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  • Sunburst Digital

Why You Need an After-School Program and How Ed Tech Can Help Make Them Better

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

“Youth who participate in after-school programs improve significantly in three major areas: feelings and attitudes, indicators of behavioral adjustment, and school performance.”

Why Provide After-School Activities?

Extensive evidence shows that after-school programs can provide immense benefits to students. Not only do these programs give students the opportunity to make friends who share their interests, but they also offer a safe, productive environment for passing time after regular school hours. Studies show that students who participate in after-school programs tend to have a decrease in aggressive and risky behavior. Plus, the programs are fun! Students can dive deep into a variety of topics that interest them, outside of the required school curriculum, and build useful and unique skill sets. Experts agree (and studies have proven) that students who participate in after-school programs tend to score better in school, increase their social skills and sidestep behavioral issues.

What Makes an After-School Program Successful?

Joseph A. Durlak and Roger P. Weissberg wanted to know what outcomes can be expected from after-school programs and what characteristics are associated with better results. Basically, what makes an after-school program successful? They conducted a meta analysis of 73 after-school programs. They measured several categories related to student success: feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem, school bonding, positive social behaviors, school grades and achievement test scores, and reduced behavioral problems and drug use.

39 of the studied programs showed significant positive results in all of these areas, while 27 of the programs showed no improvement in any of these areas. What did the successful programs have that the others did not? Durlak and Weissberg discovered four main traits that resulted in successful after-school programs: sequenced, active, focused and explicit, otherwise known as SAFE. (, 7)

Case Study: After-School Activities In Action

The YMCA of Greater Long Beach sponsors a program called Youth Institute, an after-school program that focuses on providing real world technology skills to children and teens. Students learn everything from graphic design to animation to movie making. Bob Cabeza, the executive director, states, “Our goal is to teach ‘real world’ technology skills and connect those skills to academic and workforce success for young people”. Students work on long term projects in their desired field to learn a specific skill, usually technology or design related.

A sample of alumnus from the program was contacted and interviewed on their experience. 92% of the alumnus have kept in contact with the program through friendships, work and volunteering. One participant said, “They gave me a job, a future, and hope. This program taught me how to be psychologically and socially as a person. It helped me in my career and in the decision to go to college. If I wasn’t here, I’d be pregnant or already have a kid. It totally changed my life” (, 21).

This is a great example of a program that creates sequenced steps to success, involves hands-on activities, and creates focused learning on explicit skills that will help students personally and professionally. However, not every school has access to the same instructors and resources as large schools or a YMCA, so how can schools create an amazing after-school program on any budget?

Educational Technology in After-School Programs

The adoption of educational technology is exploding through the US education system. There are so many programs and learning softwares that can supplement after-school programs and provide a SAFE learning experience, but some applications are better than others for this specific purpose. While apps that use “content learning” are more common, studies show that apps that use “informational and learning skills” are more beneficial. This supports what is shown in Durlak and Weissberg’s study. Students progress more when they are given focused, step-by-step, hands-on education about applicable skills rather than being stuffed with information they are expected to simply regurgitate for a grade.


Thinking about starting your own after-school program? Check out this detailed PDF from the Ohio After-School Network, “How to Start an Afterschool Program: 10 Things to Consider”.


If you have yet to start up an after-school program, we have outlined two after-school program ideas you could consider adding to your school’s programming. We’ve included the educational apps and solutions that will help create a tiered, active and focused curriculum.

After-school Program #1: STEM Makerspace (Grades K-8)

One idea for an after-school program is a STEM-focused makerspace, where kids can explore STEM robotics and other interesting technologies such as 3D printing. The idea of a makerspace is to have a wide variety of STEM activities for the students to explore and try. This would typically be an open environment with hands-on activities, allowing students to explore the concepts behind robotics and programming.

According to Melinda Gates, Wonder Workshop is “the MOST fun way to foster coding skills: through robotics!” Wonder Workshop’s playful looking robots entice kids from all grades and age groups, and encourage creative problem solving with coding. The program’s apps guide students through programming courses where students instruct their robot how to navigate challenges. Wonder Workshop hosts annual coding challenges where kids can form teams and put their coding skills to the test.

For younger children, Robo Wunderkind offers similar apps and products, and introduces the basics of logical thinking paired with programming for a fun starting point into the coding world.

Other STEM options: Kubo Robotics, Sphero, MakerBot (3D Printing).

After-school Program #2: Computer Lab (Grades 3-12)

Even if your school already includes a computer lab class during the school day, having an extended computer lab program can really help students advance their current skills and discover new ones. Offering a typing program, a coding program and even educational computer games, can teach students computer skills necessary for a future job in the technology industry.

StudioWeb teaches 6th-12th graders the fundamentals of coding in HTML, CSS and various other coding languages. Lauded as one of the easiest ways to learn to code, both students and teachers love StudioWeb’s intuitive teaching and practicing design. Fun quizzes and challenges make it so students pick up valuable programming skills without even feeling like they’re working. StudioWeb’s goal is to help students pick up great programming jobs right as they finish college, and by their reviews, they seem to be hitting this goal quite nicely.

Type to Learn is a cloud-based typing program that helps students gain keyboarding efficiency through a game-based model. The program automatically adjusts the difficulty according to the student’s grade and skill level. With 34 lessons, 5 skill-targeted typing games and 7 diagnostic assessments, this program is a great way to engage kids in learning an essential skill that will help them throughout school as well as their professional careers.

Other computer lab options: CodeMonkey, RoomRecess (a variety of games across many subjects).

If you don’t have an after-school program established, consider all the benefits of creating one for your students, and hopefully take action to create one. Use our ideas or come up with your own unique program, but whatever you do, it’s important the program is SAFE: sequenced, active, focused and explicit. If you already have after-school activities humming along smoothly, consider adding one of Sunburst’s solutions to your list of available programs. We can help you replace or restock your Wonder Workshop or RoboWunderkind robotics or get your computer lab set up with StudioWeb or Type to Learn. Whatever you may need, Sunburst Digital is here to help!


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