WHO IS ACCREDITED?

Private Organization Accreditation

Sweetser, a Maine non-profit agency operating since 1828, provides comprehensive mental and behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services. Statewide, it serves around 15,000 consumers a year, including children, adults, and families in outpatient, office-based, and residential settings.
read more >>

VOLUNTEER TESTIMONIAL

Barry Gourley

Volunteer Roles: Endorser; Peer Reviewer

It is an honor to be a COA volunteer. I’ve had a great opportunity to work with fabulous COA volunteers, I’ve grown professionally in the COA accreditation process and I’ve met some wonderful people across this nation who are working hard to help and support children and families.
read more>>

Purpose

Children and youth who participate in Out-of-School Time programs gain the personal, social, emotional, and educational assets needed to support healthy development, increase well-being, and facilitate a successful transition through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood.

PA-OST 9: Programming and Activities

Program activities and instruction are designed to help children and youth explore interests, build skills, and experience success.

Note:  Different types of activities will be offered depending on the goals of the program and the ages and interests of program participants, but the expectations addressed in this core concept will typically apply regardless of the type of programming provided.  See PA-OST 10 through 15 for more information regarding expectations for specific types of activities.  When programming does not fall within a category addressed in those core concepts, it will be covered only by the generally-applicable standards included in this core concept. 

Research Note:  Literature emphasizes the importance of structuring activities to help children and youth develop a sense of self-efficacy and a “growth mindset” whereby hard work and practice, rather than innate ability, are viewed as key to improvement and success. Agencies can strive to cultivate a growth mindset by providing opportunities, support, and feedback that are designed to help youth: (1) take on new challenges, (2) persist through difficulties, (3) understand that learning is a process and mistakes are a natural part of learning, and (4) experience improvement and success, as addressed in PA-OST 9.05, 9.07, 9.15, and 9.16.

Rating Indicators
1
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions; exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
2
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement. 
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented.  
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.  
3
Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  
  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.   
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner. 
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.   
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
4
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed service delivery infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.  
Please see Rating Guidance for additional rating examples. 

Table of Evidence

Self-Study Evidence On-Site Evidence On-Site Activities
    • A description of programming and activities, including:
      1. type and nature of programming/activities;
      2. opportunities provided to children and youth during programming/activities;
      3. role of personnel, including strategies for engaging, instructing, and supporting children and youth; 
      4. how children and youth are involved in providing input about programming/activities
    • Policy and procedures for serving children and youth with special needs (PA-OST 9.06)
    • Policies and/or procedures regarding the use of technology (PA-OST 9.18)
    • Policies and/or procedures for determining when an activity/practice should be suspended or discontinued (PA-OST 9.19)
    • Curricula (for previous quarter)
    • Programming/activity plans (for previous quarter)
    • Daily schedules for past month
    • Attendance records (showing totals for each day and weekly averages)
    • Logic model (or equivalent framework)
    • Training curricula and/or information on internet safety provided to children, youth, and personnel, if applicable
    • Improvement/corrective action plans, if applicable (PA-OST 9.19)
    • Interview:
      1. Program Administrator
      2. Site Director
      3. Program Personnel
      4. Children, youth, and families
    • Observe program activities
    • Review files of children and youth (PA-OST 9.06, 9.20)

  • PA-OST 9.01

    Children and youth are engaged in activities that are:

    1. designed to build specific skills and foster the development of positive interests;
    2. based on a curriculum that matches program goals; and
    3. guided by plans that address both the substance and logistics of activities (including learning goals, preparation, timing and transitions, materials, outcomes to look for, and strategies for accommodating the needs of children and youth with differing skills and abilities).

    Interpretation:  Please note that the skills to be developed will typically relate to both activity content (e.g., arts, health, literacy) and the interdisciplinary skills that are relevant across content areas, such as skills related to critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Out-of-school time programs offer an excellent opportunity to help children and youth develop these “21st century skills” that are so crucial to meeting the demands and challenges of today’s world. Accordingly, agencies should look for ways to incorporate the acquisition of these skills regardless of content area, as emphasized throughout the practice standards included in this section. It is also important to note that helping children and youth learn to regulate their emotions and behavior, empathize with others, and strengthen their interpersonal skills, as addressed in PA-OST 5, will underlie and support their ability to develop these skills. 
     

    Interpretation: While agencies are expected to use a curriculum that guides the provision of activities and programming, they have the flexibility to define and determine the type and nature of the curricula they use. Agencies are also not required to utilize commercially-developed curricula; however, if staff are responsible for developing the curricula they should have the expertise and paid time they need to do so, as addressed in PA-OST 21.09.
     

