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LAWG Week: Afterschool Programs: Young People are Evaluation Experts by Cheryl Meld
American Evaluation Association (AEA) American Evaluation Association (AEA)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Washington , DC
Thursday, August 01, 2019

Cheryl Meld
Cheryl Meld
Greetings from McGregor, Minnesota! I am Cheryl Meld, Afterschool Program Director at McGregor Public School. McGregor is located in Greater Minnesota about 2.5 hours from the Twin Cities (120 miles).
I am excited to share my experience about how to approach evaluating the complex 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program. This competitive grant program allows community learning centers to provide high-quality year-round out-of-school time programming for young people.
Hot Tip: Partner with your Afterschool Network.
In a collaborative effort to demystify program evaluation, an engaging continuous improvement process anchored with a workshop called “Making Meaning with Multiple Data Sets (M3)” was created with several out-of-school-time intermediaries. M3 invites program staff to come together as teams to look at 2-4 sets of data to intentionally reflect, plan and identify action steps to improve their afterschool programs. Minnesota’s 21st CCLC grantees are all required to attend this once a year.
“The young people were all seasoned participants of afterschool programs and surveying.
More importantly, they really cared about afterschool programs.”
Cheryl Meld
 Lesson Learned: Young People Know Surveys.
Underestimating the value of youth engagement in evaluation may limit your program’s quality and growth. Until recently, I assumed the word “evaluation” would flip an off switch in those who attend afterschool programs. Young people are bombarded with surveys about academic progress, school climate, lunch menu offerings, assets, relationships, and social interaction. I wondered, “What would a 15 year-old know about evaluation?” Quite a bit, as it turns out.
Hot Tip: Do Youth Advisory Boards.
Asking high school students to become involved in evaluation processes seemed to me unlikely to garner much attention. I was proven wrong when several high school juniors on our Youth Advisory Board appealed to me to let them help with evaluation of our 21st CCLC afterschool programs. We began by reviewing the analysis of the previous year’s surveys. 
Hot Tip: Bring Data Back.
It was the consensus of the Youth Advisory Board that summary statements did not accurately reflect students’ program experience. As they reflected on survey respondent errors, they believed if they had a role in introducing an evaluation survey related to program experience, they could help their peers understand why survey data is important, and thus be more accurate and honest in responding.
Lesson Learned: Young People Care.
The young people were all seasoned participants of afterschool programs and surveying. More importantly, they really cared about afterschool programs. They valued the opportunities they that experienced and understood that authentic data would help make a case for continued programming. Their program insights were important to program improvement. Their role in survey introduction inspired discussion about evaluation ethics, the need for accurate positive and negative input, and they provided an informative yet neutral role in motivating students to give honest responses.
Hot Tip: Engage Everyone!
The end of year survey process took more time this year. Scheduling the student volunteers required teacher and principal buy in. The analysis of outcome data we collected is ready for review and we are working as an intergenerational team to build better programming opportunities for next year.

Hot Tip for visitors to Minnesota for Evaluation 2019:
Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 lakes (but actually we have more like 12,000!) I live by Mille Lacs Lake, which is one of our biggest lakes. We’re about 2 hours north of the Twin Cities, in Central Minnesota. We have great resorts, walleye fishing, two state parks, Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, Grand Casino, and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post. If you can spare the time before or after the AEA 2019 conference, we’d love to have you visit (or better yet, come back in June!! J )
We’re looking forward to the fall and the Evaluation 2019 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to aea365@eval.org.

About AEA

The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association and the largest in its field. Evaluation involves assessing the strengths and weaknesses of programs, policies, personnel, products and organizations to improve their effectiveness. AEA’s mission is to improve evaluation practices and methods worldwide, to increase evaluation use, promote evaluation as a profession and support the contribution of evaluation to the generation of theory and knowledge about effective human action. For more information about AEA, visit www.eval.org.

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