Out-of-School Time: Making a difference in young people's lives
When Ethiopian immigrant Shegitu Kebede started her center for single immigrant mothers in the Franklin Housing Cooperative in Minneapolis, Kebede went to the University of Minnesota Extension Service's Urban 4-H to help start an after-school youth program. Three days per week, kids cram into one of the center's two rooms to do artwork, 4-H projects and homework. This program received national recognition in April from Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services, Washington, D.C.
Extension leads initiative to enrich opportunities for Minnesota's youth
Out-of-school opportunities for Minnesota young people are too important to be left to chance. That's why University President Robert Bruininks created the Minnesota Commission on Out-of-School Time in 2004. Composed of parents, researchers, business representatives, educators, community leaders and philanthropists, the commission was charged with making recommendations to expand and improve programs during out-of-school time. Participation in after-school programs has been linked to better school attendance, better grades and test scores, more positive attitude toward school work, higher aspirations for college, better work habits, better interpersonal skills, and reduced dropout rates. The University partnered with the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Education to launch and fund the commission.
The commission's vision and recommendations, released a year ago, have resulted in an explosion of activity.
"Many people don't realize that the University is so heavily involved in this initiative, but this is an issue we know something about and we can do something about," said Dale A. Blyth, associate dean of Extension's youth development programs and director of the Center for 4-H Youth Development.
"In recent years, parents and community leaders have been increasingly alarmed about the disengagement of youth and the overall rate of delinquency, pregnancy and drug use across Minnesota," Blyth said. "Each year, young people on average have a minimum of 1,900 hours of discretionary time—the equivalent of a full-time job for a year—without structure or supervision, according to a report from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. In Minnesota, 42 percent of kids ages 10 through 12 are home alone after school."
An important element of the commission's work was the Youth Caucus, a two-day session with 18 young people and 6 adults from across Minnesota. The caucus was asked to tell the commission what should be done about out-of-school time. Recommendations included creation of a website supporting out-of-school opportunities, a biennial survey of youth to learn about their interests in out-of-school time, and creation of an independent statewide entity and regional centers to support out-of-school programming.
Some of these are being implemented with Youth Community Connections, an independent alliance of public and private partners hosted by Extension's Center for 4-H Youth Development. Youth Community Connections strives to ensure that every Minnesota community offers developmentally appropriate activities for nonschool hours.
"We are hosting the October statewide kickoff for the Lights On Afterschool! event," explains Laura LaCroix Dalluhn, director of Youth Community Connections. "We want to raise public awareness about the importance of having quality out-of-school-time opportunities for young people, their families and their communities."
Out-of-School Time Resources
Urban youth befriend reptiles at a summer environmental camp in southeastern Minnesota.
Extension supports high-quality out-of-school time opportunities in many ways.
At a 4-H spring workshop, children tried out their green thumbs.
- Extension's 4-H youth development program is expanding its efforts to provide rich learning experiences through 4-H clubs and 4-H adventures to more than 130,000 youth each year.
- The new statewide 4-H "Grow Green" initiative reaches young people through new partnerships, tools and small grants that enhance 4-H programs. For example, two new community grants are designed to engage Native American youth in northern Minnesota.
- The University's applied research collaborative with Wilder Research and Search Institute studies issues that matter to young people and their families. This fall, with support from the University and the McKnight Foundation, researchers will do a statewide survey of parents to assess need for quality opportunities for children and youth.
- Urban 4-H director Jennifer Skuza's research on immigrant adolescents has found "appropriate leisure and recreation opportunities, services, support and programs are important factors that may contribute to the healthy development of immigrant youth."
- The Center, through its Minnesota Youth Work Institute, offers noncredit training to almost 2,000 youth workers each year to help them to create better opportunities for young people. The institute helps youth workers think about their influence in the lives of young people. It also helps cultural communities tell youth workers about their cultural heritage in ways that support learning.
- The University helps parents, leaders and others understand why out-of-school opportunities matter and how they can help. Extension sponsors six regional forums each spring and fall that provide more than 500 individuals with new research-based information on topics such as factors influencing participation and what quality programs look like.
- Extension and its partners are offering training and technical assistance around the state this fall on how to assess and improve quality in local programs.