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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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In describing a new study by HFRP, Holly Kreider illustrates how research and data can illuminate and facilitate links between complementary-learning contexts.

Young people spend their nonschool hours in a variety of ways—with family, in community settings, and in out-of-school time (OST) programs and extracurricular activities. Evidence suggests that participation in OST activities can produce many measurable positive effects for youth, academically, socially, and behaviorally.¹ OST programs and activities also complement the school day in a number of ways: They promote academic achievement and adjustment; provide opportunities such as arts, music, and other pursuits not available in school; and expose young people to more hands-on, project-based learning.

Yet little information exists, especially for youth at risk, on the factors that contribute to getting youth “in the door” and keeping them engaged. What predicts youth participation in OST programs and activities? How do other contexts, for example, families, schools, and neighborhoods, influence whether youth participate in such activities, and how can this information be used to inform practice?

Adopting an Ecological Framing
Harvard Family Research Project has received a 2-year grant from the William T. Grant Foundation to support a quantitative study of the contextual predictors of participation in OST activities. The study is grounded in a social–ecological conceptual framework, which emphasizes the multiple and interrelated contexts within which children develop.² By honoring the many settings within which children learn and the linkages across these settings, this theoretical orientation reflects a complementary-learning approach. Our main research questions reflect this orientation:

  1. What are the child, family, school, and neighborhood predictors of participation? Also of particular interest to our research team and to the field is the question of whether disadvantaged youth are less likely to have access to or participate in OST activities.
  2. How do child, family, school, and neighborhood characteristics interact to predict participation in OST activities? (E.g., are the predictors of participation different for youth from different family backgrounds?)

Investigating Multiple Datasets
To address these complex questions, HFRP is conducting secondary data analyses on two national datasets: the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Child Development Supplement, and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. These datasets will allow us to examine links between the multiple contexts within which children develop, because each study contains rich information about youth's families, schools, and communities. These datasets also include detailed OST activity measures that will allow us to examine multiple dimensions of participation, such as intensity and duration. They also provide the opportunity to focus on youth and contexts that are commonly underrepresented in the literature, including poor and minority children and their school and neighborhood contexts.

Informing Complementary-Learning Practices and Policies
A main goal of the study is to inform practice and policy by providing critical information about predictors of participation. Specifically, the study findings will do the following:

  • Address a growing demand from the policy community for rigorous research and allow policymakers to better target interventions for specific populations
  • Identify barriers to participation that could inform social and welfare policies to better foster youth participation in OST activities
  • Help program staff identify barriers to participation, especially for at-risk youth, and inform development of recruitment strategies
  • Enable programs to understand who is and isn't participating in OST activities and why, thereby facilitating the development of programs that fill important service-delivery gaps at the community level

Built into our study design is an interactive communications strategy that encourages a two-way flow of information between researchers, practitioners, policymakers, advocates, and others invested in improving programs and policies for young people. One communications tactic will be to disseminate and market study findings electronically.³ We will also target multiple audiences with publications in a variety of formats, including academic articles, research-to-practice briefs, and conference presentations. We will conduct outreach to practitioners and researchers, not only to convey our findings but to learn about how our work can be most useful. We will use this information to shape the direction of investigation and the delivery of our results. In this spirit, we invite feedback from readers on how the study can be most useful to their own practice.

¹ Little, P. M. D., & Harris, E. (2003). A review of out-of-school time program quasi-experimental and experimental evaluation results. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. [Click here to view.]
² Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
³ To be kept updated on the progress of this project, readers can subscribe to our out of school time updates email.

Holly Kreider, Project Manager, HFRP

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