Evaluation of the Beacon Community Centers Middle School Initiative

Youth Development / Expanded Learning Opportunities
Department of Youth and Community Development
PSA Director
Jennifer Johnson LaFleur

The New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Beacon Centers, designed in the 1990s, are operated by community-based organizations, using space in school buildings during non-school hours. Beacons offer youth and adults recreational, educational, and social activities, as well as social services, health education, and opportunities for community building. Youth have opportunities for positive experiences in safe, welcoming settings that promote their healthy social and emotional development, build their social connections and engagement in community, and foster positive intergenerational relationships.

The Beacon Middle School Initiative, launched in the 2007-08 school year, was intended to improve the lives of young adolescents in grades 5-8 by providing high-quality, structured out-of-school experiences through the Beacon Centers. The initiative sought to address this need by providing regular programming for youth in certain core areas during the out-of-school hours: academic enhancement, life skills, career awareness/school-to-work transition, civic engagement/community building, recreation/health and fitness, and culture/art. Together, these program activities were expected to lead to positive educational and social outcomes for youth, including higher rates of high school graduation and improved life skills

Analyses examined the implementation of the Middle School Initiative, youth attendance and participation in the Initiative, and participants' growth in light of the duration and intensity of their participation. Grounded in a theory of change that specified the initiative's key assumptions and expectations, the evaluation sought answers to the following questions:

  • Did the middle-grades programming administered by Beacons meet reasonable expectations for effective implementation, especially in the areas of youth outreach, youth attendance, staffing, activity approach and content, family engagement, and integration with the other work of the Beacons?
  • What were the educational and other developmental needs of middle-grades youth who participated in the Beacons programs? How did these youth compare to nonparticipating middle-grades youth enrolled in the host schools and in the city's public schools generally?
  • Did the Beacons' middle-grades programming promote participants' healthy development and educational progress?
  • What program features were associated with positive participant outcomes?
  • Did the middle-grades programming build on and enrich Beacons services for other age groups?

Implementation and outcome data for the evaluation were collected from all Beacon Centers through annual surveys of program directors and youth participants. Ten Beacons contributed in-depth information through site visits and annual surveys of parents. In addition, the evaluation examined program participation data and educational data from the New York City Department of Education.