Strategy overview

  • Using out-of-school time for specialized programming: Afterschool programs provide K-12 students with access to academic and/or enrichment activities outside of standard school hours. Some initiatives provide supports to students with specific academic or behavioral needs or who could particularly benefit from additional structured time; others offer supplemental enrichment opportunities to the general student body that cannot fit within the school day. Many evidence-based afterschool programs are delivered at no or low cost, though some highly specialized programming may require a participation fee.
  • Helping students recover and accelerate learning: Many comprehensive afterschool programs include a significant academic component. Some approaches focus on learning recovery and acceleration interventions like high-dosage tutoring or structured homework help, which are often delivered at school. Others may provide academic enrichment not available in school, especially specialized STEM subjects like computer programming or environmental science. These types of courses are often delivered by a nonprofit partner.
  • Providing enrichment opportunities: Afterschool provides an opportunity for recreational enrichment, especially in areas like art, music, and sports. While some activities are best delivered through schools (i.e. popular sports like basketball), many specialized opportunities (i.e. cooking classes) are offered through partner organizations and may require off-campus facilities.
  • Building life and social skills: Some afterschool programs offer standalone skill-building coursework or supplemental sessions embedded within a more general program. In a school setting, this often includes individual or small-group social-emotional learning. Other programs, which may be led by partner staff, focus on life and/or workforce skills, like leadership and communications.

What evidence supports this strategy?

Multiple systematic reviews of afterschool programs demonstrate statistically significant, positive impacts on a range of academic and behavioral outcomes.

  • A 2021 research synthesis found that afterschool programs are associated with improved academic (math and reading skills), behavioral (attendance and suspensions), and social-emotional outcomes (self-confidence).

  • A 2010 meta-analysis found that afterschool programs are associated with improved academic achievement (test scores and grades), behavioral indicators (positive social behaviors and reduced problem behaviors), and overall feelings and attitudes (self-perception and school bonding).

Is this strategy right for my community?

Providing effective after school programs has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are effective public education, preparation for college, social capital, and safety from trauma.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring the effectiveness of public education in your community: Examine the average per-grade change in English Language Arts achievement between the third and eighth grades. These data are available from Stanford University’s Education Data Archive.

  • Measuring preparation for college in your community: Examine the share of 19- and 20-year-olds with a high school degree. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

  • Measuring social capital in your community: Examine the number of membership associations per 10,000 people and the ratio of residents’ Facebook friends with higher socioeconomic status to their Facebook friends with lower socioeconomic status. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns and Opportunity Insights’ Social Capital Atlas, respectively.

  • Measuring safety from trauma in your community: Examine the number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

Best practices in implementation

  • Cultivate community partnerships: Strong afterschool programs are often anchored by partnerships between school districts, government agencies (like a parks and recreation or youth development department) and community groups/nonprofits. Engage closely with a range of partners and assign clear roles, like program delivery, program evaluation, and recruiting staff, students, and families.
  • Invest in inter-agency coordination capacity: Administering a comprehensive afterschool program requires significant coordination to ensure adequate funding, staffing, enrollment, and logistical success. A single staff member or dedicated team should lead coordinating and communication efforts across partners, including the school district, school staff, participating nonprofits/community groups, and relevant city agencies.
  • Use strength-based framing: Out-of-school time like afterschool often has negative associations among students, especially around socioeconomic status and academic performance. To address this, program stakeholders should use clear, strength-based language for recruiting students and delivering the program. Core programming should also include dedicated community-building activities and other positive motivations for participation.
  • Recruit specialized, diverse staff: Afterschool programs are often staffed by a combination of teachers and community partners. School districts and other administrators should seek to hire staff who may have different backgrounds, life experiences, and expertise than teachers. Doing so can help the program provide new adult perspectives that are often beneficial to student growth.
  • Set goals and track progress: Afterschool programs can produce a wide range of outcomes for students. Set concrete goals, such as improving GPAs, reducing suspensions, or increasing participation in art classes. These goals should inform everything from program design to partners to recruitment messaging. Track student progress against those goals to measure and refine the program.

Evidence-based examples

Organized social, art, or physical activities for school-aged youth that occur during out-of-school time
Elementary and middle school success High school graduation
Helping children and adults build behavioral skills and social support systems to encourage physical activity
Stable and healthy families