What is the role of after-school programs in educating our youth? In The Need to Reframe Afterschool Expectations, Robert Halpern challenged the trend toward aligning after-school programs with academic achievement. As I participated last month in the National AfterSchool Association Convention in Orlando;(NAA), I was concerned by the number of discussions regarding the direction of 21st Century programs becoming more of an extended academic day.
The Next Generation Youth Work Coalition leadership is promoting an ongoing conversation among youth development professionals on this question. My hope is that this conversation will result in a more balanced advancement of the movement into a professional field that adequately prepares tomorrow's youth worker to engage young people in developmentally appropriate practice that contributes to youths' social emotional development, significant and rewarding community engagement, as well as academic achievement.
I was encouraged by the discussions at NAA about preparing a workforce that engages young people in developmentally appropriate practice. There was excellent discussion about assuring professional development and building the competencies of this workforce to address a variety of developmental domains. By the end of the conference I was impressed by the passion felt by many about the value of youth development work.
Fifty years from now, I predict that historians will note how this country began pulling in all related and/or complementary programs like school-age and youth development programs to try to improve academic outcomes in response to more aggressive accountability measures. They will note how youth work practice concertedly shifted away from a free-flowing, student-directed learning model and toward more focused educational after-school programs with research-based curriculum and structured activities with measurable outcomes. This policy-level discussion is already happening in the United Kingdom.
I can't help but wonder if the energy of the Next Gen leadership and the passion felt by participants at the NAA conference is strong enough to inform and influence policy makers who seem to be narrowing their focus for all out of school time programs to that of increased academic instruction. I don't think it is too late to inform the debate in Washington and state capitols about the distinguishing mission and integrity of youth development work.
What do you think? What are the key messages we should be sending to policy makers to inform and influence the future of youth development to reach beyond a focus on academic achievement?
Jerry Kitzi, Next Gen Coalition Leadership Council,
director, Francis Institute for Child and Youth Development
and associate dean, Metropolitan Community College - Penn Valley, Kansas City, Mo.