LaVerne DaCosta is a Ph.D. student and faculty associate, teaching education and society courses at Arizona State University. Her Master of Science research focused on youth services. Her current research interest is in youth culture and technology.
From my brief profile above, I am sure you already know where my passion lies. I believe in the creative potential of young people, and I believe strongly in the value of after-school programs as a resource to help foster and sustain that potential.
The research on after-school recreation programs, which includes my own Master of Science research, has shown that after-school programs can be beneficial to students, particularly children from underserved communities and/or adolescents who are trying to form their individual identity and are particularly vulnerable to structural or environmental factors that leave them exposed to risk. Such students tend to act out their aggressions, mistrust and hopelessness in a myriad of counter-productive ways.
The public school classroom is the one place that such students seldom get the help they need. The structure of schools and classroom discipline only serve to exacerbate the problem. Regular participation by young people in after-school recreation programs, however, can have an impact on reducing their negative behaviors.
Additionally, the numerous literature indicate that because the factors that affect young people’s behaviors are inter-related, after-school recreation programs which help to reduce negative behavior, juvenile delinquency, and violent crime also help to build self-esteem, ego-resiliency and ultimately impact their academic achievement. After-school recreation programs can help maltreated children and transitional foster-care children cope with a variety of issues in their lives and contribute to goals such as self-efficacy and positive development. Practice is the key to building confidence and these programs provide this space through enrichment curriculum with the exclusion of any grand theory of success and failure.
Children in foster care tend to be an overlooked population because they appear to be in stable home environments. However, this is the group that falls through the cracks most often. Effective support requires that the entire immediate family be involved. Thus, an efficient program gives special attention to the environment in which the children spend most of their time and to those with whom they have frequent interactions. In cases where parents, including foster parents, are not capable of providing support to their children, community recreation programs can provide support for those parents.
An important lesson from my research is that many of the parents do need to be supported in order to provide adequate support to their children. Community programs that are designed to include parents have proven to be successful as well. In these family support programs, parents form networking groups, creating functional and emotional attachments to other parents and becoming effective role models for their children.
For this population of young people, the provision of safe, positive environments offers them a sense of hope, which is a major goal of many after-school programs. I believe there ought to be as much value placed on the kind of “informal” learning that takes place in afterschool programs and community centers as is placed on the formal, cognitive-based learning that takes place in schools.
The good news is that I serve on the board of an organization that is doing great community work. A New Leaf offers several types of social services at numerous sites throughout the East Valley and West Valley, Arizona. The services include transition-family homeless shelter, youth residential treatment, immediate crisis intervention for youth and parents, emergency rent and utility payments, and a shelter for single men — just to name a few. Organizations such as A New Leaf and CLTL give hope to those who are struggle through life. I believe this is the meaning of “Changing Lives.”