Issues of access apply to out-of-school-time learning, as well as higher ed. Listening to the latest reports and events in our field have sparked important questions for me about access to positive educational opportunities for all young people.
How can we ensure that all youth (especially those who need it the most) have access to well structured and well implemented programs? How can out-of-school time (OST) programs connect youth with positive learning opportunities? How can we as youth development scholars and practitioners level the playing field for all youth?
For OST opportunities to be effective they must be well structured, staffed by caring adults, and provide youth with a real opportunity to contribute and be engaged in their communities. Research shows that certain conditions are necessary in order for OST programs to have positive results on the lives and opportunities of young people. However, access to well structured and well implemented programs is not equal for all youth. Scholars have talked about this issue in terms of an opportunity gap; it's not always about the difference in achievement scores but it's often about the access to resources, caring adults, and positive educational experiences where the gap is widest.
In a recent commentary in Education Week, H. Richard Milner of Vanderbilt University discussed the role of OST programs in helping close this opportunity gap. The following quote caught my attention, especially the words "developing evidence": "I would urge [OST] programs to continue developing evidence of their usefulness, not only related to academics but other important skills necessary for students to succeed in society such as social skills, study skills, communication skills, conflict resolution skills, and perhaps most importantly social justice orientations and skills. It is critical that students feel empowered to change and challenge negative and inequitable situations that show up in their communities."
Throughout the commentary, Milner provides further considerations for our practice in youth development. He urges us:
- To look at the opportunities and resources that youth have or not in order to address their needs.
- To ensure that youth workers are trained to ensure that active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery, and expands horizons are actualized in afterschool programs.
- To have critical conversations about disparities based on race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Otherwise we will continue to see huge disparities among the youth we serve.
Here is my call to action: How do we ensure equitable access to high-quality programs? How do we make sure that all youth can enjoy the benefits of these programs? Could we suggest additional considerations to Milner's list? In what other ways can practitioners, scholars and funders level the playing field?
-- Josey Landrieu, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation