OST sites are often looking for ways to improve program delivery. The Afterschool Alliance, in association with MetLife, Inc., released a compendium of research on middle school programs, barriers to high quality programs, and effective best practices (found here as a PDF). This document is very academic and based on research of middle school programs and case studies. While it is not a quick read, the summary sections are very useful, and they reinforce the idea that the club model is a great way to implement middle school programs, and programs that truly focus on developing the youth’s needs and skills for high school and beyond are most effective.
One great example is the university model for clubs. This approach was taken by Philadelphia’s own Congreso de Latinos Unidos OST programs. They arranged their program as if it was a higher education school, and they even renamed the program to reflect that (North Star University). They subsequently sent acceptance letters to youth and families, held orientation, designed course schedules and options, registered youth for both a major and minor, and finished with graduation ceremonies once the youth successfully completed the program. Some courses included B-R-L (Beats, Rhymes, Life), Mad Scientists, Video & Music Production, and Street Artists.
Here is what made this model great. First, the youth had variety in programming from day to day. Two days of the week, they were able to take a major course of study—one in which their project activities were based. The other two days were more enrichment club activities that were engaging and fun, but also provided academic support. This allowed both youth and staff members to thrive. The youth knew they were going to do something different and engaging daily, while staff members could explore specific content areas deeply while working with different youth for two days of the week.
If you have time, flip through the compendium about middle school programs. You may see some familiar ideas, but you will definitely discover new content and ideas about the needs of middle school youth and how to support them.