Afterschool programs

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.
Issue Areas
K-12 education
Target Population
All school-aged children
Key Stakeholders
District or School Leadership, Nonprofit/Community Partners, Youth or Health Departments, Parks Department, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Proven

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).

How do afterschool programs impact economic mobility?

  • A pathway to college and career: Afterschool programs help students recover from learning loss and accelerate academic progress across subjects. Improved academic performance in math and reading, research shows, can lead to a range of key levers for upward mobility, including accessing college and high-quality jobs.
  • Improving behavioral outcomes: Afterschool programs are associated with reduced suspensions and increased school day attendance, both of which better position students to graduate high school. High school graduation, decades of research show, is among the most significant levers in achieving upward intergenerational mobility.
  • Opportunities for enrichment: Afterschool programs provide enrichment opportunities in areas like art, music, and athletics, along with skillbuilding in areas like communication and leadership. Research shows that despite the upward mobility benefits enrichment opportunities can provide, like college access and high-quality employment, students from lower income families have, on average, far less access.

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
Proven
Helping children and adults build behavioral skills and social support systems to encourage physical activity
Stable and healthy families
Proven