NLC Publishes Strategy Guide on Engaging Older Youth in Afterschool Programs

Research shows that high-quality afterschool and summer programs help cities keep children and youth safe when they are not in school, discourage substance abuse and juvenile crime, and improve student attendance and academic achievement. The benefits are especially large for youth ages 11-18 – those in middle and high school – who need learning supports to keep them on track toward graduation and are more prone to risky behavior.

Yet many cities struggle to provide sufficient afterschool opportunities for older youth that are accessible and relevant to their interests. To assist city leaders who are working to expand the number of high-quality programs for this population, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF) has published a new guide on City Strategies to Engage Older Youth in Afterschool Programs, with support from The Wallace Foundation. 

Because of their greater child care needs, communities often focus their afterschool efforts on younger children. Programs for older youth may be limited, inaccessible by public transportation, or not well advertised. Moreover, middle and high school age youth have more autonomy to choose how they spend their time after school. If high-quality programs are not available or do not fit their needs, these youth may miss out on valuable opportunities for learning and growth during the non-school hours.

The new NLC guide identifies four strategies that city leaders can use to increase afterschool program participation among older youth:

  1. Coordinate systems to support effective service delivery:  By building partnerships among city, school and community-based afterschool providers and other key stakeholders to take a systemic approach to afterschool, city officials can maximize local resources and reduce barriers to attendance. Key action steps include conducting market research to identify programming needs and wants; providing transportation and offering programs in accessible locations; using data to measure program attendance and effectiveness; and launching strategic marketing efforts to increase awareness and recruitment.
  1. Ensure programs are of high quality:  Older youth participate more frequently in afterschool programs when activities are well-run and relevant to their interests and when they have a voice in program design. Cities and their partners can work together to establish standards of quality programming, support professional development for program staff, and provide youth leadership opportunities.
  1. Offer a wide variety of relevant program options: Youth in middle and high school are more likely to attend programs that reflect their developmental needs and help them gain useful skills. Among the most popular types of programs for this age group are those that focus on academic support; sports and recreation; visual and performing arts; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and support for the transition from middle school to high school.
  1. Promote college attendance and workplace readiness:  Municipal leaders can promote afterschool opportunities that prepare young people for life after high school, helping achieve citywide goals for postsecondary educational attainment and workforce development. Afterschool programs can help youth navigate college enrollment and financing; connect young people with mentors who help them develop their workforce and college readiness skills; and provide internships and other career exploration and skill-building opportunities.

NLC’s new strategy guide is part of a series developed with support from The Wallace Foundation. Other strategy guides in the series include: Collecting and Using Information to Strengthen Citywide Out-of-School Time Systems; Strengthening Partnerships and Building Public Will for Out-of-School Time Programs; and Financial Strategies to Support Citywide Systems of Out-of-School Time Programs. Additional afterschool resources are available through the YEF Institute section of the NLC website at

Details:  City officials interested in learning more about strategies to improve and expand afterschool programming for children and youth can contact Bela Shah Spooner (202-626-3057,, Kim Eisenreich (202-626-3035,, or Imani Hope (202-626-3180 or at the YEF Institute.