Community and Education Research
Connection Matters: A Study of School Districts’ Self-Interest and Policies
By: Angus Mungal, Ph.D. with Susan Austin, J.D., Joseph Muñoz, M.Ed., Shari Schwartz, M.Ed.
School programs and policies have moved from preventing risky behaviors and toward programs aimed at building resiliency through a focus on positive youth development. This paper addresses the grow of disconnected youth. Disconnected youth can be defined as students between the age 16-24 but can include middle school youth. Disconnected youth refers to “young people who are neither working or in school” (Afterschool Alliance, 2014) and “are more likely than others to engage in crime, become incarcerated, and rely on public systems of support” (United States Government Accountability Office, p. 1). Afterschool programs aim to address issues of dropouts as well as help to prepare students for workplace or college readiness.
One of the major contributing factors to dropout is students feeling a lack of belonging in schools. Afterschool programs provide a number of benefits to all students. ASPs are a means to “foster interpersonal competence, help define life goals, and promote educational success” especially if the purposes and content of the activities are clear (Sahin, Ayar, & Adiguzel, 2014, p. 311). With school districts having to deal with the ending of federal funding from 21st Century Learning Centers (21st CCLC) for afterschool programs, districts will need to find other avenues to support afterschool programs.
The report presents an alternative model for schools and districts to provide afterschool programs that serve all students and will attract disconnected youths into participating. This new Model for Facilitated Student Groups relies on student input and creativity while being supported by adult role models. These role models can come from community leaders, outside organizations, or educators.
New Model for Facilitated Student Groups
Participating in a student group can reduce youth disconnection; however, few schools actually encourage participation in student groups, as opposed to traditional school-sponsored extracurricular activities. The Facilitated Student Group model uses an existing school policy known as the Equal Access Act. Students form groups around their chosen interests and meet weekly at school, all on the same day and in one area of the school building. The school provides adult supervision through adults who “monitor” all meetings at once, rather than each individual meeting. What makes a student group a “facilitated” group is that a local non-profit and/or its volunteers assist student organizers in setting up and running the group. The non-profit may also provide a pair of adult volunteers to serve as monitors.
The model is aimed at middle
To be academically successful in the long run, students need an array of skills, including “non-cognitive” skills like a growth mindset and perseverance. Non-academic activities in afterschool programs are the best way to develop these. A threshold step is to get youth connected to some activity outside of school. Schools and non-profits have a common interest in helping reduce youth disconnection and can do so within school district policies. With afterschool programming, they can think outside the box about how to provide students the experiences they most want. The proposed Facilitated Student Group model gives older youth the autonomy they desire and could be one of the more sustainable ways to reduce youth disconnection. While it will require schools and youth-serving non-profits to place more trust in students, who better than these to do so.