Over the past several years, after school programs have been praised for their ability to help improve academic achievement and provide a safe haven for youth beyond the school day.

But did you know that after school programs also help students build critical social and emotional skills? In fact, studies show that students who participate in after school programs demonstrate improved social and behavioral outcomes, including gains in social skills, engagement and intrinsic motivation.

Although there are multiple frameworks used to define and measure these skills, a recent research brief by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) indicates that high-quality programming and regular and high youth participation are key features of programs that help students develop social and emotional competencies. Based on these key features, AIR provided five strategies that programs can implement to produce positive outcomes.

  • Provide professional development for staff on how to make program activities sequenced, active, focused and explicit (SAFE).
  • Participate in existing quality-improvement activities, or advocate for additional funding to create strong quality assessment and improvement practices.
  • Conduct regular youth satisfaction surveys to gauge how engaged students feel in the program. If engagement is low, implement strategies to foster a sense of belonging and fun in the program.
  • Bolster youth participation by identifying what students like and do not like about the program, and make changes to match their needs and interests.
  • Identify specific skills the program will target. Make choices and provide activities based on those competencies.

Visit the AIR website to read the full research brief and learn more about their series, “Beyond the Bell: Research to Practice in the After School and Expanded Learning Field.”