    Note:  As noted in PA-OST 1, program goals should be articulated in a logic model or equivalent framework that establishes a clear connection between the agency’s mission, community needs, required inputs/resources, planned services and supports, expected outputs, and desired goals/outcomes.  Accordingly, activities should be chosen and designed to promote the achievement of the specified goals.  It is also important to ensure that personnel have sufficient time to plan activities, as addressed in PA-OST 21.09.


  • PA-OST 9.02

    Personnel provide formal or informal instruction that:

    1. helps children and youth understand the goals to be accomplished;
    2. includes models for children and youth to emulate; and
    3. clearly conveys information and directions related to the activity, including the time available for different tasks and any specific steps to be followed, as applicable.

    Interpretation:  Children and youth may need models related to both content topics and social-emotional skills, but it is also important to note that models should not have a limiting effect on experimentation and creativity.  Accordingly, the type of modeling provided may vary based upon the nature of the activities offered.  For example, if youth are engaged in building a robot they might benefit from seeing: (1) the specific technology-related skills needed to build different components of the robot; (2) examples of both robot components and a completed robot; and (3) the self-regulatory skills that enable one to persist through challenging work.  In contrast, personnel moderating a different type of activity might model different ways to use specific tools and how to cope with frustrations, but might not provide an example of a finished product so as not to constrain imagination and originality. 
     
    In addition to conveying directions orally, it will often make sense for personnel to also write down instructions so that children and youth can remember what to do.

     
    Interpretation:
    When youth are the drivers of a project these elements may be implemented through a collaborative process that involves personnel and youth working together as partners.  

    Note:  As noted in PA-OST 9.05, in some cases personnel may need to modify instruction to accommodate diverse needs and abilities. See PA-OST 9.05 for more information.


  • PA-OST 9.03

    Programming is designed to meet the developmental needs of the children and youth the program is designed to serve.

    Interpretation:  Please note that this standard is intended to address the developmental needs of the general population the program is designed to serve (e.g., kindergarteners, middle schoolers, high schoolers), as opposed to the specific needs of individual children and youth.  While the practices addressed in this core concept are important for children and youth of all ages, it is also important that agencies consider the ages/developmental needs of children and youth when implementing these practices.  For example, it will be especially important for agencies serving older youth to provide opportunities for youth to: (1) have extended interactions with peers, as addressed in PA-OST 5.04 and 9.11; (2) make increasingly meaningful choices, as addressed in PA-OST 9.10 and 9.17; (3) develop leadership skills, as addressed in PA-OST 9.10; (4) engage in increasingly complex forms of critical thinking and problem solving, as addressed in PA-OST 9.08; (5) provide input regarding program design and implementation, as addressed in PA-OST 9.17; and (6) gain exposure to the new ideas, people, and places that can help them explore their own identities and possibilities for the future, as addressed in PA-OST 9.04 and 9.15.  Older youth will also often be better served by programs offering an in-depth focus on a specific area of interest, rather than programs that provide a variety of different activity options (such as those more common for younger children).

    Note: As noted in PA-OST 21.02, personnel should be trained on child and youth development, including what matters most at different ages and stages of development.  The agency should also consider the developmental needs of children and youth when devising the program’s logic model or equivalent framework, as addressed in PA-OST 1.
     

    Note: See PA-OST 2.06, 9.06, and 18.08, as well as the other standards included throughout this core concept, for more information regarding accommodating the specific needs of individual children and youth.


  • PA-OST 9.04

    The agency provides activities that:

    1. engage children and youth in active learning experiences that facilitate learning by doing;
    2. reflect and support the interests, experiences, and cultures of children and youth;
    3. offer exposure to new ideas, people, and places;
    4. encourage creativity and innovation; and
    5. build upon one another to facilitate a step-by-step approach to learning, when possible.

    Interpretation:  Regarding element (e) of the standard, COA recognizes that it can be challenging to provide activities that build on each other in a sequential manner if daily attendance is not required.  Accordingly, agencies that permit sporadic attendance should provide stand-alone activities, but ensure that the activities are thematically connected so that children and youth are exposed to related concepts over time.  Activities could also include optional follow-up items for children and youth who want to pursue related projects on their own.

    Note: Obtaining input from children and youth, as addressed in PA-OST 9.17, can help the agency to ensure that activities reflect their interests, experiences, and cultures.  Personnel can also use processing and reflective periods to point out how aspects of activities relate to things that are meaningful to youth, as well as to help youth understand how what they are learning relates to previous learning at the program, as addressed in PA-OST 9.15.


