Middle school is a pivotal time for students; they are growing rapidly as individuals yet are unaware of their individual identities, interests and strengths. Students are also faced with more demanding academics, challenged with social pressures and provided more autonomy.

After school programs can be catalysts for helping middle-school students successfully navigate these challenges. However, these students aren’t easily engaged, and program directors are tasked with attracting and retaining them in their programs. Below are a few strategies to successfully engage adolescents in after school programs:

Provide physical activity. Allow time for students to stretch, move and exercise their growing bodies.

Incorporate visual arts. Provide opportunities for students to express themselves creatively through drama, literature and music.

Use digital badges. Create systems that help students identify and validate their skills, accomplishments and competencies. Check out "Using Digital Badges in Afterschool and Out-of-School-Time Programs" to learn more. 

Promote cultural awareness. Help students see themselves as participants in society by exploring various ethnicities and cultures.

Foster relationships. Encourage social interactions with peers who can offer support, companionship and constructive criticism.

Incorporate project-based learning. Provide authentic learning tasks that engage and motivate students over an extended time period.

With these strategies, program directors can help students navigate the crucial middle-school years by being involved in after school programs.