Evaluation of The Story in History: Engaging Youth in African American Lives

October 1, 2006

According to national polling data, at least 6.5 million children are enrolled in after school programs nationwide (Afterschool Alliance, 2004). Although the aims of these programs vary-homework help, childcare, enrichment, arts introduction and technical training are only a few of the labels used to describe their offerings-they all share a common goal: the improved development and well-being of America's young people, especially those who typically have few resources available to them. At a bare minimum, after school or what is commonly referred to as "out-of-school time" programs give children a place to go when not tending to their formal education. But at their best, these programs give participants a community who cares about their growth, a sense of belonging, a safe space for developing new skills and interests, and, perhaps most importantly, a stake in their future.

It was in this spirit of giving young people opportunities to look beyond their immediate lives that Thirteen/WNET sought to extend and expand AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Thirteen's The Story in History: Engaging Youth in AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES outreach initiative was designed to engage Boys & Girls Club members, many of whom are African American living in underserved neighborhoods, in the study of heritage, history and community. Originally aired in February 2006 as part of the PBS national programming schedule, AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES is a four-part series, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois professor of the Humanities and chair of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. With Gates as their guide, the series featured eight prominent African-Americans - Dr. Ben Carson, Whoopi Goldberg, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Mae Jemison, Quincy Jones, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Chris Tucker and Oprah Winfrey - as they use genetic, historical and anthropological evidence, such as census records, property documents and photographs, to trace their families' past. To viewers, the series is an invitation to peel back their understanding of broad societal issues, such as slavery and economic inequality, allowing them to see how history- making is both an ongoing process and a discipline that involves real people and real families, just like their own.

Although the AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES series was the starting point for Thirteen's The Story in History outreach efforts, the initiative had a wider set of resources and structure. To get young people investigating past events, peoples and places, Thirteen offered implementation grants to seven public television stations and each station formed a partnership with local chapters of the Boys & Girls Club of America. The LAB@Thirteen, the station's educational outreach department, also developed a set of resources that sought to "help participating youth think like historians and explore, through the broadcast and active research, the thematic links across decades of black history and the connections between their lives and the stories illustrated in the national broadcast." And, the New York-based station established a related partnership with, a commercial online archive or genealogical data and tools, making a second set of rich resources available to participating Boys & Girls Club members and the adults who supported their explorations.

With further support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Thirteen commissioned CCT to conduct an external evaluation of The Story in History initiative. The evaluation, which is the focus of this report, assessed the extent to which local partnerships between Thirteen, local stations and individual chapters of Boys & Girls Clubs fostered youth participation in the initiative in general and promoted historical awareness and engagement among underserved youth in particular.