Spotlight
Research Explores Delivery and Impact of Afterschool Programs
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Tracy Bennett
Ph.D. Student

Irvine, Calif., June 1, 2011

Tracy Bennett is a second year student in UC Irvine's Ph.D. in Education program with a specialization in Educational Policy and Social Context (EPSC). Tracy earned her B.A. in Criminology from UC Irvine in 2003, and an M.A. in Educational Policy and Research from the University of Michigan in 2004.

She began her career as a program evaluator for the Center for Educational Partnerships (CFEP) at UC Irvine, working on several federal and state funded educational outreach grant programs including GEAR UP, Early Academic Outreach Program, and 21st Century After School Programs, and subsequently worked as a research consultant for Santa Ana Unified School District. Tracy joined THINK Together in the Fall of 2008, and currently serves as Manager of Program Evaluation. THINK Together, a nonprofit organization, is California’s largest provider of after-school programs serving over 70,000 students at more than 250 schools and community centers throughout Northern and Southern California. In her current role at THINK Together, Tracy is responsible for survey design and administration, data analysis, reporting on federal and state grants, and working with program site staff on using data to drive the goals of their programs. 

Since her first year, THINK Together has funded a fellowship for Tracy’s doctoral research, under the advisement of Dr. Deborah Vandell. She is currently working on two research projects with faculty members.

The first project is under the advisement of Dr. Vandell and in collaboration with her fellowship from THINK Together. Through a survey administered to over 400 respondents, Tracy is examining afterschool staff and principals’ perceptions of academic alignment, relationships, and quality of afterschool programming at over 200 of THINK Together’s sites. The study uses measures from Dr. Vandell’s Study of Promising After School Programs, as well as additional measures designed collaboratively by Tracy and Dr. Vandell. This study will serve to inform how schools and the afterschool field define high-quality programming, and contribute to a future study that will examine associations between quality and student level outcomes for afterschool programs.  

Under the direction of Dr. Joseph Mahoney, Tracy is also involved in a randomized study of physical fitness in THINK Together’s Summer Learning Program at an elementary school in Santa Ana Unified School District, which is set to begin in June. Program staff will be randomly assigned to receive advanced physical fitness training and researchers will track health measures for those students who receive instruction from those staff members. Measures include height and weight, heart rate, waist circumference, and short distance running. Measures will serve to compare fitness levels before summer, during summer, and at the beginning of the school year for students who received the specialized trainings with those who did not.

Tracy is excited about her current and upcoming research opportunities, and to be a part of the afterschool research community.

I believe that it is especially important to research the impact of out-of-school time programs, as they are a crucial part of the continuum of services provided to promote the learning and well-being of children.