Out-of-School Time providers can take all the care to develop the most engaging programming but it will mean nothing without participants. Here we will look at the key elements of outreach to eligible youth participants.
Offering Enticing Activities
Before you begin to reach out to youth, you should have programing in place that is enticing to your population. We have information on assessing the needs of your community here. Generally, your programing should offer a good mix of academics, youth development, recreation, physical activities, arts, community service, leadership opportunities and for older populations, college and career readiness / workforce development. Activities and programing should change periodically to offer new opportunities. While programing should be in alignment with the school day, it should fun, engaging, and unique from the school day.
Getting the Word Out!
Advertise the activities in your program through multiple channels.
- Program Schedule: A schedule of activities should be posted in multiple places such as: Paper copies that can be sent home with youth, posted throughout your site and kept at front reception areas, on-line program schedule that parents and youth can access easily, Large format schedules such as bulletin boards or chalk/white erase boards
- Flyers and Brochures: Advertise specific activities or generally for your programs.
- Websites: Provide up-to-date information on the website of your school or organization or have your own website. Utilizing social media and blogs are a great way to build momentum for your program. For more detailed tips and tricks click here.
General Recruitment Tips and Tools
- Get Youth to Recruit Peers: This technique works especially well for middle-school students who are very dependent on peer approval. If you can peek a student’s interest in an activity or attending your program generally, it can help give them the security they need to attend if they are allowed to bring a friend. Often the student that you are trying to recruit will have friends with similar needs and interests, so this can boost your participation levels as well.
- Go Directly to the Parents and Families: Students are very likely to attend if their parents want them in your program. Reach out to parents and families directly. Click here for more on parental engagement.
- Offer incentives: Food, small giveaways or culminating parties and trips are great incentives to get youth in the door and to keep them coming back.
- Keep non-program staff informed: Other staff outside of your program such as teachers, administrators, counselors, non-profit and community center staff that do not work directly in your program should be informed and up-to-date on what is happening in your program. They are working with the same population and can only refer youth to you if they know what is going on. Front desk or reception staff are particularly important to keep informed, as they are often the first line of communication to parents, families and the outside community.
Recruiting Specific Youth
One major component in having a quality, successful program is not just having any child in your program, but rather, recruiting specific students for specific programs. If you have assessed the needs of your community and set program goals you will know of there are areas of need that you are planning on addressing with your programing. For example, you may have determined that a large amount of youth in your school or community need help in literacy and therefore you are planning to have a Book Club. Now you will want to make sure the right students are attending the book club.
- Look at your Data: Data such as test scores, grades, behavioral referrals, absentee rates can all help inform which students you want to specifically recruit for an activity. If you are a community-based group, you will want to make sure you have written permissions ahead of time that allows the schools to release data to your organization.
- Talk to other staff: Speak with other out-of-school time staff, teachers and counselors about which youth would be great candidates for specific programs.
- Target Specific populations: If you are in a school-based setting or another setting with designated populations, you can target specific populations. For example, if you have an activity geared towards English Learners you can look at which students are in that program during the school day. You may be able to come to school-day classes to promote the activity.
Staff and Youth Relationships
Youth are most likely to attend your program or activity if they are recruited and lead by an adult they are connected and engaged with. If you as the site director or if know of an adult that has a good rapport with students, they will be far more likely to take heed to the advice to attend a programing. Likewise, what will keep them coming back for more is having a relationship where they are having fun and feel connected.
- Attracting and Sustaining Youth Participation in After School Programs: From the Harvard Family Research Project, this article outlines successful approaches to building and sustaining youth participation in out-of-school time programs. http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/evaluating-out-of-school-time-program-quality/attracting-and-sustaining-youth-participation-in-after-school-programs
- City Strategies to Engage Older Youth in Afterschool Programs: From The National League of Cities and the Wallace Foundation, this strategy guide provides cities with guidance on how to create enriching, relevant and supportive out-of-school time environments for middle and high school youth, guidance on maximizing scarce local resources and examples from small, midsized and large cities. http://www.nlc.org/sites/default/files/2016-12/city-strategies-to-engage-older-youth-in-afterschool-programs-oct-12.pdf
- Getting It Right: Strategies for Out-of-School Success: This report offers recruitment strategies, including targeting older and high-risk youth. http://www.afterschoolnetwork.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/190_publication.pdf
- Google Calendar: An excellent free tool for creating online schedules. https://calendar.google.com/calendar
- Motivating Middle School Students to Attend Afterschool Programs: This article from the SEDL LetterVolume XX, Number 1, April 2008, Making the Most of Middle School, examines the motivating factors in getting middle school students to attend out-of-school programming. http://www.sedl.org/pubs/sedl-letter/v20n01/motivating.html
- The Pennsylvania Older Youth Out-of-School Time Study: A Practitioner's Guide to Promising Practices for Recruiting and retaining older Youth: This report combines results from a 2010 survey of youth programs in Pennsylvania with findings from a literature review to provide practitioners with information on best practices for recruiting and retaining older youth. http://www.psaydn.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=146&Itemid=