YOUTH ENGAGEMENT AND COMPREHENSIVE AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS: SCHOOL CONNECTEDNESS OUTCOMES, SCHOOL LEVEL DIFFERENCES, AND PROGRAM QUALITY.
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This research examined an instrument used for after-school outcome reporting as a potential measure for a three factor youth engagement model. Differences in the proposed engagement model by school level served were evaluated, and relationships between the proposed engagement model and program quality were tested. Using a social work strengths-based approach and a systems-theory lens, the role of comprehensive after-school programs as a positive youth-engagement intervention was reviewed. Today, in order to sustain the availability of public and private support of such programs for low-income and at-risk youth, these programs must prove their impact on a youth’s academic success. A school-connectedness theoretical framework was created to link after-school’s ability to engage youth with school-day measures of success. This research used data from sixty-eight comprehensive after-school programs administered by the Harris County Department of Education in 2010/2011. Confirmatory factor analysis did not validate the out-of-school time evaluation instrument as a measure of the three factor youth engagement model. The proposed school connectedness model was also tested for fit with each of the three school levels served: elementary, middle and high. The middle school program data set came the closest to proving a significant fit. Finally, regressions were run to analyze the relationship between program quality, as observed through site visit observations, and the proposed measure of youth engagement outcomes. Relationships between two quality constructs— activity design and staff behaviors— were found to be significant, with small to moderate contributions to prediction of the after-school outcome measure. Research needs to be conducted to continue to seek a way to evaluate the ability of after-school programs to positively engage youth in continued learning opportunities. For low-income and at-risk youth that have disengaged from the education system, after-school programs can re-engage them in a way that leads back to academic achievements, and school-day measures of success.
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