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Updated Summer 2011!
Resource Guide

This is a companion guide to the report, Putting It All Together: Guiding Principles for Quality After-School Programs Serving Preteens.

Principle 2: Exposure
(duration, intensity and breadth)


Programs are designed to: a) provide preteens with a "dosage," or number of hours per week over an extended period of time, that matches program outcome goals; and b) allow preteens to attend a variety of activities.


Youth benefit from participation in high-quality after-school programs; however, youth only receive these benefits when they attend programs regularly and over an extended period of time. Therefore, a high-quality program will offer activities for a duration and intensity that will allow participants to achieve the outcome goals.

Duration, intensity and breadth are all indicators of attendance that have an impact on results. Duration refers to the length of participation over time, usually measured in number of years. Intensity is the amount of time youth attend a program during a given period of time: for example, hours per day or days per week. Breadth of attendance refers to the variety of activities that youth attend within and across programs.

Preteens need to attend programs over a period of time to establish supportive relationships, develop healthy behaviors and gain the full benefits of the program. Research generally shows that young people who attend with high levels of intensity (multiple days per week and hours per day) have more positive academic, social and behavioral outcomes than youth who attend with low intensity. In addition, the research shows that there are advantages for preteens who are involved in a variety of activities and that in some cases the variety itself is what draws and retains them.

Examples of this Principle in Action
  • An attendance policy exists that parents are aware and supportive of and that staff enforces.
  • Attendance is carefully tracked and staff respond quickly when a student has missed one or more days of the program.
  • Programs provide an environment in which preteens are participating and engaged.
  • Program staff analyze why youth leave and respond with program improvements.
  • Youth turnover rates are low.

Where to Go for More Information


Youth Governance: How and Why It Can Help Out-of-School Time Programs Involve At-Risk Youth (June 2008)
While after-school providers often seek to provide services to high-risk youth, programs often have difficulty attracting this population. This Child Trends brief examines the role youth governance—defined as establishing youth-adult partnerships to run aspects of the after-school program—can play in targeting at-risk children and youth. The benefits of youth governance to youth, adults and the program itself are discussed, as well as concrete ways to implement such a structure. The brief also addresses challenges of youth governance and potential solutions. It concludes with references to various organizations that are making use of youth governance.
Author/Publisher: Bowie, Lillian and Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew. Child Trends.

Using Incentives to Increase Participation in Out-of-School Time Programs (June 2008)
Although some research suggests that using incentives can potentially reduce youth initiative and creativity, this Child Trends brief highlights ways they can be used to increase participation in after-school programs. The authors differentiate between incentives that take the form of special activities and reward-based incentives, exploring which type is more appealing to different age groups.
Author/Publisher: Collins, Ashleigh, Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew and Mary Burkhauser. Child Trends.

Improving Attendance and Retention in Out-of-School Time Programs (June 2007)
Given the variety of social and academic outcomes associated with participation in after-school programs, Child Trends focuses on ways to increase attendance and retention so youth can benefit. The brief highlights common barriers to participation and the ways programs can navigate these challenges to both maintain and increase attendance and retention. The five most common barriers include: 1) safety, transportation and cost; 2) family responsibilities; 3) youth desire or need to work; 4) the lack of identification with staff members; and 5) adolescents' lack of interest in organized activities. Child Trends suggests steps for programs seeking to assess how successfully they recruit and retain youth, while providing references to specific programs that have taken similar steps.
Author/Publisher: Kennedy, Elena, Brooke Wilson, Sherylls Valladares and Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew. Child Trends.

Attracting and Sustaining Youth Participation in Out-of-School-Time Programs (July 2004)
This brief draws from implementation and impact evaluations to develop a set of promising strategies to attract and sustain youth participation in out-of-school-time programs.
Author/Publisher: Harvard Family Research Project. No. 6

“Participation in Youth Programs: Enrollment, Attendance and Engagement” in New Directions for Youth Development. No. 105 (Spring 2005)
This periodical focuses on youth participation in out-of-school-time programs. It provides research-based strategies on how to increase participation and how to define, measure and study participation.
Author/Publisher: Weiss, Heather B., Priscilla M.D. Little and Suzanne M. Bouffard. Gil G. Noam, Editor-in-Chief.
(Note: This publication is not available for free online. It may be available through research library databases.)



More Time For Teens: Understanding Teen Participation—Frequency, Intensity and Duration—In Boys & Girls Clubs (March 2008)
Arbreton et al. draw on results from Public/Private Ventures' longitudinal evaluation of Boys & Girls Clubs to understand participation among teens. Findings from the study suggest that several factors contribute to ongoing teen participation, including the variety of activities available at the Club, the ability of the Club to adjust its programming to suit the social and developmental needs of teens and the opportunity for participants to spend time with friends. Importantly, the research suggests that sustained levels of participation can be linked to positive character development and school-related outcomes, improved health behaviors and decreased risk behaviors.
Author/Publisher: Arbreton, Amy, Molly Bradshaw, Rachel Metz and Jessica Sheldon with Sarah Pepper. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

Predicting Youth Out-of-School Time Participation: Multiple Risks and Developmental Differences (April 2008)
Research suggests that regular attendance in out-of-school-time (OST) activities is correlated with positive youth outcomes, yet researchers are just beginning to understand what factors are linked to attendance rates. This study used results of a national survey to understand how different types of risk factors—at the family, school, child and neighborhood levels—were linked to OST activity participation. Child risk factors (poor grades, low levels of positive behavior, physical health problems, etc.) and family risk factors (low emotional support, low family involvement in school, parental psychological distress, etc.) had significant negative correlations with OST activity attendance rates in middle and high school. Youth with the most developmental problems and least supportive environments were least likely to participate in OST activities, especially in adolescence. The authors suggest that child and contextual risk factors begin to play a predictive role in attendance when youth have increasing autonomy over how to spend their time, a freedom that often begins in middle school.
Author/Publisher: Wimer, Christopher, Sandra Denise Simpkins and Eric Dearing. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 54, No. 2: 179–207.

Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies to Support Sustained Participation in Out-of-School Time (2010)
This study used surveys and in-depth interviews to identify common successful strategies at programs with particularly high participation rates among middle- and high-school age youth in six US cities. Programs that achieved relatively high rates of retention were more likely to emphasize youth leadership and outperform other OST programs in their efforts to stay connected with youth; they also are more likely to be larger, community-based organizations that give staff members regular opportunities to meet to discuss their programs. Strategies that were particularly successful in retaining middle school youth included giving youth opportunities to interact with peers, creating structures and routines to make youth feel comfortable and safe, and taking advantage of participants’ willingness to try new things. The report describes these strategies in detail and explores the influence of city-level OST initiatives on programs and identifies the types of city-level services that likely support participation.
Author/Publisher: Deschenes, Sarah N., Amy Arbreton, Priscilla M. Little, Carla Herrera, Jean Baldwin Grossman and Heather B. Weiss, with Diana Lee. Harvard Family Research Project.



Understanding and Measuring Attendance in Out-of-School-Time Programs (August 2004)
This brief draws on developmental research and out-of-school-time (OST) program evaluations to examine the three indicators of participation: 1) intensity, 2) duration and 3) breadth of attendance. The authors define the three attendance indicators, emphasizing that attendance in OST programs is not simply a “yes” or “no” question. A review of more than 25 studies reveals that the attendance indicators have been associated with various positive participant outcomes, including academic achievement, positive behaviors, and stronger self-esteem. The authors explain how the three attendance indicators interact and suggest strategies for improved attendance measures in future research.
Author/Publisher: Harvard Family Research Project. No. 7.

Examining the Relationship Between LA’s Best Program Attendance and Academic Achievement of LA’s Best Students (2008)
Researchers examined attendance and school achievement patterns for 10,000 students who participated in the LA’s Better Educated Students for Tomorrow (BEST) after-school program in the 2002–03 or 2003–04 school years. All students were in grades two or three at the beginning of the study, and their records were tracked for four years. Results of the analysis suggest that regular attendance in the LA’s BEST program (over 100 days per year) leads to math achievement growth, when compared to students with low attendance in the program. In contrast, students’ academic progress in English-language arts was not significantly related to the students’ intensity of attendance in the LA’s BEST program.
Author/Publisher: Huang, Denise, Seth Leon, Deborah La Torre and Sima Mostafavi. National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, UCLA.

Building Quality, Scale and Effectiveness in After-School Programs: Summary Report of the TASC Evaluation (2004)
The After-School Corporation (TASC) evaluation collected data over four school years from 96 TASC after-school projects and their host schools in New York City to answer questions about quality and scale in program implementation, program effects on participating students, and program practices linked to academic benefits for students. The evaluation found that participation in TASC activities was linked to academic performance and school attendance, especially for those participants who attended TASC projects regularly and for more than a year. The report provides an overview of all the findings from the TASC evaluation.
Author/Publisher: Reisner, Elizabeth, Richard N. White, Christina A. Russell and Jennifer Birmingham. Policy Studies Associates, Inc.

After-School Pursuits: An Evaluation of Outcomes in the San Francisco Beacon Initiative (2004)
The evaluation of the San Francisco Beacon Initiative, a multiyear study of youth and family centers located at schools, indicated that participation over two to three sessions (roughly one year or more) was a critical amount of exposure for middle school youth to achieve the youth-development-related outcomes examined. This study provides additional evidence of the importance of exposure for after-school programs.
Author/Publisher: Walker, Karen E. and Amy J. A. Arbreton. Philadelphia: Public/Private Ventures.

Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings from the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs (2007) (Executive Summary only)
The authors examined the longitudinal effects of participation in high-quality after-school programs on various outcomes among economically disadvantaged youth in both elementary and middle school. The authors examined differences among students who (1) attended the program regularly, (2) attended the program as well as other activities regularly and (3) rarely participated in supervised activities. Middle school students who regularly attended the high-quality after-school programs (alone or in combination with other activities) across two years demonstrated significant gains in standardized math test scores, improvements in self-reported work habits, reduced use of drugs and alcohol, and less misconduct compared to students who rarely participated in supervised activities. Low supervision coupled with intermittent participation in an unstructured program of extracurricular activities posed developmental risks to both elementary school and middle school youth. For the complete series of reports from this study, see
Author/Publisher: Vandell, Deborah Lowe, Elizabeth R. Reisner and Kim M. Pierce.


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Resource Guide Sections

About This Guide


Principle 1:
Focused and Intentional Strategy

Principle 2: Exposure

Principle 3: Supportive Relationships

Principle 4:
Family Engagement

Principle 5:
Cultural Competence

Principle 6: Continuous Program Improvement

Other Resources




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