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Relational Trust: An Ethnographic Look at Staff and Students’ Relationships in an Afterschool Program

Education and Youth Today

ISBN: 978-1-78635-046-6, eISBN: 978-1-78635-045-9

ISSN: 1537-4661

Publication date: 26 July 2016



This study documents the role of relational trust in an afterschool organization and its influences on young people’s experiences.


Through a 10-month ethnographic study of one afterschool program that teaches teens how to make documentaries, I demonstrate that the confluence of blurred organizational goals; weak relational trust among staff; and funding pressures may have the unintended consequence of exploiting students for their work products and life stories.


The study finds that, while not all organizations function with student work at its center, many afterschool organizations are under increasing pressures to document student gains through tangible measures.

Practical implications

Implications from these findings reveal the need for developing strong relationships among staff members as well as establishing transparency in funding afterschool programs from within the organization and from foundations in order to provide quality programming for young people.


This study informs organizational theory, specifically in terms of measures of variation in relational trust within an organization and its influence on young people. This chapter includes student accounts of experiences with staff to enhance the significance of relational trust.




A previous version of this manuscript was presented at the American Sociological Association 2015 meeting. I am grateful for feedback from Karolyn Tyson and Amy Binder for their suggestions on framing the narrative. Thank you to Lisa Stulberg and our data analysis class, especially Alex Freidus, for providing several rounds of specific feedback. Thank you to E. Christine Baker-Smith for her commitment to making detailed comments and suggestions throughout the process and to Jeremy Schildcrout for his careful edits. Another thank you to the anonymous reviewers of this journal. Thank you to New York University’s Global Research Initiative for providing six weeks of office space and uninterrupted writing time in Paris.


Lipschultz, J. (2016), "Relational Trust: An Ethnographic Look at Staff and Students’ Relationships in an Afterschool Program", Education and Youth Today (Sociological Studies of Children and Youth, Vol. 20), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 251-279.



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