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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

What Drives your After-School Program?

This new year of 2014 marks eight years of working in out-of-school (OST) time programs for me. While my passion for youth work has not changed over the course of that time, my approach to youth work has been profoundly shaped.

I started my work in OST programs in a vulnerable neighborhood outside Philadelphia. I was a young college student looking for academic credit by putting in my time with at-risk youth. I loved this program and I loved the people I worked with. All of us had a passion and a joy for what we were doing that is rare to find. However, looking back on that time, I can see that we allowed the disadvantages of the youth to have a louder voice at the table than, say, the advantages and strengths of the youth. Since our youth were labeled by society as “at-risk”, we allowed that to dictate our approach to the youth by turning our program into a giant safety net striving to catch each and every soul before they fall into destruction that took the form of prison or teenage pregnancy.

This mentality changed when I discovered the power of the Positive Youth Development (PYD) model. PYD is both a conceptual definition and an approach. First off, PYD is a process that ALL youth go through to seek ways to meet their basic and social needs and to build competencies necessary to succeed in adolescence and adulthood. From the richest to the poorest, every single young person in this world enters this process. Adolescence is the time where youth are discovering the essence of who they are and who they will be. Once PYD becomes the underlying principle of a youth program, then youth workers can then engage youth with a PYD approach that defines outcomes and goals based on capacities, strengths and developmental needs of youth.

The PYD model lists the following universal needs of young people:

Safety and Structure – a perception that one is safe in the world and that daily events are somewhat predictable.

Self-Worth – a perception that one is a “good person” who contributes to self and others.

Mastery and Future – a perception that one is “making it” and will succeed in the future.

Belonging and Membership – a perception that one has values, and is valued by others in the family and in the community.

Responsibility and Autonomy – a perception that one has some control over daily events and is accountable for one’s own actions and for the consequences of others.

Self-Awareness and Spirituality – a perception that one is unique and is intimately attached to extended families, cultural groups, communities, higher deities, and/or principles.

Close Relationship with a Caring Adult – a young person has the ability to connect and confide with one adult that is not their parent.

Once these needs are communicated, the program staff is now free to adapt these needs to whatever context youth are coming from.

As you strategically plan out your programs, how often are these needs addressed? Are they presented to your executive directors, frontline staff, and volunteers? A successful OST program always addresses the needs of young people first. In other words, a program should always be tailored toward the needs of those walking through the program doors between 3:00-6:00 pm, not the agendas of staff nor the agendas of funders. All stakeholders of the programs should be striving toward the goal of Positive Youth Development.

For breakfast, I had some granola cereal, some seasonal clementines and a great cup of coffee.

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