A TYPOLOGY OF COMMUNITY- BASED LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT SETTINGS
Community-based learning and development settings is a phrase that describes the myriad of community partners that work independently, with each other, and with schools to support learning and development in diverse settings throughout the community.
As noted in the National Research Council’s seminal publication Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, “the characterization of community programs for youth is complicated. The landscape of programs is vast. And the variety of terms used to describe the programs varies.”5 This statement was made in 2002 and the landscape has become even more diverse in the past two decades as the field has broadened our definition of where and when learning happens beyond specific programs to other potential learning and development spaces in a community.
For example, community institutions such as libraries and museums have become “maker spaces” for young people to experiment with art, music, and technology; robotics and other STEM skill programs are commonplace in many afterschool programs; and workforce development programs are on the rise, supporting adolescents to develop the skills for a 21st century workplace.
Organizations like 4-H; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Camp Fire; Scouts; Y-USA; and Boys and Girls Clubs have affiliates in most communities and are household names. These national organizations and others have enormous reach—they are second only to the public schools in the number of youth they serve each year. But community- based learning and development settings span and are staffed by every sector of the community—nonprofits, faith-based organizations, employers, businesses, civic and arts associations, and public agencies focused on recreation, health, safety, and learning. They range from afterschool programs and community centers to mentoring programs and summer camps. They receive funding from multiple public and private sources. Their staff and volunteers work in and across systems and sectors, meeting youth wherever they are—in schools, sports leagues, clubs, and community centers, as well as in public housing, detention centers, homeless shelters, and hospitals. They provide myriad learning opportunities in an array of settings. They acknowledge that young people are learning all the time, both during and out of school, and in families, neighborhoods, and communities. They support an approach to learning that develops a broad set of skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to become a lifelong learner, productive worker, and engaged citizen. And they foster settings and services that allow young people to grow while exploring interests and wrestling with issues that reflect their passions and concerns.
Their staff and volunteers work in and across systems and sectors, meeting youth wherever they are—in schools, sports leagues, clubs, and community centers, as well as in public housing, detention centers, homeless shelters, and hospitals. They provide myriad learning opportunities in an array of settings. They acknowledge that young people are learning all the time, both during and out-of-school, and in families, neighborhoods, and communities. They support an approach to learning that develops a broad set of skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to become a lifelong learner, productive worker, and engaged citizen. And they foster settings and services that allow young people to grow while exploring interests and wrestling with issues that reflect their passions and concerns.
Therefore, defining what is meant by community-based learning and development settings needs to be broad and inclusive, yet specific enough to distinguish the sector from other kinds of learning and development settings such as early childhood programs, K-12 schools, and post-secondary institutions.
The typology to describe the universe of community- based learning and development settings is organized by whom they serve —primarily youth vs. a broader population; and what their goal is —primarily learning and development vs. broader goals that include other important outcomes that contribute to thriving—health, wellness, and safety. This results in four “types” of community-based settings:
- Settings that primarily provide opportunities for youth with a focus on learning and development goals
- Settings that provide opportunities for a broad population (e.g., children, youth, and families) with a focus on learning and development goals
- Settings that provide opportunities for youth with a focus on goals broader than learning and development
- Settings that provide opportunities for a broad population with a focus on goals broader than learning and development
Each of these types is described in more detail below. Figure 3, while not inclusive of all types of community- based settings, is meant to depict the complexity and variation across community-based settings, underscoring the need for a companion playbook geared to toward helping the myriad of practitioners working across these settings understand and implement science- informed practices.
Most community programs focus on youth and have a primary goal of learning and development. The same could be said about K-12 education. A main difference, however, is that learning and development in the context of K-12 education, by design, has historically led with content-rich instructional experiences, followed by the development of critical skills, knowledge, mindsets, and habits. In doing so, school day teachers should be striving to create relationship-rich environments filled with safety and belonging that connect children and youth to supports as needed.
Unlike K-12 education, community-based programs are not wired to lead with content. In fact, the voluntary nature of participation in community-based programs, as opposed to the compulsory requirement of attending school, means that community-based programs need to ensure that whatever their goals for young people are, they focus on youth engagement as a strategy for attracting and retaining participants. Relational programs, such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Mentor. org, lead with relationships that often are developed through engaging in a rich learning experience. Communities in Schools is an example of a community program that leads with connecting youth to integrated supports, and in doing so helps them develop critical skills, knowledge, mindsets, and habits that enable them to engage in the rich learning experiences offered in and out of school. Skill-building programs such as a STEM or arts camp, or a nature program, lead with the intentional development of specific skills and knowledge, and do so by cultivating strong relationships in a trusting environment.
Community-based programs that focus on youth and have a primary goal of learning and development span the many settings where youth spend their time. Afterschool and summer learning programs often utilize school buildings, bringing community partners into school spaces to support enrichment activities. Other community-based programs, such as sports leagues and nature-based programming bring youth into community parks and other outdoor spaces. Summer youth employment programs connect youth to a broad set of local businesses who serve as mentors to youth.
5National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development . The National Academies Press.
6Tolman, J. & Pittman, K. (2001). Youth acts, community impacts: Stories of youth engagement in real results . Forum for Youth Investment.