Afterschool Programs
Project practices and activities

AmeriCorps*VISTA Project 

The 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab VISTA program was a collaborative program sponsored by University of Missouri Extension and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Through Missouri 4-H Youth Development Programs, AmeriCorps*VISTA members helped communities fight poverty. VISTA members worked in partnership with county Extension offices and community-based organizations, connecting youth to technology, and to their communities. During the three-year program, VISTA members assisted communities to establish, expand and sustain afterschool computer labs that provided upper elementary and middle school age students with a safe environment and adult supervision during after school hours.

Related resources

Brightening Horizons

This report summarizes and interprets the results of computer skill assessments given to children at Missouri 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab sites during 2003-04. The computer skills assessment was originally developed by the Family & Community Resource Program (FCRP) for use at its project sites, and was previously approved by the University of Missouri Campus Institutional Review Board as a low-risk research instrument.

Project accomplishments

From 2002 to 2005, AmeriCorps*VISTAs acted as lab site coordinators in 17 low-income communities across the state of Missouri, introducing software and “value-added” activities, training staff and community volunteers to operate labs, and developing partnerships for ongoing training and computer technical support. They provided 19.9 member-years of service, started 12 new lab programs and expanded 18 existing lab programs, and reached a total of 4,367 young people. 229 volunteers contributed 2,560 hours of their time in computer labs, a figure valued at $38,690; during that period, $25,329 in in-kind donations and $38,875 in cash donations were received. An average of 255 young people regularly participated in labs every quarter, with an estimated 88 percent of participants coming from low-income households.

Impact summaries 

Written by the VISTAs during the end of their terms of service, capture the essence of their projects. Within this section, you can find out about their project goals, significant accomplishments, the number of youth reached and contact information for those who wish to become involved.

Best practices

During the three-year span of the Missouri 4-H ASCL VISTA project, it was noted that certain program practices contributed strongly to the success of afterschool computer lab programs. The following best practices were identified by monitoring computer labs in operation through the ASCL project, by distilling project documents such as site visit notes and progress reports, and by facilitating VISTA member discussions. These best practices are intended to assist any organization trying to establish an afterschool computer lab or seeking to incorporate technology into an afterschool setting; however, many of them are applicable to afterschool programs as a whole.

Best practices:

  • Invest in caring adults as well as children
  • Find a hook in order to recruit afterschool volunteers
  • Get youth hands-on involved with computers and games, and interacting with each other
  • Give experienced youth ownership by empowering them to take leadership roles in lab programs
  • Collaborate with other local and regional organizations to maximize impact
  • Recognize and engage the talents of youth as well as adults
  • Acknowledge, remain conscious of, and take advantage of the roles people play outside of your organization
  • Look at your computer lab program holistically; strengthen the weakest link
  • Bridge activities between the computer lab and the real world
  • Pool technology resources with other lab programs to share the costs (Example: Missouri 4-H statewide software and technology kit library)

Continuing project activities

The Missouri 4-H Afterschool Computer Lab (ASCL) project identified six primary ingredients as being essential to the success of a lab: a facility, computers, kids, software, technical support and educational support. Issues such as resource development, community involvement and support from organizations outside the local area also play a significant role.

The ASCL project can provide software, training and consultation to groups interested in starting, expanding, or enhancing lab programs. A number of software-based projects and contests have been developed during the course of the project. A wide variety of curricula are also available through the National 4-H Cooperative Curricula System.

The information below addresses a number of these issues. If you need further assistance, please contact state staff.

Software library

Starting an afterschool computer lab can be a challenging endeavor, but identifying age and content appropriate software for that lab can be even more time consuming! Purchasing software has its own drawbacks, as youth will eventually tire of playing the same games every day. A software library that multiple sites can access has the advantages of simplifying software selection by individual sites while allowing rotation of software when it is no longer being used.

The 4-H Center for Youth Development at the University of Missouri has a software library selected to be age and content appropriate for Missouri youth programs. If you are interested in checking out software, contact your local Extension 4-H youth specialist or the 4-H Center for Youth Development.

Software-based projects

Software-based projects are designed for leaders and members to work together to have fun and learn with the software. The 4-H software based projects, like Designing Your Own Space, start with fun and educational computer games and software tools. Learning and leading guides add off-computer and group activities to extend the learning.

Technology kits

Technology offers many different paths and opportunities for complex youth development; it also gives children more ways to participate in 4-H. Digital photography, digital audio or video, robotics, Web development and geospatial technology are only a few of the technology areas currently being explored by 4-H youth. 

Missouri 4-H has a technology kit library that contains LEGO Mindstorms, robotics kits and K’Nex construction kits. Missouri 4-H clubs and affiliated programs can check out kits by contacting your local MU Extension 4-H youth specialist or the 4-H Center for Youth Development.


GPS stands for global positioning system is basically a “high-tech compass!” It can tell you what direction you’re pointed, tell you where you are on the earth, how fast you’re moving and how far you are from other locations.

GIS stands for geospatial information system and is a “high-tech map.” Unlike paper maps, a GIS can allow you to change the information shown as well as ask questions about the relationships between that information.

GPS receivers are fast becoming as common a tool in finding our way around our world as a paper map and a compass used to be, and GIS applications are changing the way we create maps and represent data about our environment. Beyond that level of usage is another realm where these technologies are simply the tools that allow us to visualize our world and solve the problems that face us. GIS is also one of the fastest growing technology-related career fields; from that standpoint, acquainting youth with the fundamentals of this technology area may prepare them for future success in this field.

Community mapping

Community Mapping is a process involving youth, citizens, community professionals and community decision-makers working together to learn and use geospatial tools such as GPS or GIS and data to address community and environmental issues. Community mapping provides a framework for teaching about, understanding and communicating a wide range of relevant topics.

Resources for all project levels