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March 18, 2020

Literacy is an area where your 21st CCLC program can dramatically enrich and improve the lives of your students. But where in the world is the professional learning to help you achieve your goals? Look no further! Y4Y has updated its Literacy course, with four objectives in mind: assess students’ literacy needs, design and facilitate literacy activities that align with those needs, use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day, and implement literacy activities with fidelity. Join the course tour guide, Will, as each of 11 key strategies will take you to a different country throughout this travel-themed course. Buckle up for an engaging trip around the world!

How might key strategies look when literacy is your focus?

  • To start, your literacy program team may include some new members, such as a librarian from your public library and reading specialist.
  • Qualitative data will be as important to your needs assessments as quantitative data, since qualitative data gives people room to communicate freely and add details.
  • Partnership assets may not be dramatically different through the literacy lens. On the contrary, you might discover some of your best partners already have literacy initiatives in place that you can tap into, such as book giveaways or English as a Second Language (ESL) volunteer tutoring programs.
  • Bear in mind that SMART goals will have to be set for the program level and for activities.
  • Just like partnerships, logistics may not change dramatically when literacy is at the heart of your planning, but here again, there may be space or budgeting opportunities and challenges that are unique to your literacy activities.
  • Intentional design of literacy activities will take into account the amount of enrichment versus intervention that may be called, for based on your student-level data.
  • Recruitment of students should involve general outreach to the community. Also, asking for referrals and good advertising from school-day educators will be crucial.
  • Whether your current staff has strong literacy skills, or you’re poised to hire new staff or you’re looking for other stakeholders to fill gaps, strong literacy skills (and the ability to teach those skills) are desirable as you’re choosing adults to interact with your students.
  • Consider the possible challenges around adult literacy when it comes to your family engagement efforts.
  • Helping your students understand the rubric used to measure their literacy progress is an important step in implementing with fidelity. Unlike math, where an answer is either right or wrong, literacy skills can seem mysterious to students. There can be multiple ways to write a good (or bad) paragraph, for example. Providing a rubric with clear measures can remove some of the mystery (and anxiety) for students.
  • When your organization is mindful of these steps in literacy programming, success is the final stop in your literacy tour. That means it’s time to celebrate!

Enjoy your worldwide tour of all four components of literacy — reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Your specific literacy activities might be developed around any or all of these components. Whatever you decide, the Y4Y Literacy course offers course tools to help you address student needs. Explore them all! Program directors and site coordinators are also encouraged to check out the Coaching My Staff section of the course.

The Y4Y Literacy course, like a good book, can be like a worldwide adventure. Be sure your passport is up-to-date, and let Y4Y help you explore the world of literacy so you can bring the very best ideas home to your students.

 



March 18, 2020

Depending on where you live in the U.S., there’s a good chance that little green sprouts are emerging outdoors while anxieties about tax season are emerging indoors. Taxes are one of many “money matters” that affect everyone. Sometimes seeking sound advice about taxes can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. You can’t give tax advice to students or their families, of course, but there are ways you can help the families in your community improve their financial literacy. Here are a few things to think about.

No One’s Too Young to Learn About Money

Experts have recognized that financial literacy, or the lack thereof, has been a growing obstacle to success. This can be true for families at all socioeconomic levels. Luckily, this subject is being increasingly built into even elementary education. Y4Y has compiled a Financial Literacy Book List to offer interesting reading that will build students’ financial literacy. You can use tax season as an opportunity to help them understand where their parents’ hard-earned tax dollars are going, including the very books in their hands!

Thinking Ahead Is a Valuable Skill

A common mistake people make is to claim a high number of allowances on their W-4 withholdings form so they can enjoy more money in their paychecks. Some people end up owing a lot of taxes as a result, or incurring a fine. Maybe they’re not aware of this, or maybe they think they’ll be able to save up enough to pay their taxes once the holidays have passed, or that some other windfall will come along. Too many adults don’t fully understand how to sit down and write out a realistic family budget that takes the present and the future into account. Y4Y’s course on financial literacy can put your families on the right path for thinking ahead. You’ll want to assess what your families actually need, and Y4Y’s Adult Financial Literacy Needs Survey can help you.

