Bridging the Diversity Gap through Out-of-School Time Learning Activities: A Focus on
African American Students
Mavis Sanders, Karen Lewis-Watkins, and Keshara Cochrane
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Nearly half of the 50 million children and youth in US public schools are of color – 24%
Hispanic/Latino, 15% African American/Black, 5% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1% American
Indian/Alaskan Native, and 3% two or more races (National Center for Educational Statistics,
2016). In contrast, approximately 85% of teachers are White (Feistritzer, Griffin, & Linnajarvi,
2011). Despite teacher hiring efforts to reduce this “diversity gap,” it may be decades before the
nation’s teaching force reflects the diversity of its students unless there are dramatic
improvements in the racial and ethnic composition of candidates enrolling in and graduating
from teacher certification programs (Hansen & Quintero, 2016). While it is imperative that
federal and state policymakers, school system officials, and institutions of higher education
continue efforts to achieve the goals of diversifying the nation’s teaching force, more immediate
strategies to expose students to diverse teachers and role models are also needed. This chapter
describes out-of-school time (OST) learning as one viable approach, focusing specifically on
African American students for whom the diversity gap is large and widening (Hrabowski &
The chapter is organized into five sections. The first section describes the diversity gap
and its impact on learning opportunities and environments for African American students. The
second section delineates the features of OST programs that make them particularly suitable for
addressing the diversity gap and enhancing the educational experiences of African American
students. The next section describes the role of community partnerships in enhancing OST
program diversity. Drawing on the third author’s experience as a Servant Leader Intern1, existing
research, and program documents, the fourth section presents the Children’s Defense Fund
(CDF) Freedom Schools program as an illustrative case, briefly describing its history,
implementation, and participant outcomes. The concluding section describes areas for future
research and practice in the OST field to enhance the educational experiences of racially and
ethnically diverse students.
The Diversity Gap in Prek-12 Schools and African American Student Success
The diversity gap in US public schools is present for all populations of color and in all 50
states and the District of Columbia (see Fig. 1). It is most pronounced in large states with
heterogeneous populations such as Illinois, Nevada, and California. While the diversity gap has
decreased slightly over the past 25 years due to increases in the percentage of Latino and Asian
teachers, teachers of color still account for only about 15% of the teaching force. Of note,
African American teachers have remained at between six and seven percent of public school
teachers over the past three decades (Feistritzer, Griffin, & Linnajarvi, 2011). As a result, most
African American students have had increasingly limited exposure to African American teachers
and role models despite research showing their importance for these students’ academic success
1 CDF Freedom Schools servant leader interns serve as instructors in the classroom and as leaders of
parent workshops and community outreach activities.
African American Students and Same Race Teachers
Studies have shown positive effects of same race teachers on African American students’
achievement (Dee, 2004; Egalite, Kisida, & Winters, 2014), placement in gifted and talented
programs (Grissom & Redding, 2016), mathematics course selection (Klopfenstein, 2005),
behavior assessments (Downey & Pribesh, 2004; Mashburn, Hamre, Downer, & Pianta, 2006),
and classroom experiences (Sanders, 1998; Howard, 2001; Wilder, 2000). For example, using
student and teacher data from Tennessee's Project STAR class-size experiment, Dee (2004)
found that Black and White students’ one-year assignment to a same race teacher significantly
increased their math and reading achievement by roughly three to four percentile points. In a
subsequent study, Egalite and colleagues (2014) found that same race effects on achievement
were more pronounced for low performing White and African American students than their
higher performing counterparts. Moreover, using nationally representative longitudinal data,
Grissom and Redding (2016) found that all else equal African American students are three times
more likely to be referred to gifted programs when taught by same-race teachers, especially in
reading. Focusing on mathematics course taking, Klopfenstein (2005) found a positive
relationship between the percentage of Black math teachers in a school and the likelihood that a
Black geometry student will enroll in a subsequent rigorous math course.
