Can out-of-school programs help low-income high school students improve their grades and test scores?
Little research has looked at programs at the high school level, said Julie O’Donnell, Director of Research at the Child Welfare Training Centre at California State University, Long Beach.
Now, however, she and fellow researcher Sandra Kirkner point to theYMCA Youth Institute in Long Beach, Calif., where their evaluation shows higher test scores, higher grade point averages and better school attendance among kids in the program.
Youth Institute is a comprehensive youth development program that teaches creative digital technology, including video production and website building. Participants are low-income, culturally-diverse youth.
“The research is getting a lot of attention because it’s really positive,” O’Donnell said.
Thirty-one percent of active participants in Youth Institute raised their GPA, in comparison with 20 percent of kids in the control group, the evaluation showed. Seventeen percent had higher standardized test scores in English language arts, compared with 6 percent in the control group.
Each year, Youth Institute works with 85 kids from eighth through tenth grade. Fifteen alumni — high school students who’ve gone through the program — return to serve as peer teachers.
The program is a multi-faceted one. Kids take part in a wilderness retreat focusing on team-building and diversity training. They attend an eight-week summer program in addition to the after-school program.
They use a state-of-the art digital lab and learn software including iMovie HD, Final Cut Pro, Microsoft Word, Power Point, Keynote, and Inspiration 9.
The comprehensive nature of the program is important, O’Donnell said.
“If you’re going to do something with academics, you really need to have the comprehensive part to keep youth engaged and provide a lot of support,” she said.
O’Donnell stressed that the amount of a young person’s participation in the program made a difference. Active participants saw greater gains than less-active ones.
The research report by Julie O’Donnell and Sandra Kirkner, “Effects of an out-of-school program on urban high school youth’s academic performance,” was published in the March 2014 issue of Journal of Community Psychology.