Report Calls for Expansion of Boston Teen Programs

April 4, 2004

Boston — A report released today called for an expansion of high quality after-school and out-of-school time programs for Boston teens, noting that despite significant growth within the teen population, only 1 in 5 teens currently participate in some form of structured out-of-school time experiences.   The report, entitled “Coming of Age in Boston: Out-of-School Time Opportunities for Teens,” was released at a forum at the Boston Foundation.

The city has been enormously successful serving the out-of-school needs of youth ages six through twelve.  Boston recently earned the distinction of leading the nation in this area. While many Boston area youth grow up participating in a variety of after-school programs, many ‘age-out’ of traditional programs, lose interest or are under increased pressure to find employment.   Teens also face additional academic pressure with the requirement to pass the MCAS exam in order to graduate from high school.  All of this is taking place at a time when resources are tightening and program providers face serious challenges to keep the teens engaged in programs, train qualified staff, and develop innovative new models.

At today’s forum, Boston leaders, including, Paul S. Grogan, President of the Boston Foundation, and Christopher Gabrieli, Chairman of Boston’s After-School for All Partnership, called for a community-wide response to the report’s call for expanded teen out-of-school opportunities.  Following a presentation of the report’s findings by Hedda Rublin of Technical Development Corporation, there was a panel discussion which included Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole; Bob Gittens, Vice President for Public Affairs at Northeastern University; Ira Jackson of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; and eight Boston teens from area teen programs.  Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was unable to attend because of health reasons, has been an active leader in the development of out-of-school opportunities.

“Today, Boston’s young people have access to more high quality after-school and out-of-school time programs than ever before, thanks to the hard work of the Boston After School for All Partnership,” said Mayor Menino.   “As Boston’s adolescent population continues to grow and become more ethnically diverse, we must continue to work together to meet their changing needs.  This report gives us the information we need to develop a long-term vision for teen out-of-school time programs that will help our young people prepare for the challenges of adulthood.”

Through the leadership of Mayor Menino, which led to the formation of Boston’s After-School for All Partnership, Boston launched the largest public-private partnership dedicated to serving children in Boston’s history.  Leaders of 15 major philanthropic, educational, business and government institutions have committed more than $26 million over a five-year period to strengthen and support Boston’s after–school sector, with dramatic results: a recent survey of Boston parents found that over the last five years, the percentage of children in Boston participating in after-school programs has nearly doubled.  For the first time, a slim majority of all children participate in after-school programs, making Boston the national leader on this account.

“More than any other city, Boston has always been – and remains – a national, even international, center of innovation.  As such, it is uniquely equipped to respond to the call to action this report makes, and take on the challenge of meeting the needs of this city’s teens,” said Paul Grogan.  “Investing in Boston’s young people is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.  Today’s teens are tomorrow’s workers, voters, politicians, community leaders and heads of families.”

But more needs to be done to meet the needs of teens during their out-of-school hours, providing them not only with something to do with their free time, but also with the support they need to graduate from high school and launch themselves into constructive adult lives.   There are now close to 45,000 teenagers in Boston, a figure that will continue to grow over the next decade, and only twenty percent of their time is spent in school.   In Boston, only 22 percent of teens are engaged in out-of-school time programs that are providing supportive environments and helping them to learn the academic and social skills they will need to graduate from high school and launch themselves into constructive adult lives.

“Due to the leadership of Mayor Menino, the entrepreneurship of Boston’s after-school and teen program providers, and the support of the private funding community, Boston is now recognized as a national leader in providing children and youth diverse and creative options for how they spend their out-of-school time hours,” said Chris Gabrieli.  “This study provides important data to help us shape our next phase of work to bring those opportunities to even more teens.”

In fact, juvenile crime, which affects teens as both victims and as perpetrators, peaks markedly immediately after school gets out.  According to a recent report, 60.9 percent of youth violent crimes occurred from 2 – 10 pm, in Boston from October 2002 to October 2003, with a 36.7 percent increase from 1 – 2 pm, just as students are leaving school.  With the continued growth of the teen population in Boston, there will be increased need and demand for opportunities for them.

The report documents that teens have a great deal of independence regarding their out-of-school time, and confront a much wider selection of options from which to choose than younger children.   Most teens are not required by their parents to attend programs and instead spend their time hanging out with friends, playing sports, doing homework, working, or caring for siblings or other relatives.   Paralleling national trends, close to half of all teens spend their out-of-school time in unstructured and unsupervised ways.

In focus groups, Boston teens express frustration about the lack of engaging free time activities and opportunities available to them.  They also identified a number of key elements for out-of-school time programs that would significantly increase their participation in these programs, including asking teens to play an active role in designing and running the programs, installing experienced, dynamic youth workers and adults to run the programs, incorporate academic and life skills, as well as fun, into the programs, and providing the teens with a space of their own, separate from younger children.

The report also outlined a number of challenges to implementing these goals, including:

  • Geography – Boston is separated into 16 neighborhoods, but culturally, many neighborhoods can be divided street by street;
  • Retaining staff and teens – strong relationships between teens and staff are critical, but staff turnover is a problem;
  • Loss of teen jobs – recent job cuts for teens are destabilizing the situation;  and
  • Perceived disconnect between providers and funders – providers often feel that their vision for teen programs may be different from funders’ vision.

Most providers expressed the need for a concerted, citywide effort to expand and improve the sector, but also were concerned that their plans to expand are coming at a time of deep cuts in their budgets.

The report offers a blueprint for continuing to build an array of out-of-school time opportunities for teens that are innovative and strong.  It comes at a crucial moment in the development of the sector – a window of opportunity during which an investment of time, attention and resources can make a critical difference in the lives of thousands of Boston’s teens – and as a result, to Boston’s future.

“This call to action on behalf of Boston teens goes out not only to teens, parents and providers, but also to this city’s policymakers, funders, entire nonprofit community, civic leaders, businesses, colleges, universities, trade schools, and cultural organizations,” added Paul Grogan.  “It goes to all those who have a stake in the future of this city.  We must take on the challenge of meeting this moment of challenge and opportunity.”

The Teen Study Committee, a working group of the After-School for All Partnership, was formed to examine out-of-school time opportunities for the City’s teens resulting in this report, was sponsored by the Boston Foundation, the Barr Foundation and the Merck Family Fund.

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The Boston Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, has an endowment of more than $630 million, made grants of  $48 million to nonprofit organizations, and received gifts of $38 million last year.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a civic leader, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to build community. For more information about the Boston Foundation and its grant making, visit, or call 617-338-1700.

Boston’s After-School for All Partnership was launched in March 2001, by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Partnership Chair Chris Gabrieli, and a group of business and civic leaders to expand, improve and sustain after-school programming. Members of the Partnership include: City of Boston, The Barr Foundation, The Boston Foundation, Fleet National Bank Trustee of the L.G. Balfour Foundation, FleetBoston Financial Foundation, Harvard University, The Hyams Foundation, Liberty Mutual Group, Massachusetts 2020, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, New Profit, Inc., The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Verizon, and Yawkey Foundation II.  For more information on the Partnership, visit: , or call 61-624-8133.