Same race teachers have also been linked to non-academic outcomes for African
American students. For instance, in a quantitative study of kindergarten and eighth grade
students using ECLS and NELS2 data, Downey and Pribesh (2004) found that Black teachers
were more likely than White teachers to favorably rate Black students’ behavior. The authors
found evidence of this pattern for both younger and older students. Mashburn and colleagues
2 Early Childhood Longitudinal (ECLS) Study--Kindergarten Class of 1998–99 and eighth graders from the National
Education Longitudinal (NELS) Study of 1988.
(2006) similarly found that male African-American students in pre-K classrooms were reported
to have fewer behavior problems when they were paired with a Black rather than non-Black
teacher. Qualitative research further suggests that African American students perceive teachers
that share their cultural backgrounds as more accessible and caring, and their teaching as more
engaging and culturally relevant, factors linked to African American student success (Sanders,
1998; Howard, 2001; Wilder, 2000).
African American Students and Culturally Relevant Learning Environments
Houchen (2013) describes “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy “(CRP) as a body of
knowledge that theorizes frameworks, describes practices, and provides evaluations of culturally
centered classroom strategies. Houchen cites the following components as key to CRP:
• Use of instructional strategies that are culturally familiar, differentiated for student
abilities, focused on student interests and goals, and that set mastery as a benchmark;
• Developing, supporting, and encouraging critical, socio-political consciousness, and
cultural and historic rootedness in students by infusing background subject knowledge
and cultural connections that reflect their everyday lives;
• Creating an atmosphere of care and mutual respect for students and teachers;
• High expectations of student engagement in the learning process; and
• Maintaining a learning environment that is nurturing, safe, authoritative, and achievement
An emerging line of research illustrates how CRP diversifies learning environments in
ways that bolster achievement among African American students (Brittian & Gray, 2014;
Cholewa, Amatea, West-Olatunji, & Wright, 2012). For instance, teachers who successfully
incorporate CRP into their practices do so by promoting socio-cultural identity, enhancing racial
visibility, and embracing a variety of student dialects (e.g., formal, vernacular). The goal of
these practices is to create a safe learning space where students feel valued, welcomed, and
unthreatened by stereotypes during the learning process (Levy, Heissel, Richeson, & Adam,
2016; Watkins-Lewis, 1998).
It is important to note that culturally centered practices are not limited to pedagogy, and
are inclusive of actions that also ensure students’ academic, social, and emotional wellbeing.
Culturally responsive schools, for example, explore the lived experiences of their students
through homes visits, and neighborhood and community partnerships. These schools also
provide academic support services (e.g., tutoring), financial assistance when available, and
emotional support in the event of tragedy or loss (Howard & Terry, 2011). Favorable outcomes
manifest through enhanced academic performance, higher student efficacy, and increased student
interest in attending college (Gay, 2000; Nasir, McLaughlin, & Jones, 2009). Researchers argue
that these outcomes are tied to the development of cultural integrity, and that risk ensues when
classrooms dismiss the social capital African-American students bring to the learning process
(Boykin & Allen, 2004; Hubert, 2014; Ladson-Billings, 1995). Such findings underscore the
socio-cultural component of learning, which is significant for students in and out of school.
Out-of-School Time Programs and the Diversity Gap
Out-of-school time (OST) programs provide safe, productive, supervised learning and
extracurricular activities for children and adolescents during non-school hours. In 2014, 10.2
million young people participated in OST programs, the majority of whom were children and
adolescents of color (After School Alliance, 2014). The extensive and growing presence of OST
programs in communities across the United States and the racial and ethnic make-up of their
participants make them especially well-suited to help bridge the diversity gap in US public
schools. That is, because they are more flexible and less bureaucratic than traditional schools,
OST programs can provide youth of color with high quality teaching and mentoring staff who
reflect their diversity.
To promote high quality OST programs, the National School-Age Care Alliance
(NSACA) has developed a set of national standards organized into six categories: 1) Human
Relationships; 2) Indoor and Outdoor Environment; 3) Activities; 4) Safety; 5) Health and
Nutrition; and 6) Administration. Each of these categories includes observable items that further
define the elements of high quality OST programs (Roman, 1998). The Human Relationships
and Administration categories include items that support culturally responsive programming
(Kakli et al., 2006). Specifically, the Human Relationships standard specifies that staff share the
languages and cultures of the families they serve and the communities they live in. Similarly, the
Administration standard specifies that the program will develop policies and procedures that are
responsive to the needs of children, youth, and families in the community. When children and
youth engage in high quality OST programs, academic and non-academic benefits result for
students generally and African American students in particular.