  • PA-OST 9.05

    Balancing respect for children and youth’s autonomy with the need to provide adequate support, personnel:

    1. utilize questioning techniques designed to encourage independent thinking and dialogue;
    2. check in with children and youth to assess understanding, needs, and progress and monitor the level of difficulty presented;
    3. provide balanced and realistic feedback designed to promote improvement;
    4. offer encouragement, assistance, and coaching to support and extend children and youth’s participation and learning, as needed and without taking control;
    5. vary the approaches used to engage and support children and youth based on their differing personalities, temperaments, learning styles, and abilities; and
    6. modify instruction and activities to accommodate children and youth with differing needs and abilities, when necessary. 

    Interpretation: The type of support provided may vary based on the specific needs and circumstances of children and youth. For example, personnel might ask open-ended questions designed to prompt deeper thinking; show children and youth how and where to find answers to their questions; demonstrate how complex skills can be broken into smaller steps; and offer suggestions when children and youth face problems they cannot solve by themselves.  Personnel may also use a variety of strategies to accommodate diverse needs and abilities, such as substituting equipment if children have difficulty with motor skills. Personnel should always be sure to listen carefully to children and youth and take time to think about their questions and comments. 


  • PA-OST 9.06

    When children and youth have special needs, the agency: 

    1. makes reasonable, respectful accommodations to help them fully participate in the program;
    2. encourages collaboration among personnel, families, and other involved providers to promote consistency in meeting needs; and
    3. ensures they are grouped with peers of the same age range, even if their documented developmental level is different from their chronological age.

    Interpretation:  As noted in PA-OST 2.06, agencies must make reasonable accommodations to their policies, procedures, and practices to support the participation of children and youth with disabllities.  Accordingly, when children and youth have special needs the agency should: (1) partner with parents and other involved providers to gain an understanding of needs and potential strategies for accommodation, as referenced in PA-OST 2.06; (2) develop plans for accommodating needs; (3) implement identified accommodations; and (4) adjust plans and accommodations, as needed.  Given that children and youth may have special needs related to physical, behavioral, medical, emotional, or cognitive conditions, appropriate accommodations will vary based on the individual needs presented.  For example, it might be necessary to modify the physical environment, train personnel to meet medical or behavioral needs, or partner with specialists who can provide guidance or assist children with certain activities.

    Note: See PA-OST 18 for more information about responding to special health needs. Please also note that the importance of meeting diverse needs is emphasized throughout this section of standards as a whole.

    Note: See the Research Note to PA-OST 2.06. 


  • PA-OST 9.07

    Activities allow sufficient time for practice and skill building, and personnel:

    1. have high expectations regarding what children and youth can accomplish;
    2. emphasize that learning is a process;
    3. encourage children and youth to try new skills and activities and persist through difficulties;
    4. reframe “failure” as an opportunity for learning and improvement; and
    5. emphasize that success is the result of hard work rather than innate ability.

    Interpretation:  Sufficient time should be allocated for both guided and individual practice.

    Note: While it is important that personnel have high expectations for children and youth, it is also important that they be prepared to provide the support and encouragement that children and youth may need in order to meet those expectations, as addressed in PA-OST 9.05.


  • PA-OST 9.08

    Activities provide opportunities for children and youth to:

    1. think deeply about different topics;
    2. synthesize and analyze information;
    3. discover patterns and relationships; and
    4. solve problems.


  • PA-OST 9.09

    Activities provide opportunities for children and youth to:

    1. communicate their thoughts and ideas; and
    2. contribute to dialogue and discussion.

    Interpretation: While it is important that children and youth learn to share their ideas and contribute to discussions, it is also important for personnel to: (1) recognize that some children (i.e. introverted children) may find it harder than others to speak up, and (2) develop strategies to help these children communicate their ideas. For example, if facilitating a group discussion personnel might give children time to process and compose their thoughts before asking them to share, rather than posing a question and then calling on the children who immediately raise their hands to respond. Personnel might also provide opportunities for children to share their thoughts and ideas in writing rather than orally.


  • PA-OST 9.10

    Children and youth have opportunities to:

    1. make meaningful choices and decisions; and
    2. assume an appropriate level of responsibility and leadership.

