KU News Release

April 10, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860

Professor helping improve out-of-school learning time for Kansas City youth

David Hansen

More Information

LAWRENCE — Students don’t stop learning when they leave school. Communities have realized this and established all manner of programs, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, to help maximize the critical hours between the end of school and when parents return home from work. A University of Kansas researcher is working with such programs in and around Kansas City, including low-income areas, to improve the quality of the out-of-school time to enhance the learning environment and positive adolescent development.

David Hansen, assistant professor of education at KU, has been working with the United Way of Kansas City and other partners to evaluate and improve programs, such as church and recreational organizations, Boys and Girls Clubs and many others as part of the citywide Quality Matters Initiative.

“The United Way decided several years ago they wanted to help improve the quality of life for kids in the greater Kansas City area, outside of school,” Hansen said. “My focus has been on the learning and development possible in the time adolescents spend outside of school, so it was a natural fit.”

The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. have been proven to be vital in an adolescents’ day. A majority of young people have both parents in the workforce and when without guidance are more likely to commit a crime, become a victim of crime, experiment with drugs and alcohol, or engage in sexual activity during this period than any other time. Thus, the settings in which adolescents spend their after-school hours and the quality of these settings has important implications for their development.

The Quality Matters Initiative directly works with youth program staff to provide training so they can incorporate ongoing quality self-assessments of their program to inform their programming and curriculum.

The self-assessment programs perform are not a one-time test. Hansen and colleagues, working alongside the Quality Matters partners, are in the process of creating a citywide program quality self-improvement system that will offer support and training to program staff. The emphasis of the system is on the improvement process, not on achieving a high score.

“Youth are not a problem to be prevented,” Hansen said. “They’ve proven they are ready to learn and be an asset to their communities.”

The adults who work in such programs are often underpaid, have limited opportunities for continuing education and come from all walks of life. There are few degrees available in the United States for such work, and a key component of the Quality Matters Project is to help them by providing training and helping make their profession a more defined, respected field.

Students who spend time in the programs will also be given ownership by becoming part of the governance structure of the organizations. Youth are being given the opportunity to collaborate with the adults in the program to determine what sort of activities should be provided and make day-to-day decisions about the programs. By doing so, they are both learning about organization and skills they will need as adults.

“We see that collaboration between youth and adults as a component that is missing in most settings of adolescents’ lives, and we see it as essential,” Hansen said. “This experience is academic, yes, but it’s also beyond that. They’re learning things like ‘what are those everyday skills adults have to function well?’ and ‘how do adults solve social problems?’ They need access to those ways of thinking.”

This spring Hansen and several of his graduate students will develop a series of in-services for both adults and the adolescents in the community programs. They will be based on the needs the organizations have identified in their self-evaluations and be presented to groups around Kansas City, focusing on the lowest income areas. The goal is to eventually use the experience, combined with research, to continue to improve the in-services and make them available to programs nationwide. Ultimately the assessment and training of adults and youth will support learning beyond school hours.

“Adolescents don’t want these hours to be academic,” Hansen said. “It is structured, not just a time to come hang out. There’s still learning going on there. It’s just a different kind of learning.”

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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