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When it comes to after-school programs, more is better

By Nancy Hegland

Recently I've been in a book study group with colleagues that has reminded me why extracurricular programs are critical for youth development.

GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth offers a lot of insight. One chapter says that extracurricular programs have positive effects on a student's life generally. When it comes to school, participating in extracurricular activities make them more likely to have better grades, higher self-esteem and less likely to have risky behaviors. In addition, the longer youth are involved in extracurricular programs and the more hours per week they spend in that activity, the better the outcomes.

  • Caring adults offer supportive and demanding guidance. This positive role model complements the parents’ roles and allows youth to know that others care about them and their success.
  • Extracurricular programs are designed to cultivate grit – interest, practice, purpose, and hope.
  • Youth feel challenged and have fun in extracurricular programs. They choose to be involved and there are expectations for them to perform at a high level.

Duckworth also cites a study conducted by psychologist Margo Gardner and collaborators at Columbia University, which followed 11,000 American teenagers until age 26 to see what effect participating in high school extracurricular programs for two years did for them, compared to just one year. They found that youth who spend more than one year involved in extracurricular programs are more likely to graduate from college and to volunteer in their communities. The hours that kids devote to extracurricular programs predicts their ability to have a job and earn a higher wage. This was true for only those youth who participated for two years rather than one.

What does your youth development program do to encourage multi-year participation for middle and high school age youth?  Have you focused any special efforts to track their participation and contributions as young adults?  Youth development organizations must work to retain middle school and high school youth in programs. We have evidence that two years is so much better than one for high school students continued success as adults.

-- Nancy Hegland, Extension program leader

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  1. Thank you Nancy for taking a portion of our book study and elaborating on the subject! The 4-H Program is so important to exposing youth to multi-year, multi-interest project areas. I would love to see better tracking on the logic model and outcomes as our youth graduate and move onto adulthood.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Nicole. I agree that the 4-H youth development program allows youth to explore many different interest areas and they can choose to start something at any age. I remember being a first year dairy member my final year in 4-H, which allowed me to learn new skills and peaked my interest to get involved in dairy judging at the collegiate level. We are fortunate to be able to track some impact from experiences in the program and share them with stakeholders.


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