Purpose: Drawing from a conceptual framework of developmental experiences, this study tests if experiences within school-based OST programs are associated with individual-level social-emotional factors.
Methods: Data was drawn from a sample of middle and high school students (n=375) within a network of charter schools in a large midwestern city. Student surveys included seven pilot measures of developmental experiences in OST programs (supportive adult relationships, engagement actions, encountering actions, connecting reflection, recounting reflection, working alone, working in groups, and listening to adults). Surveys also assessed nine social-emotional factors (self-efficacy, fixed mindset, relevance, belonging, self-regulation, performance avoidance, grit, social skills, and identity development) using previously established measures. Confirmatory factor analysis assessed the pilot experiences measures, while multilevel modeling (MLM) was used to test for the association between program-level experiences and individual-level social-emotional factors.
Results: In the sample, 83.8% of students identified as Black, with 88.8% receiving free/reduced lunch. Factor analyses confirmed the hypothesized structure of experiences measures, with high internal reliability in each subscale (Cronbach’s α > 0.80). MLM indicated that 2-20% of the variation in social-emotional factors was accounted for at the program-level. Several significant relationships emerged: supportive adult relationships were associated with identity development; actions were associated with higher relevance, grit and social skills; reflection activities were associated with self-efficacy, belonging, and social skills. Working alone was associated with a more fixed mindset, performance avoidance, and difficulty with self-regulation. In contrast, working in groups was associated with greater belonging, social skills, and identity development.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings raise important questions for OST practice and for social workers in other youth development programs. Specifically, the contrast between working alone and in groups may highlight the importance of peer interaction to adolescents’ learning and growth. Notably, it was not listening to adults, but supportive relationships that were associated with identity development. Lastly, a combination of action and reflection may be required to foster a breadth of social-emotional factors among BIPOC youth. Limitations include the exploratory nature of the experiences measures and the sample; accepting these limitations, findings represent a preliminary step toward identifying the mechanisms of how OST program experiences may foster social-emotional factors, particularly among students of color. Given discussions of equity and justice in the OST field, and the threat of post-COVID focus on academic learning loss over social-emotional development, social workers must ensure students of color have access to OST programs with high-quality developmental experiences.