Teen after-school programs that do more than distract

As its brightest young people go off to college never to return and the remaining population dwindles, my Bainbridge, NY, community is wrestling with how to salvage the teens who remain. An ad hoc group has been investigating programs offered in nearby communities.

Male youth with hands in pockets
Small town. Not much to do.

Types of teen programs

Programs for teens fall into three main types: distractors, skill builders, treatment programs.

  • Programs to distract give youth something to do that keeps them out of trouble for as long as they are doing it.  Such things as a computer lab, crafts and games,  movies, fall into this category.
  • Programs to build skills include a wide range of education, training and employment programs from homework help to nutrition to conflict resolution training.  They also include mentoring programs in which a teen is mentored by an adult or a younger child is mentored by a teen.
  • Programs to treat problems include youth courts and programs for alcohol and drug abusers.

Programs for teens in our area appear to aim primarily to distract — “While they’re with us, they aren’t doing drugs” — and to give homework help.

What funding sources want to see

Community groups typically think they can fund programs for teens using grants. That might have been true last century, but funds are not as readily available now.

The federal government speaks for many funding organizations when it says:  ‘More and more, funding sources for youth programs require the implementation of evidence-based programs.”

The federal FindYouthInfo.gov site gives this advice:

Clearly identifying what you are hoping to address and analyzing the potential causes and effects are essential before selecting and implementing an evidence-based program. You want to define

  • the problem you are trying to address or the behavior you want to promote,
  • potential causes or gaps that might be creating the problem, and
  • where you are hoping to intervene.

The implication seems to be that funding agencies are passing over applications from programs aimed at distracting youth from inappropriate behaviors.

Programs with rural potential

female artist stoops to work on floor
Artist at Work

In looking for ideas from other communities, I ran across some that struck me as having real potential for rural communities with limited resources.  Readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to see the programs are biased toward those that involve teens in their communities in ways that build the teens’ skills and return a benefit to the community.

Here are three program ideas that I found attractive for rural areas for varying reasons.

Teen continuing ed classes

The Friendly House offers teen programs on model of adult continuing education courses. Classes of 60-90 minutes are offered once or twice a week for a set number of weeks in things like physical fitness and art.

Classes offered by other teen programs that might fit easily into the continuing ed model are readers’ theater, creative writing, science discovery, financial literacy, entrepreneurship. Teens get a chance to try something that interests them that the school may not offer. Neither the instructor nor the sponsoring agency has a long-term commitment.

chef observes youger chef

Teen apprenticeships and internships

After School Matters has a scholarship program for apprentices and interns. The organization selects uses a request-for-proposal process to select providers. Providers have to detail how they will make the apprenticeship or internship a learning experience.  Participants can develop portfolios and earn digital badges that can help them get their first real job.

Teens have to apply for apprenticeships and internships at nonprofit organizations (only for those who completed apprenticeships) just as they would for a job.  Apprenticeships the program offers that could be replicated in a rural area include:

  • cooking with local chef
  • growing a community garden and selling products at a farmers’ market
  • developing sports skills and mentoring youth in preparation for a recreation leader job

It wouldn’t be hard to come up with other possibilities that fit a specific rural community.

Manor Ink logo
A local newspaper

Livingston Manor, NY, a hamlet with a 2010 population of 1,221,  has a monthly newspaper coordinated by the local public library  and produced by teens and some kids as young as 8 years old. Manor Ink is available globally online and in a local print edition. Through the newspaper, youth can pursue interests  in writing, sports reporting, selling, photography, art, graphic design, and videography.

The Manor Ink project is supported by the local news preservation nonprofit  Community Reporting Alliance and receives funding from the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation, which also supports the Watershed Post.

Start-up funds for a project such as this are less of a problem than adult supervision.  A project like Manor Ink requires a cadre of adults with relevant skills, ability to mentor teens, and a willingness to shoulder a long-term commitment.

Assistance with start-up costs are available from newspaper foundations such as the Knight Foundation and the Patterson Foundation, educational organizations, and government sources have funds are available to assist with start-up costs. As a newspaper gets out of the incubator stage, it has the potential to develop into a LION that supports itself by delivering news and which creates jobs for the community.

Teen programs that work

After hours of reading about after school programs for teens, I concluded what I could have guessed: Programs that work are developed in communities, by communities, for communities.

In rural areas being hollowed out by the brain drain, the need is not only to provide distractions but to provide skills and community connections that turn the kids who remain into productive, contributing citizens. I believe that starts by finding where needs of all residents in the community (not just their desires) intersect with the needs (not just the desires) of the teens in the community.

We’ll see soon if mine is a minority opinion.

Some other teen after-school programs:

Related posts on this blog:

Photo and graphics credits:

[removed non-working link 2016-01-31]

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