Exploring High School Students' Participation in a GEAR UP Afterschool Program
In-school interactions between afterschool educators and high school youth can increase youth participation in afterschool programs. As a result of participation, afterschool programs may offer a range of academic, social, and emotional outcomes to support positive youth development and prepare high school students for post-secondary education. However, high school youth have the lowest afterschool participation rates of any age group due to competing interests such as home responsibilities, jobs, tougher academic courses, and other extracurricular activities (Afterschool Alliance, 2020). Previous research indicates repeated positive adult-youth interactions lead to the development of relationships that support the needs of the youth (Rhodes, 2002). If afterschool educators and youth have positive interactions during the school day, youth may be more likely to attend afterschool to seek academic assistance and further develop a mentoring relationship with the afterschool educator. Additionally, continuous youth afterschool participation can be shaped by the afterschool physical learning environment and an afterschool educator’s self-efficacy, beliefs, and behaviors due to their impacts on the youth’s afterschool experience. Therefore, this study investigated the in-school and afterschool factors predicting high school youth participation in a GEAR UP afterschool program.
The purpose of this study was to explain and predict high school student participation in a Midwestern state GEAR UP afterschool program based on the in-school adult-youth interactions, afterschool physical environment, and afterschool educator self-efficacy, behaviors, and beliefs. Participants of this study included 9th and 10th grade youth enrolled in a GEAR UP school (N = 6767) as well as GEAR UP afterschool program regional directors and building coordinators (N = 18). Quantitative data for youth participants was collected from GEAR UP database records regarding measures of in-school adult-youth interactions and afterschool participation. Quantitative data for afterschool educators was collected using a web-based survey, which gathered information about the afterschool physical learning environment and the educator’s self-efficacy, beliefs, and behaviors during the afterschool program. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, correlations, multiple regression analysis, and inferential statistical tests.
There were five conclusions for this study. First, afterschool educators were somewhat self-efficacious, believed STEM education to be very important, demonstrated STEM behaviors occasionally, and agreed the afterschool physical learning environment was suitable. Second, free and reduced lunch status; educator behaviors; one-on-one instruction; and counseling, advising, and academic planning predicted 5.3% variance in high school student afterschool participation. Third, individualized adult-youth interactions were positively related to afterschool participation. Fourth, youth afterschool participants reported greater hours of one-on-one instruction than nonparticipants, and nonparticipants reported greater hours of counseling, advising, and academic planning than participants. Fifth, youth afterschool participation rates and hours spent in afterschool program activities varied at the school level. Recommendations for future research, implications for theory, and practical applications for afterschool educators, afterschool program developers, and school administrators were discussed.