    Interpretation:  What constitutes a “meaningful choice” and “an appropriate level of responsibility and leadership” will vary based on the ages and developmental levels of children and youth.  For example, younger children will typically have opportunities to choose among different activities, including selecting what they will do, how they will do it, and with whom.  In contrast, older youth are likely to participate in more focused programming and make choices and decisions within the context of one particular activity or project (e.g., deciding the focus of a project, deciding topics within a subject area, deciding group roles, or deciding how to present results).  Similarly, while younger children may be responsible for fulfilling daily jobs (e.g., passing out materials, cleaning up activities, or serving food), older youth may assume more significant responsibilities, such as organizing or leading activities. 
     
    Agencies should also consider the needs of individual children and youth when providing opportunities for children and youth to make meaningful choices and assume an appropriate degree of responsibility and leadership.  For example, a child with a disability might be able to engage in a particular task for 15 minutes, but then need a 5 minute break.  Similarly, a quiet or introverted child might be hesitant to take on a leadership role just for the sake of being a leader, but might be motivated to do so in order to accomplish a goal he or she is truly passionate about.
     

    Note: Providing assistance only as needed and without taking control, as addressed in PA-OST 9.05, is one way of encouraging children and youth to become more responsible.


  • PA-OST 9.11

    Children and youth have opportunities to work together to achieve shared goals, and personnel facilitate successful collaboration by:

    1. helping children and youth develop skills that support cooperative work;
    2. considering age, developmental level, and skill level when creating groups;
    3. establishing expectations for group norms and participation;
    4. utilizing collaborative learning structures designed to help all children and youth engage, participate, and learn, regardless of their temperaments, needs, or abilities;
    5. monitoring group activity, and providing feedback and assistance as needed; and
    6. encouraging group members to reflect on group functioning.

    Interpretation: Skills needed to facilitate cooperative work include the interpersonal skills addressed in PA-OST 5.07, including treating others with equity and respect; understanding social norms and cues; listening actively and deeply, without interrupting; effectively conveying one’s point of view; and resolving conflicts and disagreements.  Helping youth to develop empathy and self-regulatory skills, as addressed in PA-OST 5.05 and 5.06, will also support their ability to collaborate successfully with others. 

    Note: See PA-OST 9.05 for additional expectations regarding feedback and assistance, and PA-OST 9.15 for additional expectations regarding opportunities for processing and reflection.


  • PA-OST 9.12

    Children and youth have opportunities to participate in activities or projects that:

    1. involve multiple steps and take place over time;
    2. include an in-depth focus on a particular topic or issue;
    3. enable children and youth to take an active role in developing and implementing plans and evaluating progress towards goals; and
    4. culminate in a presentation or celebration that highlights the accomplishments of children and youth.

    Interpretation: The length of projects may vary, especially based on the ages and developmental levels of participating children and youth.  Older youth will typically be able to engage in projects that are longer and more complex.  Regarding element (c), projects should ideally provide opportunities for children and youth to set goals, develop plans to achieve those goals, implement planned strategies, and revise goals and plans when complications or challenges arise.  In some cases children and youth (including children and youth with disabilities or other special needs) may need individualized support in order to take on these roles, as addressed in PA-OST 9.05 and 9.06.  Children and youth should ideally also play a role in deciding the focus of projects, though this may vary based on their ages and developmental levels, as well as the nature and design of the program. 

    Note: See PA-OST 12.07 for additional expectations regarding service-learning projects.

    NA The organization does not require regular attendance and thus cannot engage children and youth in ongoing activities or projects.


  • PA-OST 9.13

    Children and youth have opportunities to participate in projects or activities that are designed to encourage civic engagement and foster a generosity of spirit.
     

    Interpretation: Implementation of this standard will often overlap with PA-OST 8.04, regarding opportunities for children and youth to become involved with their communities (e.g., through community service or service learning projects). However, agencies can also foster civic engagement and generosity of spirit in other ways. For example, an agency might expand students’ understanding of civic engagement and citizenship through social studies, and might foster a generosity of spirit by supporting children and youth in reflecting upon how they treat others, as addressed in PA-OST 5.


  • PA-OST 9.14

    The agency maximizes opportunities to integrate content across topics and activity types. 
     

    Interpretation: Some agencies may run programs that are explicitly designed to integrate content across topics and activity types. For example, programs utilizing a STEAM approach will integrate the arts into science, technology, engineering, and math, and STREAM programs will integrate reading into science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Other agencies might implement this standard by, for example, establishing overarching themes that encompass the variety of activities provided, developing essential questions that are relevant across activity types, or conducting curriculum mapping to identify areas where there are opportunities to connect and integrate activity content.  


