COMMON ELEMENTS THAT VARY ACROSS SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY SETTINGS
The structure and composition of community programs vary widely; therefore, putting the science into practice in community settings requires understanding and embracing the diversity of settings so that practitioners who work and volunteer in the myriad of community learning and development settings within a community— regardless of where they operate, whom they serve, and what they do—“see themselves in the science.”
The differences between the formal structures of school and the flexible and free choice nature of community- based learning and development settings have implications for how practitioners are able to implement science-informed strategies that support equitable learning conditions.
Below are some key differences in settings.
Community-based program practitioners have no common, coordinated pre-service or in-service training and professional development system at the national or state level. While there are efforts to have a national youth workforce credential, participation in training and professional development is voluntary and not at scale.
However, locally, many youth development practitioners are trained in learning approaches that more naturally lend themselves to engaging the whole child, especially focused on positive developmental relationships and environments filled with safety and belonging. This is done through implementation of a program quality improvement system that has standards of practice, performance feedback, supports for continuous quality improvement, and guidelines and incentives for participation.1
K-12 public schools have, for the most part, an institutional home called “the district” that dictates policies and procedures that create both enabling conditions and barriers to implementing the guiding principles (see the K-12 Playbook for information on these enabling conditions and potential barriers).
Community-based learning and development settings vary widely in their organizational affiliation. Sometimes they are part of larger institutional structure with its own set of guidelines that influence all of the differences described above. A local Boys and Girls Club, for example, has a national office that supports content development, adult capacity building and continuous quality improvement efforts. As such, it also creates enabling conditions and potential constraints for being able to implement science-informed strategies. In contrast, a youth practitioner in a locally developed organization may only have access to these kinds of supports if they are active in a local provider network. The ability of practitioners to implement science- informed strategies then, is very much affected by the institution and structure in which they are working.
Despite the diversity of community programs, their common denominator is the commitment to create supportive learning settings that nurture young people’s strengths and interests and enable them to thrive.
Relationship building is at the heart of what these organizations do. While an organization may be known by its activities or content—an arts program, a sports league, an environmental camp—young people consistently voice a common refrain: they may initially be “hooked” by the activity, but they stay because of the bonds they form with peers and adults.
1David P. Weikart Center for Program Quality. (n.d.). Youth Program Quality Assessment ® and School-Age Program Quality Assessment. http://cypq.org/assessment ; National Institute on Out-of-School Time. (2021). APT: Assessment of Program Practices Tool. https://www.niost.org/Tools-Training/the-assessment-of-afterschool-program-practices-tool-apt
2Deschenes,S., Arbreton, A., Little, P., Herrera, C., Grossman, J., Weiss, B. (2010). Engaging older youth: Program and city-level strategies to support sustained participation in out-of-school time . Harvard Family Research Project.
3Afterschool Alliance. (2020). American After 3 PM. http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/AA3PM/
4Carnegie Corporation New York. (1992). A matter of time: risk and opportunity in the nonschool hours . Carnegie Corporation of New York.
5U.S. Department of Education. (2019). 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) analytic support for evaluation and program monitoring: An overview of the 21st CCLC performance data: 2017-2018 (14th report). U.S. Department of Education.