• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 01st May, 2007

Do urban adolescents benefit from out-of-school activities?

Urban adolescents need help. The effects of poverty, social isolation, and exposure to drugs and violence are well-documented. Violence among inner-city youth is now a "public health epidemic," according to Susan C. Scrimshaw, former dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, writing in the Boston Globe.Over the years, a broad range of programs has emerged to alleviate violence and other threats to urban youth by supporting their parents, educating their teachers, and improving their schools. More recently, policy makers have turned to extracurricular, after-school programs. Studies show that such programs boost academic performance of children in general (see Extracurricular Activities: Too Much? Or A Good Thing?). Organized activities are assumed to be particularly important to poor children whose communities offer few institutions that provide safe, educational environments for young people during after-school hours. Although little research has been done to test this claim, a new study indicates that such programs are indeed important for urban youth.To assess how important such activities are for low-income, urban youth, James M. Quane and Bruce H. Rankin surveyed a random sample of African American mothers and their children (aged 11-16) in majority middle class and majority poor neighborhoods in Chicago. They collected information on participants’ families, peers, and neighborhoods—including their participation in organized out-of-school activities. And they examined how these factors were associated with adolescents’ feelings and expectations about school. Three hundred eighty-three families from poor neighborhoods and 163 from middle-class neighborhoods participated. [See “Does it pay to participate? Neighborhood-based organizations and the social development of urban adolescents” by James M. Quane and Bruce H. Rankin, Children and Youth Services Review , Volume 28, Issue 10, October 2006, Pages 1229-1250]What they found is that extracurricular activities appear to matter for poor, urban youth. Greater participation was associated with more positive feelings about school, and the availability of such programs appeared to have a greater impact in disadvantaged neighborhoods compared to middle-class ones. This finding held even after taking into account differences among participants' family, peer, and neighborhood characteristics. Moreover, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that vigilant parents help steer children toward constructive social activities where they encounter prosocial peers and gain valuable interpersonal experiences.This study adds to the body of evidence that organized, out-of-school programs are good investments for improving the odds for poor adolescents. However, the authors note that, because they collected data at a single point in time, it remains unclear whether participation in out-of-school programs is the cause or effect of positive perspectives on school. In addition to calling for more research that collects data over time, the authors suggest that future studies examine how extracurricular activities lead to positive outcomes for young people.

Back to Archives