Feb 09

Guest blog: Youth share how out-of-school programming prepares them for the workforce

By Rachel Willis, Research Project Manager at the Kansas Enrichment Network.

Student Jessica Rodas speaks at the Kansas Workforce Summit. Photo via @KS_Enrichment.

We all know the statistics from the last decade. Employment growth in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sectors is occurring at a faster rate than the growth rate projected for all occupations over the decade—13 percent compared to 11 percent, respectively.

At the most recent Kansas Workforce Summit, the Kansas Enrichment Network and other participants heard this reiterated again. We also learned about the importance of educating and preparing young people for jobs that cannot be automated, as well as teaching 21st century skills like communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem solving and critical thinking. While these concepts came as no surprise to us, we were excited that our fellow attendees from outside the out-of-school time field were hearing this message. It set the stage perfectly for our Youth Speak panel facilitated by the Afterschool Alliance’s very own Jodi Grant.

Jodi introduced an audience of business leaders and other workforce development stakeholders to out-of-school programming and the substantial body of research on the effects of quality afterschool programs. This audience was especially interested in afterschool’s role in improving school day attendance—as Jodi pointed out at the Summit, “the number one indicator for whether or not kids will get in trouble with the law, whether or not they graduate tends to be truancy. We have a direct impact on that in afterschool.”

Following this introduction, Jodi turned it over to four youth—one middle school student, two high school students and one graduate student—who answered questions about how their afterschool programs are preparing them for bright futures. The youth spoke about the opportunity to explore various career paths, learning how to work on a team, and improving their leadership skills. “The adults that we have supervising us help teach us important standards such as punctuality and communication, taking on responsibilities, following directions, and developing leadership skills,” student Patience Wagner shared.

Patience went onto explain how her theater experience is helping her perform in mathematics. “In theater, in my mind, music and math go hand in hand. And the counting, and the rhythms, and algorithms all meld together to push you farther and give you a new understanding and a new way of thinking of things. I think that many of the lessons that your coaches or your directors will teach you, if you’re involved in theater or sports or any other afterschool activity, can carry with you into your adulthood and they will still apply to so many different things.”

The students’ program directors also answered questions from Jodi during the presentation, speaking about their programs in general and why they believe in focusing on 21st century skills during this unique time with their youth.

As the panel wrapped up, audience members had a chance to ask questions, and the first participant took the opportunity to thank the youth for presenting and express how impressed he was with their presentation skills. Everyone in the room was beaming with pride for these youth and their directors. Our goals of generating awareness and excitement for out-of-school programming as well as showing how these programs are preparing young people for college and careers were accomplished. As the summit concluded the next day, audience members continuously raved about the young people and their afterschool programs—one participant even went as far as telling the members who were presenting as part of the legislative panel that the state should be funding out-of-school programming.

The Youth Speak panel was a big hit, with some incredible youth successfully illustrating how out-of-school programming is positively impacting their futures. Now is a turbulent time in Kansas—the state faces a significant budget crisis, and the country faces the unknown. Against this backdrop, it was all the more inspiring for these young people and their program directors to help everyone remember for a few minutes that good work is happening on the ground.