  • PA-OST 9.15

    Personnel support children and youth in processing and reflecting on their learning and progress by:

    1. providing intentional opportunities for them to express and evaluate their thoughts and feelings about their learning and experiences at the program;
    2. encouraging them to assess their own strengths and progress and set goals for improvement;
    3. helping them make connections between their learning and experiences at the program and outside knowledge, interests, experiences, and goals; and
    4. providing input and perspective to help them interpret and reevaluate their experiences, as needed.

    Interpretation:  Processing and reflection should ideally occur on both an individual and group level.  Regarding element (c), personnel should strive to help children and youth explore and understand how their experiences at the program relate to previous learning at the program, what they are learning in school, outside experiences and interests, and what they aspire to do in the future.

    Research Note: Some literature asserts that mediating young people’s thinking about their experiences is one of the most important ways that adults can support learning and development, noting that adults can help children and youth interpret and make meaning of their experiences in ways that expand their sense of themselves and their options in the world. Agencies serving older youth can play an especially important role in helping youth to find their own voices, develop their identities, and explore their paths for the future.


  • PA-OST 9.16

    Individual and group progress and accomplishments are recognized and celebrated both:

    1. on an ongoing basis, throughout the course of children and youth’s involvement with the program; and
    2. through opportunities to present and showcase the completed work and achievements of children and youth.

    Interpretation: Recognition of progress and accomplishments should highlight improvement and emphasize the importance of persistence, as addressed in the Research Note to PA-OST 9.

    Note: Ongoing recognition of accomplishments and progress may occur in the context of the feedback and processing addressed in PA-OST 9.05 and 9.15.


  • PA-OST 9.17

    In order to ensure that programming reflects the needs and interests of program participants, children and youth are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas regarding program activities, and are involved in developing and evaluating activities and initiatives. 

    Interpretation: The extent and nature of children and youths’ involvement will likely vary based on their ages and developmental levels.  For example, while an agency serving younger children may informally assess their needs and interests, older children and youth may complete surveys and/or sit on planning committees. Older youth may also be able to play a larger role in determining the focus of projects and activities, as referenced in PA-OST 9.10 and 9.12.

    Agencies should also consider the needs of individual children and youth when seeking input and involvement. For example, quiet or introverted children may be hesitant to share their thoughts without having time to prepare them, or may be more comfortable sharing their ideas privately or in writing. Similarly, children with disabilities or other special needs may require particular accommodations in order to effectively share their ideas and participate in planning or evaluating activities.

     

    Research Note: Younger children tend to participate in programs more than older youth, and some research suggests that this may be, in part, because older youth are not interested in the activities offered.  Research showed that the more input participants felt they had on programming decisions, the more engaged they felt in the program.  Involving youth in a meaningful way demonstrates that youth are valued members of the community, which is critical to their continued involvement with the program and the achievement of positive outcomes.


  • PA-OST 9.18

    The agency develops and implements policies and/or procedures regarding the use of technology that:

    1. address both program and personal devices;
    2. balance concerns regarding the importance of limiting “screen time” with any program goals that are dependent upon the use of technology; 
    3. ensure safety measures are in place when internet access is offered, including safety training and controls that block access to inappropriate content; and
    4. take into account any policies or procedures regarding technology usage that are in place at the program’s host, if applicable.

    Interpretation: While some agencies will adopt policies and procedures that encourage the use of technology in an effort to advance specific program goals (e.g., a STEM program that aims to help youth develop skills in computer programming), agencies should also take care to ensure that they still create an environment that encourages in-person social interactions and physical activity.  As noted in PA-OST 18.04, screen time that is not academic or educational in nature should typically be limited to 30 minutes per day.  Expectations around the use of technological devices should also be clearly communicated to both children and families during orientation, as per PA-OST 2.03 and PA-CR 1.01.

    Note: See PA-OST 12 for more information regarding STEM programming and activities.


  • FP
    PA-OST 9.19

    In order to protect the health, safety, and wellness of children and youth:

    1. an activity/practice that is deemed unacceptable according to prevailing professional standards is immediately discontinued; and
    2. an activity/practice that produces adverse effects is suspended pending investigation and resolution of the issue.

    Interpretation: In the context of this standard “adverse effects” include both: (1) one-time issues of great severity, and (2) more minor issues that arise repeatedly. In some cases investigation may reveal that adverse effects can be remedied through improvement/corrective action, but in other cases it may be determined that the activity/practice in question is so fundamentally flawed that it should be discontinued.


  • FP
    PA-OST 9.20

    When children and youth have opportunities to go on field trips or participate in high-risk activities, the agency obtains written, signed permission slips from their parents or legal guardians.

Copyright © 2019 Council on Accreditation. All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy and Terms of Use