Professional Learning

Deborah Lowe Vandell: A Discussion on After-School Programs

March 13, 2007

A University of California academician discusses the value of after-school and summer programs and how schools of education can help.

1. Why are after-school programs valuable? 

What's good about the best after-school programs is that they give young people a chance to develop relationships with adults. It gives them a chance to really get engaged with activities they care about and where they can develop some deep skills, deep knowledge, and it gives them some opportunities for choice and to be somewhat independent about what they want to do.

When that happens, we are finding that the students develop some of these twenty-first-century skills -- skills around work habits, persistence, innovation. But we are also finding improvement in school attendance, better grades, and some evidence of improved test scores. What we are seeing is that some new ways of learning may actually give us lots of outcomes that we are looking for, including some improved school performance.

What do schools of education need to know about after-school programs? 

Some of what we have to do in schools of education is make sure that teachers, prospective teachers and current teachers, have that deep content knowledge. But what we also need to be working our teachers on is how we develop these other skills -- teamwork, persistence, innovation -- and what we are going to be doing to have those kinds of skills being fostered, and we can turn to after-school programs for some projects where we see those activities being developed in the course of the interesting, exciting period of time after school.

What's the value of summer programs? 

I think another part of the puzzle is summer, where we know that for low-income children, we will often see a loss of about half a year as soon as they are out of school for the summer. We've got to be finding some solutions -- and that's particularly for low-income children; we don't see those kinds of losses in more affluent children. I think, in part because we look to see the kinds of enriching things many of them are doing in the summer, that you think, "Oh, we ought to be expanding what we are thinking about for summer activities and summer learning."

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