What Kids Want in Their After-School Programs

So, what’s the best way to get urban, low-income kids to participate in after-school programs? Here’s an idea: Ask the kids themselves!

The Wallace Foundation did just that, commissioning a market research study that asked low-income urban “tweens” what they wanted in after-school arts programs and what obstacles hinder their participation.

Turns out, tweens want after-school arts programs that are fun, cool alternatives to sports, video games, texting, and social media. They want programs taught by actual, practicing artists that are held in inspiring settings that affirm the values of art and creativity. In other words, a program at a local art studio or theatre taught by a painter or members of a theatre troupe will attract a lot more tweens than those held in musty classrooms with the same teachers they see during the day.

Guess what else? The kids want hands-on activities. They want to splatter paint and sculpt clay. They want to get into their characters and learn their lines. Programs culminating in public events — like an art exhibition or a live theatrical performance — with a real audience would be great, too.

In short, kids want after-school arts programs that have high expectations, respect the creative abilities of kids, allow them to learn and discover, and offer chances for fun and friendships. Wallace hopes after-school program providers will take note of the report’s findings and use them to design the kinds of programs that will engage these kids.

Have an arts center, theatre group, or other after-school program that has what kids are looking for? If so, funding opportunities are out there. The Wallace Foundation rarely funds unsolicited requests, preferring to invite proposals from selected organizations. However, this funder likes collaborative projects and has funded large state- and regional-level organizations such as United Way chapters. This means potential benefit for many organizations that partner with these larger, regional entities.