WHAT A STUDENT DOES IN HIGH SCHOOL DOES MATTER! THAT’S THE MESSAGE OF THIS NEW FEATURE IN OUTLOOK-12. FROM EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES TO ACADEMICS, STUDENTS DON’T HAVE A MOMENT TO WASTE OR OPPORTUNITIES TO MISS. THIS MONTH, WE THROW A SPOTLIGHT ON A 2011 STUDY ABOUT A CHICAGO AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM DESIGNED TO IMPROVE SOCIAL, ACADEMIC AND FUTURE SUCCESS.
Communities with strong after school programs for high school students reap more than one benefit from the enterprise. In our increasingly latchkey society, students in after school programs have a place to belong and are off the streets — streets where they can fall into bad crowds and habits. But more importantly, high school students in some of today’s after school programs are developing personal habits that could give them a leg up in the current highly competitive job market.
In 2011, Barton J. Hirsch, Northwestern University professor of education and social policy, led an evaluation of one after school program, After School Matters, to gauge its impact on the successful social and educational development of high school youths. He was joined in this three-year study by Northwestern’s Larry Hedges (professor of statistics, and Institute for Policy Research fellow) and Megan A. Mekinda as well as Julie Ann Stawicki (professor from the University of Wisconsin–Extension). Support for the study came from the William T. Grant Foundation, Wallace Foundation and Searle Fund.
At the time, After School Matters (ASM) was Chicago-based, served more than 17,000 students and was one of the models around the country that implements apprenticeship style programs. The study sought to evaluate whether these types of programs have any impact on the social and/or educational development of high school students.
In 2015, ASM reported that over the past two decades more than 200,000 teens have participated in its hands-on, project-based arts, communications, science, sports and technology programs at Chicago public high schools, community locations across the city and Downtown at Gallery 37 Center for the Arts.
ASM’s success was foretold in Hirsch’s reporting on his findings to Northwestern’s news center. He noted, “Our study of selected After School Matters apprenticeships found that youth in the program engaged in fewer problem behaviors, particularly gang activity and selling drugs.” Hirsch said the study also found that students enrolled in ASM exhibited more “self regulation,” a term used by psychologists to mean staying focused on goal achievement in the face of many distractions, emotional and otherwise.”
In a practice that continues four years later, Hirsch noted in 2011 that “After School Matters offers paid apprenticeship-type experiences in a wide array of areas such as technology, arts and sports. Each apprenticeship involves work in the designated area, learning and making use of relevant skills to accomplish a task. Instructors are present to provide information, guidance and feedback and to introduce students to the standards, language and culture of that line of work. The experience presumably also helps students begin to appreciate and adapt to the culture of the workplace and improve the ‘soft skills’ increasingly demanded by employers.
The instructors have expertise in — and in many instances earn their livelihood through — the activity that is the focus of the apprenticeship. Most instructors are not teachers. Apprentices were paid a stipend equivalent to $5/hour during our study. After-school programs that have an apprenticeship orientation such as ASM have the potential to provide the benefits of successful part-time work experience at a lower cost than many workforce development programs. Moreover, as after-school initiatives, they have the latitude to focus more broadly on positive youth development than might be the case with programs targeted exclusively as workforce development. Prior research on ASM suggested that its apprenticeships could provide such an environment.”
Although there was no statistical difference between students in ASM and students not part of ASM in terms of school grades and job skill training, ASM interns did have an edge in that they developed a more positive identification with their own schools.
Where ASM maintained an edge over work-related experience or traditional after school activities was in the areas of positive youth development and problem behavior. According to the study, “Youth in the treatment group reported significantly higher self-regulation than youth in the control group. This reflected a preventive impact: both groups reported a decline in self-regulation over the course of the year, but the decline was less among ASM youth.”
In 2014-2015, After School Matters is creating and has been creating 22,000 unique opportu-nities for teens to participate in programs.
While no program is perfect, it does point out that there is empirical evidence that there is value in how students choose to spend their time outside the classroom in high school that could impact the rest of their lives.
Theory Into Practice
Hirsch and his researcher colleagues found that having job and academic skills and being able to effectively communicate them were two entirely different things. One of the study’s conclusions in 2011 was that ASM should develop new ways to allow students to make the connection between the skills they are taught in ASM programs and the ways in which those same skills will help them land a job they want.
As a result, Hirsch and his colleagues worked with human resources professionals to develop an important offshoot of the study: a curriculum for teaching job interview skills. Hirsch says the employment rate among teens improved dramatically when the student was exposed to that curriculum. “In several Chicago Public Schools classrooms where students went through interview training, the mock interviews nearly tripled the would-be hiring rate.” Many job sites have recognized the importance of having interview skills that ensure a prospective employer knows the applicant has the right stuff for the job.
Here are some tips from Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com to keep applicants from hiding their light under a bushel – especially if they’re Hispanic.
1. Dress for Success – Any counselor will tell you that showing up in jeans and a tee shirt for a job interview is a non-starter, but according to Monster.com, you can go overboard in the other direction. Many young people dress for an interview as if they were going to a party. Often urban youth from a blue collar home may have no experience with the term “business attire” or “business casual attire.” Those helping students to brush up on their qualifications need to explain those terms to them. The “talk” also should include a reminder not to go over-board or out of the norm on hair-styles, jewelry or make-up.
2. Avoid TMI – While saying too little about oneself is a problem, too much information is another. Monster.com cautions that volunteering some personal information — everything from political beliefs to religion — may have an unintended (and perhaps even subconscious) negative effect on job prospects. Tell students in your charge to avoid that pitfall by rehearsing the answer to the query that most employers pose and that provokes the most troublesome answers — that is: Tell me about yourself.
3. Do a Dry Run – You can help students achieve better results in the interview process by posing as a potential employer and putting your student through a mock interview. Think of it as the practice most lawyers go through when they are preparing a witness for trial. Monster.com also suggests students actually do a trial run to the location of the interview, so they won’t get lost and arrive late. Nothing sinks chances of employment like being tardy for an interview.
4. Bilingual? Make Sure They Know It – According to Career-builder.com, students need to realize that showing up to an interview with a Hispanic surname doesn’t automatically signal to prospective employers that they are bilingual. Often, students who are bilingual don’t bring it up in an interview unless they are asked. That’s hiding an important asset that could be the difference between being hired and not hired. In her book “Best Careers for Bilingual Latinos,” Graciela Kenig says the top industries for bilingual candidates include healthcare, financial services, sales and marketing, social services and bilingual teachers and consumer credit counselors. So make sure your student indicates this asset on his resume and cover letter and points this out to the interviewer.