5 Quality Standards for After-School Programs

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Olivia Camarena |
January 25, 2024 |
For Providers |
Cdc Via Unsplash

After-school programs play a pivotal role in the overall development of the diverse communities they serve. More importantly, they are essential for providing developmental opportunities beyond the academic realm, such as in the fields of arts and sports. Undoubtedly, a well-implemented program is a valuable space for youth to explore and grow.

To discuss “well-implemented” after-school programs, we must delve into the standards. “Why talk about standards?” you may ask. Well, it’s a way to measure effectiveness and prove your value to funders. With this in mind, we’ll share five of the most popular standards.

Prepared Staff and Ratios

Staff will be in close contact with students, maybe not all at the same time, but one way or another. Therefore, they must have the proper preparation, which includes understanding the program content, group management, and youth development. It’s imperative to foster an environment of trust and safety where children can learn and explore their abilities. Don’t forget to conduct training and updates annually, including CPR and First Aid.

Essential to ensuring a positive environment, it’s important to maintain a minimum student-to-staff ratio. According to The ELO Network, the recommended ratios are:

  • Children age 5 – 1:10
  • Children/youth ages 6 to 8 – 1:12
  • Children/youth ages 9 and older – 1:18

Work Around Your Goals

First, you will set goals for your after-school program. What needs are you filling? What’s the desired outcome after your students finish the program? Once you have your goals, it’s important to design the activities around them. It will also help you define the materials needed and give yourself ample time to prepare.

Strong Community Partnerships

AfterSchool Alliance explains that “partnerships with community organizations allow programs to leverage otherwise unattainable resources.” Partnerships can provide resources or opportunities for kids to develop their skills in different environments.

These collaborations can have different faces depending on the nature of your after-school program. For the City of Everett, partnering means getting organizations to join the pool of paid internships for students; for Circle City Prep, an opportunity to establish a fresh prep kitchen by joining forces with Patachou Foundation; and for Excellence Through Opportunity, being able to offer Bike Tech programs for youth, as they partner with DC Bike Academy.

Sustained Participation and Access

Certainly, staff plays a vital role in creating a safe environment for learning; however, students are the ones responsible for participating frequently to demonstrate progress in the different areas of program development, whether it be academically, socially, artistically, or relating to any other discipline or skill. Your staff will be key to promoting participation and engagement by making it fun and engaging.

Always keep an eye on student participation by tracking attendance, making notes, and implementing surveys to get feedback.

Ongoing Assessment and Improvement

Hand in hand with the previous standard, frequent evaluation is needed to “refine and sustain exemplary programs,” as pointed out by Afterschool Alliance. This means setting quantifiable goals, comparing previous data, and tailoring strategies to improve in the areas shown in the reports. Even if this sounds time-consuming, you can employ management software to help you streamline your after-school program’s data tracking and collection.

Always keep in mind that you can also tailor your own standards using the after-school program’s mission, curricula, and yearly goals as a starting point!

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Afterschool Alliance (2011). Afterschool Alert. Issue Brief, no. 47. Retrieved from https://www.afterschoolalliance.org/issue_briefs/issue_quality_47.pdf
The ELO Network (2019). Quality Standards of Care for After School Programs. Retrieved from https://eloafterschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/ELO-QUALITY-STANDARDS.pdf


Photo by CDC via Unsplash.