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J Youth Adolesc. 2013 Oct;42(10):1557-72. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9814-3. Epub 2012 Sep 13.

Examining youth and program predictors of engagement in out-of-school time programs.

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Department of Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, S110 Henderson Building, University Park, PA, 16802, USA,


Prior research suggests that youths' engagement in out-of-school time programs may be a crucial factor linking program participation to positive outcomes during adolescence. Guided by the theoretical concept of flow and by stage-environment fit theory, the present study explored correlates of engagement in youth programs. Engagement was conceptualized as the extent to which youth found the program activities enjoyable, interesting, and challenging. The current study examined how program content, monetary incentives, and youth demographic characteristics were linked to youth engagement among a sample of primarily low-income middle and high school youth attending 30 out-of-school programs (n = 435, 51 % female). Results from multilevel models suggested that program content and staff quality were strongly associated with youth engagement. Youth who reported learning new skills, learning about college, and learning about jobs through activities in the program were more engaged, as were youth who found the staff caring and competent. Results demonstrated that the link between learning content for the future and engagement was stronger for older youth than younger youth. In addition, there was a trend suggesting that providing a monetary incentive was associated negatively with youth engagement. Taken as a whole, these findings have important implications for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers interested in understanding the characteristics of out-of-school time programs that engage older youth.

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