High Quality OST Programs and Student Outcomes
Clark (2002) found that how students use their out-of-school time significantly influences
their academic success as measured by standardized test scores. Students who spend more time
engaged in out-of-school learning activities guided by adults with high standards for
achievement are more likely to be academically successful than students who spend more
unstructured out-of-school time. McLaughlin and colleagues (1994) also discussed the
importance of adult supervised out-of-school activities for student success. These authors stated:
For adolescents who are in school, some 40% of their waking hours are
uncommitted. When school doors shut behind them in the early afternoon, these
young people are often claimed by the streets. . . . Youth who find their way from
the streets to the few effective youth organizations in their neighborhoods
encounter different environments that transform their discretionary hours into
resources and opportunities for growth and hope (pp. 301-2).
McLaughlin and colleagues referred to these community-based organizations as “urban
sanctuaries.” The urban sanctuaries studied were diverse in the activities they offered, their
funding sources, their local and national affiliations, foci, goals, and strategies. However, they
shared a common belief that youth in the community were “a resource to be developed, not a
problem to be managed;” high expectations for participants’ behavior and performance;
challenging and meaningful activities; and leadership by effective, talented, and committed
adults, whom the authors referred to as “wizards” (McLaughlin et. al, 1994, p. 303). While all
caring and capable adults can meaningfully contribute to African-American students’ learning
and success, research suggests that caring and capable African-American adults have an
especially important role to play.
High Quality OST Programs and African American Student Outcomes
In a longitudinal study of eighty 12 to 14-year-olds, Zirkel (2003) found that students
who reported having at least one race- and gender-matched role model at the beginning of the
study performed better academically up to two years later, reported more achievement-oriented
goals, enjoyed achievement-relevant activities to a greater degree, thought more about their
futures, and looked up to adults rather than peers more often than students without a race- and
gender-matched role model. These results were stronger for youth of color than White
adolescents. Based on analysis of student questionnaire and diary data, as well as parent
interviews, Zirkel (2003) concluded that race and gender-matched role models help youth of
color to develop a deeper sense of their place and value in the larger society than mentors who
did not share these characteristics.
Similarly, when examining the attributes of effective OST programs for African
American male students, Martin and Jefferson (2011) found that they provided students with
supportive learning environments, access to enriching and relevant educational and career
experiences, continuity and consistency of goals and expectations over time, and interactions
with highly competent race and gender-matched role models. These findings confirm previous
research suggesting that race- and gender-matched role models help African-American
adolescents and other youth of color understand the social resources they can draw on to achieve
their personal, academic, and professional goals, as well as guide their positive racial identity
development (see Nieto, 1998). OST programs can achieve standards and expectations for
diversity by partnering with and drawing on the resources of community volunteers and
Enhancing Diversity in OST Programs through Community Partnerships
Noting the growing diversity of OST participants, Laurie Olsen with California
Tomorrow observed that “Many out-of-school time program staff members are now working
with some youth with whom they do not share a background or identity” (Harvard Educational
Research Project, 2003, p. 4). She contends that these programs must strive to build the cultural
competence of their staff members in order to better serve their diverse participants. While such
efforts are necessary, they are not sufficient. To effectively meet their participants’ needs, OST
programs must also actively seek to diversify their staff. One strategy to do so is through
partnerships with community volunteers and organizations.
OST programs can link with a variety of community partners including businesses;
universities and educational institutions; government and military agencies; health care
organizations; faith-based organizations; national service and volunteer organizations; senior
citizen organizations; cultural and recreational institutions; media organizations; sports
franchises and associations; other groups such as fraternities and sororities; and community
volunteers that can provide resources and social support to young people and their families.
Partnerships can be student-centered; family-centered; or community-centered. Student-centered
activities include those that provide direct services to students, such as mentoring and tutoring.
