Benefits of After School Programs Anchored in the 4 Cs of a 21st Century Curriculum

Researchers at Harvard reviewed after school programs research and concluded that quality after school programs “foster inquiry, critical thinking, and engagement in learning,” and that these programs are “uniquely poised to support in-school learning and development without replicating the school day.” (Little et al., 2008, p. 10).


Miller (2003) reviewed research on after school programs for the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and found that learning activities anchored in the 4 Cs of a 21st century curriculum—creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—in an after school enrichment program can enhance the academic, personal, and social skills of both children and adolescents.


“Time spent on enrichment activities has been associated with better grades, work habits, adjustment, and relationship with peers” (Miller, 2003, p. 43). When students acquire proficiency in one area, “their self-confidence increases, which can transfer to other aspects of their lives including school” (p. 46, citing Jordan, 1999).


In a 2007 study, Shernoff and Vandell investigated middle school students who self-reported their after-school activities. Students reported a “higher quality of experience (e.g., feeling more challenged, utilizing more skills, and having more positive mood states) when in after school programs compared to other settings after school” (Shernoff, 2010, p. 326; Shernoff & Vandell, 2007, p. 892).


Furthermore, students in after school programs experienced enhanced personal confidence and social competencies, including working well with others. Compared to non-participants, they experienced “better psychosocial adjustments and social skills.” The fact that after school program participants felt a higher degree of social competence than nonparticipants, confirms prior research that after school programs have multiple benefits that contribute to social competence (Shernoff, 2010, p. 333, citing Fredricks & Eccles, 2006; Hanse et al., 2003).


When participating in after school programs that “seek to enhance the personal and social skills of children and adolescents,” students have demonstrated academic achievement, positive social behaviors, and reductions in problem behaviors (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010, p. 294). Evaluation results of specific after school programs revealed “significant increases in youths’ self-perceptions, bonding to school, positive social behaviors, school grades, and achievement test scores. Significant reductions also appeared for problem behaviors.”


How AlphaBEST Aligns with Research 


The 4 Cs of 21st century learning are at the forefront of the AlphaBEST after school experience. AlphaBEST partners with some of the nation’s leading developers of high-quality enrichment curricula. This curricula includes:


  • The AlphaBEST maker curriculum and its other enrichment offerings that are grounded in inquiry-based learning and invite students to think critically and creatively. These activities also provide students with positive experiences in collaborating and communicating in teams to reach a common goal. One day each week, AlphaBEST school sites are transformed into pop-up makerspaces, offering students a variety of maker activities, materials and challenges. These activities were developed with guidance from Maker Ed, a leader in teacher professional development on how to effectively incorporate makerspaces in their classrooms.
  • Experiences that bridge learning and fun through highly-engaging activities like coding, robotics, dramatic arts, creating art works in the style of modern masters, stop motion animation, and video production.


A recent example is AlphaBEST’s exclusive partnership with First Lego League. AlphaBEST’s students have access to a new, First Lego League, Jr. challenge each school year and work in teams to collaborate and innovate to solve real-world problems. They prototype solutions using specialized Lego kits and coding apps that power up their creations.




Little, P.M.D., Wimer, C., & Weis, H.B. (2008, February). After school programs in the 21st century: Their potential and what it takes to achieve it. Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation, No. 10Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Miller, B.M. (2003, June). Critical hours: Afterschool programs and educational success. Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., & Pachan, P. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology45:294–309.