Recruiting and Retaining Students
Once you have hired a program leader and staff, decided on a program focus and schedule, and provided staff orientation, you will be eager to get students registered to attend 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.
- 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 family members. Consider having students get involved in this process, also. Students can share information about the afterschool program with families and other students, developing leadership and communication skills in students of all ages.
- School registration events are also a convenient time to provide information. Families new to the school will appreciate finding out more about the afterschool program that is available.
- Host an afterschool event. For example, each year thousands of programs across the country celebrate the importance of afterschool by hosting a Lights On Afterschool event. Visit http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/loa.cfm to learn more about Lights On Afterschool, receive free planning tips and posters, and to register your event.
- 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, partner with the local YMCA to host a family fitness event, or a community center to host a health fair.
- Consider hosting a table during parent-teacher conferences as this is a good time to connect with families. The program director should be available at these conferences to provide information and encourage participation. Provide teachers with flyers and enrollment forms, also, to distribute directly to family members. Teachers can encourage family members to register students in need of academic support or who would benefit from the enrichment activities.
- Recommendations 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 and teachers may be aware of students in need of mentoring or academic support. 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 information about the afterschool program to working family members searching for quality learning experiences afterschool.
- Students do a great job of recruiting other students. Have students create flyers, bulletin boards, make announcements using the school’s technology system, write articles to put on the school website, etc. Consider offering a special day when participating students can invite a friend to accompany them to the afterschool program.
- Middle and high school students have many options for ways to spend their time when not in school. When recruiting and retaining older students, be responsive to their interests and needs. Afterschool is a good time to develop career awareness skills, connect students to community organizations, and get them involved in service learning projects. Be sure to hire staff who make the program fun and interesting so older students want to attend on a regular basis.
Promoting the Program
- Advertisements are essential for getting information out to students, families, and the community. Promote the program in the local newspaper or radio stations. Share your success stories with the community.
- Posters or bulletin boards in the school building can highlight fun and enriching activities offered by your program. Consider having students create posters or bulletin boards for special events. Be sure to include photos of students engaged in afterschool activities.
- Utilize the schools morning announcements to share information with both students and teachers. If you offer full days of programming when school is out and during the summer, recruit 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 an afterschool website.
- Use the school newsletter to share success stories, facts about afterschool, and information about upcoming events.
- If the school has a Facebook page or twitter account, consider promoting the program using these, or other, social media.
- Overcome barriers to participation. For example, provide late transportation for students, if needed. Allow all families the opportunity to participate regardless of their ability to pay.
- Make enrollment forms available online through the school or program site. A Sample Student Registration Form is available (Adapted from Beyond the Bell Toolkit).
- Reach out to all families. Make information available in additional languages to assist in reaching diverse families in the community whose primary language is not English.
- Hire staff who care about the students, who can serve as mentors, and are able to build positive relationships with students.
- Promote positive youth development opportunities. Invite experts to lead clubs or activities, or advise the program on strategies and activities that build student competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring.
- Make the program fun! The program should look and feel different than the school day. Both students and staff should enjoy activities and each other.
- Promote student leadership and involvement. Give students a voice in the clubs and activities offered. Provide students with a choice of activities in order to promote interest and engagement.
- Provide opportunities for in-depth learning through project-based learning and service learning projects. Students can engage in unique learning opportunities by connecting with others in the program and in the community, and through community improvement projects.
- Survey students to determine interests using a written survey, through interviews, through focus groups, or day-to-day conversations. To get started, use or adapt this example survey: Student Preference Survey (Adapted from Beyond the Bell Toolkit).
- Provide enrichment opportunities that are unique and not offered through the regular school day, but reinforce school day learning objectives.
- Talk to family members 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 stops attending the program, interview the student or family to identify the reason(s) for leaving. When possible and appropriate, work with your Management Team to resolve the situation.
- Be responsive to the changing needs of students, families, school, and community.
- Survey students, family members, school staff, and program staff on a regular basis. Use this information to continually improve your program.