One of the greatest strengths of Out-of-School time programs, is their ability to be uniquely reflective of the communities that they serve. As an OST provider, you are in a position to be a master architect, crafting a vibrant, ever-evolving program that grows your community. This is no easy feat that requires an ever-revolving cycle of careful planning, implementation, evaluation, and reflection.  

Surveying your Community

Each community has it’s own unique fingerprint shaped by the needs of the youth and families that comprise them. Communities are living, breathing entities that change over time. Thus, it’s important to continually keep the lines of communication open to assess the needs of your population. By surveying families, youth and teachers you can get a picture of where your program strengths lie and areas for improvement. It is critical to know what the participants and stakeholders want, as it informs your overall goals.

Youth: What types of programs do they enjoy? What programs do they want to see more of? How do they want information about the OST program communicated to them? What barriers to participation do they have?

Families: For parents, what types of programs do they think their children attend? What programs do they want to see youth participate in? What programs would they participate in as a family or adult programing (if applicable)? How do they want information about the OST program communicated to them? What barriers to participation do they have?

Educators and Staff: How can the OST program can link support in-school learning (linkages to the school day)? Are there gaps in what is being offered in the school day that can be met by OST?

Getting Feedback

It is best to have a formal way of gaining feedback so that you are able to draw a large net and gain valuable data. Two of the most popular ways of doing that are through surveys (both paper and electronic) and focus groups. Survey Monkey  and Google Forms are two popular free resources for electronic surveys. There are also other ways to let participants, their families, staff and stakeholders know that your door is always open. Regularly asking for their comments and feedback in communications is also important. Ideas include constant calls for feedback in newsletters, materials that are distributed, such as schedules and providing a comment box.

Once you know have assessed the needs of your community and are ready to communicate with them check out program promotion but also consider messaging and tone when reaching out