Today’s post comes from Chad Evans, unit director and out of school time program coordinator for Boys and Girls Club of Leech Lake in Deer River. Chad shares his take on OST broadly, and some insights he’s gleaned from the Youth Voice survey data. Chad was one of several hosts at the Youth Voice Community Conversation, and shared openly his deep passion for finding ways to support young people on their paths to success.

Along with other members of the Itasca Networks for Youth, Chad is working with the Search Institute and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to implement an improvement science approach to building programs relevant the lives of older teens.

Chad Evans, Deer River Boys & Girls Club Unit Director and Deer River volunteer firefighter demonstrates fire safety   at the club.

Chad Evans, Deer River Boys & Girls Club Unit Director and Deer River volunteer firefighter demonstrates fire safety at the club.

Most school-age kids seem to live for their time away from school, when they’re free to hang out and have fun with their friends. But for adults working in the youth activities arena – from Scout leaders, to sports coaches, to paid and volunteer program activity directors – Out of School Time (OST) is a serious opportunity to connect young people with valuable experiences and environments that can feed the sparks in their lives and support them on their paths to success.

As part of the Itasca Network for Youth, the out of school time network of the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success, the Boys and Girls Club Deer River Unit joins other out of school time providers in  finding ways to keep our programs high quality for our youth.  We knew we were doing good things and the kids were having fun, but we also knew we could improve in some areas and wanted to make every effort possible to do the best we can.

The group has learned together that we are on the right track toward building quality programs relevant to young people’s lives that lead to good outcomes in areas such as character and leadership skills, academic success, creativity and tenacity or resilience.  But we have more work to do!

Every day 50-75 of our 150 Boys & Girls club members come through the door excited to be a part of something.  While the program is open to kids from elementary school through high school, we find that older teens just don’t come.   We know older teens need the relationships and support the Boys & Girls club can offer, however we can’t provide support if teens don’t come in our door.

Through our participation in the Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success, the Boys and Girls Club Deer River Unit has been able to work with the results of the Youth Voice survey.   The results give us clear data that suggests the things kids need things from us.

Many of us in this field believe we “know” what is good for kids and we “know” how to deliver programs.  The problem with our approach (at least with teens) has been, we build it… and they don’t come.  So, we can continue to plan the same things and market them the same way and continue to have teens not show up — or we can make some changes.

In my opinion the best way to get teens to attend out of school time programming is to ask them what they want, when they want it and let them plan it.  They build valuable skills by planning and implementing their own programming, no matter the content of the programming.  And it WILL BE FUN!

The Movement (an alcohol and drug prevention youth group) in Deer River has been hosting “5th Quarter” parties for teens this school year after each sports home game.  These have been well attended and are a blast for teens.  The young people do things like have a campfire, play volleyball, watch movies, play video games and hang out in a fun, safe environment. The kids help plan and put a lot of hard work into each activity. And they show up, learn a few things along the way, change some perceptions…and have fun.

The “5th Quarter” time slot – late Friday evenings — isn’t the most convenient for a working father of four like me to always be a part of. But it takes several caring adults to be there, and that’s what we have.  We as out of school time professionals have to be flexible when scheduling opportunities for kids.  If they need it to happen after a basketball game on a Friday night until 11:00 p.m., we need to be there for them.

Places like Boys and Girls Club need to use the data like the Youth Voice survey to help drive us to provide opportunities for teens, to learn what is important to teens, and to learn when opportunities are convenient for them. Teens need to feel meaningful relationships are being built. They need to be involved in planning and implementing, and it NEEDS TO BE FUN!

(And we need to supply food, a lot of food…)