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Recruiting and Retaining Students

Once you have hired and trained your staff and developed your plans, you will be eager to get students into the program. Recruiting and retaining students may be challenging, depending on your community and the age of students you are serving. Below you will find helpful ideas to bring students to your program and keep them coming.

Making Connections

  • Back to school events are a great place to visit with families. Set up a table with informational flyers, photos and registration forms. Designate a staff member to meet and greet parents. For an extra bonus, have a student involved with this process. Students can share information about the afterschool program with other students- this is a great leadership activity, too.

  • Registration events are also a convenient time to provide information. Families new to the school will appreciate finding out more about the programs you have available.

  • Host an afterschool event. Each year, thousands of programs across the country celebrate the importance of afterschool by hosting a Lights On event. Visit to register your event and receive free planning tips and posters.

  • Community partner events are also a great way to make connections. If your program has developed a partnership with a community organization, find out if they have any upcoming events that you can participate in. For example, if you partner with the YMCA, they might have a family fitness activity. Or, a community center might have a health fair. Churches have festivals, dinners, and other activities that provide a way for you to meet families and share information.

  • Parent-teacher conferences are also a great way to connect with parents, especially if your program is academic-based. Teachers can refer parents with students in need of academic assistance. The program director should be available at these conferences to meet with parents. Provide teachers with the flyers and enrollment forms, too- they can distribute them directly to parents.

  • References from school staff can be used to recruit students. Classroom teachers can encourage students to participate, especially those teachers involved with the afterschool program. Administrators may also be aware of students in need of mentoring. Counselors can refer students who could benefit from additional socialization with friends or students who need a safe place to be.

  • If your program serves elementary students, contact preschools and head start program directors. These directors can provide your program information to working parents searching for quality care before and afterschool.

  • Students do a great job of recruiting other students. Consider offering a special day that participants can invite a friend to come along afterschool.

  • Middle and high school students vote with their feet. When recruiting, keep in mind that quality matters for participation in afterschool programs. For recruiting information and other details regarding older students, read Exploring Quality in After School Programs for Middle School-Age Youth.

Getting Noticed

  • Advertisements are essential in getting your information out to students and families. Start small with signs and newsletters. Or, create t-shirts for program students and staff to wear.

  • Promote your program in the local newspaper or with radio stations. Share your success stories with the community. For advice on building good media relations, visit

  • Posters in the school building can highlight fun activities offered by your program. Consider having students create these posters for special events.

  • Utilize the schools morning announcements to share information with the student population. If you offer full days of programming when school is out, remind students to participate.

  • The school website is a great place to share information with families. You can post information and enrollment forms as well as photographs and videos. If your program has a photography, technology or writing club, have the students assist in creating your afterschool website.

  • Use the school newsletter to share success stories, facts about afterschool and information about upcoming events.


  • Overcome barriers to participation. For example, provide late transportation for students, if needed. Provide financial assistance for families as needed.

  • Make enrollment forms available online as well as at the front desk of the school and the program site. A Sample Student Registration Form is available (Adapted from Beyond the Bell Toolkit).

  • Reach out to all parents. Make your information available in additional languages, if necessary.


  • Hire staff that care about the students and build positive relationships with them.

  • Promote positive youth development. Train your staff in the 40 Developmental Assets. For more information, visit

  • Make the program fun! The program should look and feel different than the school day. Add twists to keep the students excited. For more information on this topic, read Super Staff SuperVision by Michael Brandwein (

  • Promote student involvement. Give students a voice in your program plans.

  • Provide meaningful leadership opportunities for students. Students can be proud of serving others in their community. If you want to keep it simple, have older students assist younger students with special projects.

  • Assess student interests with a Student Preference Survey (Adapted from Beyond the Bell Toolkit). Distribute this survey during homeroom in the school day or at another convenient time. Or, adapt the survey for your program participants. If possible, offer a small incentive for completing the survey, such as an afterschool sticker or pencil. Use the information you get for planning program activities, field trips, and guest speakers.

  • Provide opportunities and field trips that are unique and not offered through the normal school day.

  • Consider providing incentives for continued participation. Ask student participants for input when selecting incentives.

Follow up

  • Talk to parents and students each day. This is an informal way to ask them how things are going and request any feedback that might help improve the program.

  • If a student discontinues the program, contact them to see how they are doing. You may find out why they have left. If appropriate, encourage them to return.

  • Respond to the changing needs of your school, community and program.

  • Survey students, school staff, program staff and parents on a regular basis. Use this information to continually improve your program. See the evaluation section of this website for more information.