As teachers prepare for the upcoming school year, they may find themselves focused on immediate to-dos such as setting up classrooms and securing school supplies. However, educators should also focus on one other important aspect this back-to-school season – how to help their students form good habits during out-of-school time to be successful academically. 

To help kids and teens keep learning and foster academic success, Boys & Girls Clubs of America has developed effective programs to bridge the learning gap between time in and out of the classroom. Chrissy Chen, Harvard Mind, Brain & Education graduate and youth development expert who leads academic programming for Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s more than 3.3 million youth nationwide, embraces a youth-centered approach. 

Chen finds a youth-centered approach or learning that is deeply responsive to the individual needs, strengths, and learning styles of kids and teens, is highly effective. This evidence-based approach, called Project Learn, includes five components: homework help and tutoring, high-yield learning activities, family and caregiver engagement, school partnerships and positive academic participation incentives.

Educators can work with their students, parents and community partners such as their local Boys & Girls Clubs, to help incorporate this approach and strengthen their student’s overall academic outcomes. 

According to Chen, educators can leverage the following components of Project Learn this school year: 

1. Speak to your students about opportunities for them to work collaboratively with a mentor, tutor or small group outside the classroom at afterschool programs. The result of targeted small group or one-to-one help (i.e., tutoring) is faster skill remediation and personal growth. Additionally, select Boys & Girls Clubs locations across the country, thanks in part to Panda Cares, the philanthropic arm of Panda Express, offer Centers of Hope. The safe and inclusive space offered at Centers of Hope encourages learning, personal development and collaborative work outside the classroom.

2. Cultivate a love of learning by leaning into students’ interests. When young people love to learn, they not only enjoy building new skills but also are more likely to experience academic success. For example, if a student is interested in STEM, encourage them to build with household objects when at home. Additionally, Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s National Youth Outcomes Initiative Data even demonstrates that youth with a high enjoyment of learning are more likely to be on track to graduate on time.

3. Regularly communicate with parents and afterschool youth development professionals about the student’s strengths, needs, and interests.  Parents and caregivers have unique insight into their children’s strengths, needs and interests, and afterschool professionals can add a helpful perspective. Understanding circumstances in which children struggle and thrive in school and afterschool enables more personalized support. This involvement bridges the gap between home, afterschool and school time.

4. Consider your student’s ecosystem of support. Learning happens everywhere – in schools, at home, with friends and in communities. Develop partnerships with afterschool and community programs to create better communication across that ecosystem and enable more youth-centered support. Also, consider contacting your local Boys & Girls Club to ask about developing a partnership. Boys & Girls Clubs provide affordable, safe and inclusive places for today’s youth to learn, explore interests and develop essential skills.

5. Recognize and celebrate progress along the way, not just the final results. When students are motivated to learn, they have success. Educators can share specific feedback, showing they are tracking a student’s progress. Go beyond a simple “great job!” and provide specific feedback. For example, say, “I can tell you’ve been practicing after school,” “That’s a creative idea,” or “That question makes me curious to learn more.” It’s also important to let parents and caregivers know about successes, so they can celebrate alongside the student.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America developed these tips based on the successful programs implemented at its 5,000+ Clubs nationwide and supported by national partners like Panda Cares. These tips are rooted in Project Learn, a comprehensive strategy that reinforces and enhances the skills and knowledge children learn at school. The program was rigorously evaluated and participants in Project Learn saw a decrease in the number of days absent from school and increases in grade point averages: overall GPA (11%), math GPA (13%), spelling GPA (22%) and reading GPA (5%). 

By incorporating these strategies into the upcoming school year, educators can help their students more successfully navigate their academic journey.