Bart Hirsch’s New Book Shows Why After-School Programs Succeed or Fail

Bart Hirsch’s New Book Shows Why After-School Programs Succeed or Fail

After-School Centers

The flourishing of after-school programs in recent years makes it more important than ever to understand their impact on young people. After-School Centers and Youth Development: Case Studies of Success and Failure, a new book by Barton Hirsch of Northwestern University, Nancy Deutsch (PhD04) of the University of Virginia and David DuBois of University of Illinois-Chicago clarifies the interactions that lead to success, based on an intensive study of three after-school centers that differ widely in quality.

The book presents highly readable case studies of six students and three after-school centers, based on data collected from 233 site visits over the course of a year, and it brings to life how the after-school programs affect young people. As the book considers how and why youth thrive in good programs and suffer in weak ones, it emphasizes the importance of elements such as collective mentoring and the synergies among different programs and activities.

“After-school centers have some terrific staff and are a great resource for impoverished urban communities. The best ones encourage staff to mentor youth and create dynamic new programs. But many centers don't live up to their potential. They need to focus like a laser on promoting positive youth development and learn as an organization how to keep improving what they do,” says Hirsch, a psychologist and professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Case studies of three different after-school organizations that range from low-quality to high-quality are an important element of the book. "The blending of the organizational studies with those of individual youth is a distinct contribution of the book," Hirsch notes.

Deutsch of University of Virginia’s Youth-Nex center, which is dedicated to promoting positive youth development, notes that the book introduces an innovative model for improving the experience of youth in comprehensive after-school programs. The model adopts the term “PARC,” which stands for four important aspects of a center that influence youth experience: programs, activities, relationships and culture.

“Researchers and practitioners have struggled to understand what happens inside after-school centers that promotes outcomes such as self-esteem and academic success,” says Deutsch. “Understanding what happens in youth centers from both the organizational and individual levels can help identify best practices for promoting positive youth outcomes.”

The authors describe a PARC as a profile or snapshot of a young person’s engagement with a center, with each youth typically having more than one. For example, one girl’s PARC profile had only a few weak programs and activities but a strong mentoring relationship with a staff member. Another PARC for the same girl reflected involvement with a service club within the center, a positive relationship with the staff member and peers, and a culture of peer leadership. This girl’s experience at the center was a result of the synergies among her various PARCs.

Since youth are involved in multiple programs or activities within comprehensive centers, the authors emphasize the value in looking at these PARCs together. “Their experience in the center can’t be measured by just the quality of the individual program but by the interaction of all of those. So if you see a strong relationship in one profile and a really great program in another, together those PARCs may prove very positive for the youth,” Deutsch said.

Use of the PARCs model led the authors to uncover another factor that has received little attention in previous research — collective mentoring, where staff members share responsibility for supporting a young person. The authors state that having multiple adults work together allows kids to draw on different expertise and allows adults to tune into different aspect of kids’ lives. Again, the authors emphasize the  synergistic potential that exists with these centers to improve youth outcomes.

Hirsch, a psychologist whose work emphasizes research and program development in relation to adolescents, is the author of another book about after-school programs, the award-winning A Place to Call Home: After-School Programs for Urban Youth. He has also recently completed a major three-year study of the After School Matters program in Chicago, a flagship program that serves more than 17,000 students. Hirsch is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the Society for Community Research and Action and general editor for a book series from New York University Press called Adolescent Lives in Context.

Deutsch, who studied with Hirsch at the School of Education and Social Policy, is the author of Pride in the Projects: Teens Building Identities in Urban Contexts, which explores the process of teenagers growing up and discovering their identities in U.S. inner cities. Her research focuses on adolescent learning and development as it unfolds within local environments, and her studies seek to understand how to create settings that better support youth. She has been a faculty member at the Curry School of Education since 2004, when she received her PhD from Northwestern University.

David DuBois is a professor of community health services at University of Illinois-Chicago’s Institute for Health and Policy Research. DuBois, who studies comprehensive approaches to promoting positive youth development, is the co-author, with William Karcher, of Handbook of Youth Mentoring. He is a William T. Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellow, a fellow in the American Psychological Association and a fellow in the Society for Community Research and Action.

After-School Centers and Youth Development was written for scholars, youth workers, after-school program leaders and policy makers. Published by Cambridge University Press, the book was released this month.

By SESP and University of Virginia
Last Modified: 3/7/12