Don’t Fall for Scams

Knowing who to trust is only half the battle during tax season. Knowing who NOT to trust is also key. The IRS has publicized many known scams that prey on the fears of honest taxpayers. These scams may be designed for identity theft or to extort money from the people who can least afford it.

Let Families Know About Free Tax Help

These cautionary tales paint a less-than-cheery picture around tax season, but there’s good news too! The IRS offers free volunteer tax preparation for families with low incomes, limited English or disabilities. The majority of families who use this service receive a refund, especially families in lower income brackets. Best of all: a large segment of lower-income families pay no federal income taxes.

You don’t have to be a tax expert or a financial whiz or a tax accountant to let families know about resources like the ones described here. By the time those little green sprouts turn into beautiful blooms, tax season will have come and gone, and everyone will be a little bit wiser!

 



March 18, 2020

It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.

The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.

Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.

In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.

Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.

The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:

Step 1: Build a Program Team

Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.

Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets

A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.

Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources

Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.

Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.

Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students

Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.

Step 7: Engage Families

A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.

Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect

Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!

Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve

Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.

 



February 28, 2020

On the heels of the 25th anniversary of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the U.S. Department of Education announced a renaming of this unique funding initiative. At the direction of Congress, it is now the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program. The new designation honors Representative Lowey, a steady advocate for afterschool programming, for her tireless efforts on behalf of children and families. She has represented New York’s 17th District since 1988 and will retire this year. She played a key role in the original 1994 bill (Text H.R.6. – 103rd Congress), which stated that 21st CCLCs would “enable the entire community to develop an education strategy that addresses the educational needs of all members of local communities.”

Nearly 1.7 million students and 184,000 adult family members each year are served by this 50-state initiative, which offers academic support and enrichment programs at 11,512 program sites.

The Department’s You for Youth (Y4Y) program is proud to serve professionals in this important field of work. In addition to providing free online learning 24/7 at y4y.ed.gov, the Y4Y Technical Assistance (TA) team provides virtual and in-person TA to more than 165,000 21st CCLC practitioners.

For a refresher on how it all began, visit the Introduction to 21st CCLC course. You might learn something you didn’t know about the short history of this incredible idea!

 



February 13, 2020

Bad weather is sometimes unpredictable and always out of our control. Cultures that have developed around some of the harshest weather conditions just lean into the storm with good preparation like dry clothes, an emergency kit and a strategic plan. Similarly, people can navigate life’s storms successfully by preparing socially and emotionally. That way, they’re ready to act and respond wisely when difficulties arise — and they always do! Your 21st CCLC program can use social and emotional learning strategies to help students develop this kind of “storm readiness.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has done a great deal of research and development in social and emotional learning. Here’s the definition CASEL uses:

“Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course spotlights five areas for personal growth identified by CASEL:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management
  • Responsible decision making

People sometimes say these are “soft skills,” which can make them sound unimportant or unnecessary. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Our ability to navigate emotions and relationships greatly affects how and what we learn, in school and beyond. Social and emotional skills are life skills. So, when you model and teach these skills to students, you’re helping them prepare for success throughout their lives.

Not convinced? Think back on your own experiences in school:

  • Remember your favorite teacher, coach or counselor? Why is that person your favorite? It’s probably not just because you loved math or were really good at soccer. Your personal relationship with this adult made you more interested in learning what he or she had to teach you.
  • Consider a time when you were anxious about a test, felt intimidated by a teacher or had trouble with a classmate. This likely kept you from doing your best. You may even have developed long-term anxiety about test taking, a particular subject or certain kinds of classroom interactions (like giving a speech or working in small groups).

Your experiences are similar to those of every learner, including the children and youth in your 21st CCLC program. Social relationships and emotional states have a profound effect on learning. Positive emotional experiences motivate people of all ages to work hard and try their best.

Developing smarter, kinder, happier, more productive human beings is a goal we can all get behind. Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course helps you envision how social and emotional learning fits with that goal and with your other program goals. It also shows you how to weave social and emotional learning strategies into your program activities, and how to support staff members throughout the process.

You might also want to check out Y4Y’s new Creating a Positive Learning Environment course. It has strategies for infusing a “can do” attitude into program activities and routines. That course shows ways your staff can improve the overall program culture and climate, whereas the Social and Emotional Learning course shows ways to help students manage their internal “weather system.”

Why not put on your snow boots or galoshes and jump in with both feet?