UF Researcher: After-School Activities Help Kids Stay In School – Study suggests even good students may be at risk without adult supervision

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

Glenn Israel reports@gnv.ifas.ufl.edu, (352) 392-0502

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Children who participate in adult-supervised extracurricular activities after school are more likely to graduate from high school than latchkey kids who spend their afternoons without adult supervision, a new University of Florida study shows.

UF community sociologist Glenn Israel, lead author of the study, said programs such as school bands, sports teams or after-school clubs provide kids with opportunities to develop relationships with adults who reinforce the idea that school is important. The study indicates these relationships are so important that even good students can be at risk if allowed to go home alone.

“You expect A and B students to stay in school,” said Israel, a professor of agricultural education and communication with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “But when you take into account advantages such as income and previous academic performance, the data still show that family and community relationships have strong positive effects.”

Israel presented the results of his research Aug. 17 at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society in Albuquerque, N.M. The study also was published in the March issue of the association’s journal, Rural Sociology.

Israel said while his study didn’t look at children who participated in structured after-school care programs, it was clear from his analysis that students who spent more time alone at home had a greater tendency to drop out of school.

“Our research provides concrete evidence to support the conventional wisdom that schools can’t do it alone,” Israel said. “Though I don’t believe that adequate funding has been provided for schools to reduce class size, for example, school leaders should consider investing resources in efforts to help parents and community members work with children.

“After-school programs in which caring adults offer a variety of activities will be helpful whether they are on school grounds or at other locations, such as a YMCA or community center,” he said. “These are places where adults can nurture children, model positive behaviors and provide support they don’t get if they go home and sit in a house by themselves.”

For his research, Israel applied statistical analysis to a University of Chicago survey of 24,000 students in 1,000 schools nationwide. The survey, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, looked at students from eighth to 12th grade between 1988 and 1996.

Israel found that students who reported spending significant amounts of time after school without adult supervision had a greater tendency to drop out of high school than kids who reported involvement with school clubs, community organizations or religious groups.

“Our study shows that 90 percent of students who participate in these extracurricular activities will graduate from high school,” Israel said. “But for students who report being alone three or more hours a day, that number drops to 84 percent.

“When you look at single variables in these large studies, you aren’t going to see huge swings,” he said. “But with the potential consequence to students’ lives, every one that we can keep in school counts.”

Study co-author Lionel Beaulieu said when caring adults take the time to have meaningful relationships with children, they build what sociologists call social capital.

“The sharing of values, beliefs and norms between adults and kids is the essence of what social capital is all about, said Beaulieu, a former UF researcher and now professor at Mississippi State University’s Southern Rural Development Center. “This research applies these concepts to the case of educational outcomes, which in our society is an important issue.”

Israel said role models such as coaches and youth group leaders are important to children, as are youth-oriented organizations such as scouting and boys’ or girls’ clubs. But kids are affected most by their families, he said.

“The way students and parents interact — if they talk to each other about expectations, plans for college and how their classes are going — these are all indicators of social capital,” Israel said. “Also, there are monitoring activities that make a difference such as limiting amount of TV kids watch and making sure homework is done.”

Israel said other family-based factors influence student performance, including the number of parents in the household, the number of siblings and whether any brothers or sisters had previously dropped out of school. He added that the concept of adult relationships helping kids stay in school cuts across socioeconomic lines.

“The combination of how a family is structured and the way parents and children interact is pretty powerful,” Israel said.



Posted: August 31, 2001

Category: UF/IFAS

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