instruction time.

  • Explicit goals communicated to the children and youth.

In combination, these four elements of intentional program design had a positive impact on students, the report said.

"Students see academic and developmental gains when afterschool programs diversify the types of activities youth are able to take part in," the report said.


Highly qualified staff

Having an educated and experienced staff is also an important factor, the report said. In addition, students showed improved academic performance and greater engagement in school when there were positive relationships between students and staff in the afterschool program. One piece of research surveyed found positive effects when more than three-fourths of the staff was younger than 35 and when the majority of staff spoke a second language.


Partnering with schools helps an afterschool program align itself with academic goals, the report said.

Partnering with community organizations was also seen as an important factor. For one thing, these relationships provide resources for afterschool programs, the report said.

Research showed that a strong relationship with the families of students was important, especially in underserved populations.


Ongoing evaluation keeps programs accountable, the report said, and they can remain held to a high standard.

The report also pointed to programs that serve as examples of promising practices, Simpson said. Among them were After School Matters, AfterZone, Beacon Community Centers, 4-H, Beyond the Bell, CORAL, Higher Achievement, LA's Best, Save the Children, Schools and Homes in Education (SHINE), and Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers-Afterschool  Centers on Education (ACE).

The report, "Taking a Deeper Dive into Afterschool: Promising Practices," was funded by the Walton Family Foundation.