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The Story of a Standard: Updated Child & Youth Development Standards, An Ode to Afterschool

The Story of a Standard: Updated Child & Youth Development Standards, An Ode to Afterschool

The Story of a Standard is a blog series following the development of new or updated COA standards. COA staff leading the development of specific standards sections will take the reader through their journey as they identify needs, conduct research, and collaborate with subject matter experts to determine best practices and establish standards that COA’s community must implement to achieve accreditation.  


For me, February is the perfect month to write about our release of updated standards for afterschool programs/services. Among the really important things we celebrate this month (including Black History), is love; and I love the afterschool field! I have spent more than 15 years in the field and continue to be inspired by the creative methods used by organizations and the commitment of staff to helping youth learn and thrive.  And I am not the only one – more than 19 national organizations have joined with COA to create an ode to afterschool – well, really, revised standards, but calling it an ode just feels right – that honors what is shared across the field and recognizes what is new and distinct in this field of practice.

Our Process: Lingering Phone Calls and Love Notes

In some respects the way we engaged in the standards-making – um … ode writing – process reminds me a lot of how teenage relationships often start: phone calls and love notes – at least this was the way when I was a teen, now it is more likely a text or a snap. Updating the standards started with phone calls and emails with leaders in the field – and reviewing the notes and comments that those leaders submitted to us. Additionally, we reviewed important pieces of research, crosswalked our standards with other leading tools in the field (YPQA, SACER, etc.), and looked at our internal data from programs pursuing accreditation with us. We used the key themes that surfaced from that review to frame the “big ideas” that guided the areas in which we did further research and, subsequently, revised the language of the standards or developed new standards. This review lead to one of the smallest, but most important changes to the standards: changing the name of the standards from afterschool and youth development to out-of-school time, in reflection of the diversity of methods and settings afterschool is implemented in.

What are the Big Ideas at the Heart of the Update?

Research and practice continue to highlight, refine, and emphasize the interconnectedness between critical markers of quality in out-of-school time programs. Those “Big Ideas” are easily framed within some often told relationship advice:

  • “The grass is greener where you water it” - Workforce Development, Recruitment, and Retention: we know that hiring qualified staff is important, but so is ensuring that they are trained, supported, and offered opportunity to grow. Connecting the dots between hiring, developing and retaining staff makes programs stronger.
  • “True love isn’t found, it’s built” - Program Administration: strong administrative practices provide the infrastructure that supports effective and sustainable implementation of a quality program. Quality is just as important in the program office as it is in the classroom or gym.
  • “Love changes us, but we change how we love too” - Quality Improvement: effective programs proactively change how they administrate and implement their program to get better and better at achieving their goals.
  • “It is the thought that counts” - Program Design: at the heart of an effective out-of-school time program there should be a clear logic model that guides the programming, activities, policies, and procedures that take place in a program on a day-by-day basis. Everything goes back to that thought because it is what counts!
  • “If you love me, show it” – Outcome-Aligned, Engagement-Focused Implementation: what we do in a program from day to day should reflect and support the goals we have for/develop with children and youth and be responsive to their opinions and needs.

Moving from the Heart to the Hands

Those “Big Ideas” are important and knowing how to bring them to fruition is critical. Therefore, we have broken these “Big Ideas” into smaller changes to the standards, including:

  1. The renaming of the standards from “Afterschool Programs” to “Out-of-School Time”. 
  2. The interpretations now prompt programs to consider the logic model (goals and outcomes) that guides the program delivery to help enhance reflection on how a program’s goals and activities align. 
  3. New programming and activities standards have been added to highlight program-specific best practices that will help programs show their alignment to their guiding logic, including:
  • Mentoring
  • Preparation for College and Career
  • Homework Help and Tutoring
  • Health and Wellness
  • Arts Education and Enrichment
  • Academic Enrichment and Skill Development
  • Enhanced General Guidance for All Programming Types

Updated standards to guide continuous quality improvement and highlight the interconnection with other important best practices.

Recite the Ode for Yourself

Now that you have gotten a sense of what “Big Ideas” shaped the updates and how we infused the standards with those ideas, I invite you to dive in and read the details – you never know, you might just start falling for afterschool programs like me. Here are a few opportunities:

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