Family-centered activities are those that have parents or entire families as their primary focus
such as parenting workshops and GED and other adult education classes. Community-centered
activities have as their primary focus the community and its citizens, for example, community
development and service learning projects (Sanders, 2006). In general, community partnerships
can increase the quality of OST programs and maximize the benefits derived for their
For African American students, in particular, partnerships can tap into the legacy of
educational engagement that has characterized the African American community for centuries.
This engagement has taken a variety of forms over time from advocacy and policy making to
fundraising and school construction (Sanders & Campbell, 2007). Using partnerships to draw on
this tradition of community engagement, OST programs can strengthen the educational pipeline
for African American students. Furthermore, these partnerships can ensure that OST programs
provide African American students’ access to same-race teachers and role models who are in
short supply during regular school hours. Recognizing that high quality OST programs benefit
from such partnerships, Kennedy and colleagues (2007) encouraged these programs to invite
“[S]peakers and visitors from the community and find volunteers or pay employees from various
cultural ethnic, racial, sexual, linguistic and religious backgrounds or orientations …” (p. 3). The
following section presents CDF Freedom Schools as an example of OST programs that use
partnerships to address the diversity gap in US public schools.
The Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools: An Illustrative Case
CDF Freedom Schools are grounded in an awareness of the need for African American
and other historically underserved students to see highly competent teachers and mentors who
look like them, and experience culturally rich and responsive learning environments. Through
partnerships with faith based organizations, schools, non-profits, universities, and other
community organizations, CDF Freedom Schools establish sites around the country that are
accessible, engaging, and empowering for all stakeholders. This section discusses the history,
implementation, and outcomes of CDF Freedom Schools drawing on the first-hand experiences
of the third author who served as a summer Servant Leader Intern in 2016.
The History and Implementation of Freedom Schools
During the summer of 1964, two of the leading Civil Rights organizations, the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations, initiated the
Mississippi Freedom Summer Project (Children’s Defense Fund, 2016). The purpose of this
program was to educate Mississippi citizens, primarily African Americans, of their basic rights
as citizens of the United States, focusing mainly on the right to vote (CDF, 2016). One of the
major aspects of the Freedom Summer project of 1964 was the implementation of Freedom
Schools. The Freedom Schools were significant because they provided African American
children with an educational experience that was not offered in the traditional school setting
(CDF, 2016). As an extension of the Freedom Summer of 1964, the Freedom Schools movement
was reborn under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense
Fund (CDF, 2016). Under Edelman’s leadership, the first two official CDF Freedom School sites
opened in 1995. There are now 189 CDF Freedom School sites in 96 cities and 29 states,
Washington DC, and the U.S Virgin Islands (CDF, 2016). Modern day Freedom Schools are
similar to those established during the Freedom Summer of 1964 in that there remains a focus on
literacy and social action among African American children, and college-aged youth continue to
serve as the schools’ teachers and leaders (CDF, 2016).
CDF Freedom Schools serve students in grades 1-12. In 2010, of the 9,633 students
participating in CDF Freedom Schools, the majority (90.6%) were African American. In 2015,
the organization served 12,375 students3 and employed 1500 Servant Leader Interns; of whom
one third were male, slightly over two-thirds were African American (68%), 14% were White,
7% were Latino, and 3% were Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (CDF, 2015).
The CDF Freedom School curriculum consists of 4 levels. Level 1 applies to students in
grades 1-2, Level 2 to students in grades 3-5, Level 3 to middle school students, and Level 4 to
high school students. The main instructional component of the Freedom Schools is the Integrated
Reading Curriculum (IRC). The IRC is different from the reading curricula offered in most
traditional school settings because it consists of daily readings of books that reflect the heritage
of participating students. These books introduce students to characters who look like them and
have similar life experiences, thereby enhancing their passion for reading as well as improving
their reading skills.
3 Demographic data for students enrolled in CDF Freedom Schools in 2015 were not reported.
Tambra Jackson and Gloria Boutte (2009) explore the positive effects of the books
included in the Freedom School curriculum in their article on liberation literature. Specifically,
Jackson and Boutte discussed the positive messages conveyed in the book, Grandpa, Is
Everything Black Bad? by Sandy Lynne Holman, the Level 2 curriculum book that the third
author read to rising 4th grade students on their first day in the program. The lessons the
protagonist of the book learns from his grandfather about African heritage and history validate
Blackness and Black culture (Jackson and Boutte, 2009). Jackson and Boutte (2009) argue that
liberation literature enhances students’ love of reading. This is important because often in
traditional public and private school settings, children of African descent and children who are
members of other racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States are not exposed to books
that contain characters and plots that positively reflect their reality.
