April 14, 2022
This brief summarizes findings and ideas that emerged from a Wallace-commissioned literature review and set of interviews with experts in the field to identify major challenges to—and leading practices toward—equity in out-of-school-time programs. The effort was led by Bianca Baldridge, a researcher and former youth worker, now at Harvard University, who examines out-of-school-time programming and the intersection of race, class and power. The other research team members were Daniela K. DiGiacomo of the University of Kentucky, Ben Kirshner of the University of Colorado Boulder, Sam Mejias of Parsons School of Design, and Deepa S. Vasudevan of Wellesley College.Using a social justice perspective, Baldridge and her team conducted a review of pertinent research from the past 20 years; interviewed experts in out-of-school-time research, policy and practice; and conducted focus groups with professionals in the field. They also launched a research project, carried out by high school and college students, to examine young people's views of equity in and access to out-of-school-time programs. A summary of the youth-led research accompanies this brief. Baldridge and her colleagues divided their high-level conclusions about out-of-school-time programs into two categories—those regarding marginalized youth and those regarding frontline workers. For the former, the team found that although many out-of-school-time programs seek to address inequity, programs also can perpetuate a "deficit-oriented" approach, in which Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander youth are positioned as "at risk" and in need of being "fixed." The alternative, research suggests, is a "strengths-based, humanizing, and dignity-based approach." Practical measures that programs can take include ensuring the hiring and retention of program leaders and staff members who are more representative of the racial and cultural backgrounds of the program participants and engaging young people in actively addressing inequities in their communities. Additionally, the researchers found that out-of-school-time staffers, many of whom come from the same backgrounds as program participants, reported experiences of tokenization or marginalization on the job. Further, although they often care deeply about their work, they frequently struggle with remaining in their positions because of low wages, job instability and other unfavorable conditions. A number of steps could change this picture, from paying youth-field workers a livable wage to offering them a clear pathway to leadership positions.