Another major aspect of the Freedom School daily schedule is Harambee. Harambee is a
Swahili word that means “let’s pull together” (CDF, 2016). Each morning, Freedom School sites
begin their programs with Harambee. These morning celebrations consist of cheers and chants,
recognitions, read aloud guests, announcements, and a moment of silence. Harambee is intended
to celebrate and motivate the students as well as create a positive start to the day (CDF, 2016).
In addition to their literacy focus, Freedom Schools also enhance students’ historical,
social, and cultural awareness and provide opportunities for social activism and leadership
(Jackson and Boutte, 2009). For example, the National Day of Social Action is a day in which
Freedom Schools across the nation go into their communities to raise awareness of critical issues
(CDF, 2016). The Freedom School where the third author served chose to explore the issue of
lead in school pipes, which can result in lead poisoning if students drink water from the fountains
and sinks. Freedom School staff and students investigated this topic, and on the National Day of
Social Action, held a protest in the community surrounding the school. Students also wrote
letters to members of the school board to express their concerns and request an immediate
resolution of the problem.
Overall, the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools have shown positive results for
participating students. According to summer 2015 data, 84% of students enrolled in Freedom
Schools maintained or improved their reading level, avoiding the negative effects of summer loss
experienced by many low-income African American students (CDF, 2015; Taylor, Medina, &
Lara ‐Cinisomo, 2010). The 6-week program also positively influenced participants’ attitudes
toward reading, school, and education as well as their racial and ethnic identities (CDF, 2015;
Teaching Tolerance, 2013). CDF Freedom Schools are also associated with positive outcomes
for Servant Leader Interns as well as participants’ families. For instance, 70% of participants’
families perceived their parenting skills improved through program participation, and Servant
Leader Interns reported developing more leadership skills and greater confidence in their future
success (CDF, 2015). Thus, CDF Freedom Schools demonstrate the potential of OST programs
to bridge the diversity gap in US public schools by providing African American students and
other youth of color with unique experiences that validate their heritage, culture, and daily lives.
Discussion and Conclusion
This chapter describes how OST programs bridge the diversity gap in US public schools
and its implications for African American students. Specifically, it contends that high quality
OST programs are a viable means to ensure that African American and other students of color
have the opportunity to benefit from same-race teachers and role models in culturally responsive
learning environments. Additionally, it argues that through outreach to and partnerships with
community volunteers and organizations, OST programs can broaden the diversity of their staff
and benefit from the cultural resources embedded in their participants’ communities.
OST programs, therefore, should be part of national, state, and local efforts to address the
educational needs of historically underserved students. To bolster such efforts, OST program
directors and researchers have equally important and mutually reinforcing roles to play. OST
program directors must take decisive steps to ensure that their teaching and mentoring personnel
reflect the diversity of the student populations they serve. CDF Freedom Schools illustrate how
OST directors can achieve this goal through expansive partnerships and intentional hiring
Researchers can assist OST program directors in this important work. In particular,
researchers can document the diversity of OST program personnel, including teaching and
mentoring staff, locally and nationally, to identify trends, gaps, and areas for continued growth
and improvement. They can also identify effective strategies for recruiting and retaining racially
and ethnically diverse personnel, factors facilitating and inhibiting staff diversity, and the effects
of staff diversity on program participants’ academic (e.g., literacy and numeracy skills,
homework habits, research and analytical skills) and non-academic (e.g., leadership skills, racial
identity development, civic engagement) outcomes. Lastly, they can investigate the role of
community partnerships in helping OST programs to achieve greater diversity among their
personnel and provide culturally relevant learning opportunities for their participants. Deeper
understanding of these issues will build our capacity and hopefully strengthen our resolve to
develop high quality OST programs for all the nation’s children and youth.
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White Black Latino Asian
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