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December 6, 2021

Do you ever feel like you dove into your 21st CCLC program midstream? You could be a new frontline staff member joining midyear, a site coordinator hired with lots of “this is how we do it” rules, or a program director who’s handed a funded grant and asked to make it happen. It can feel like a game of catch-up, but the other side of that coin is: Coming in midway means some groundwork has already been laid for you! Whatever your program role, Y4Y’s updated Introduction to the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program course (Intro to 21st CCLCs) can help you from beginning to middle to the end, if that’s where you happen to be coming in! The new course breaks 21st CCLC programs down into three phases: planning, implementing and sustaining.

Beginning: Planning

Planning includes everything from deciding to apply for a grant to gathering stakeholders to reviewing legislation, performing a needs assessment, considering how to leverage your partnerships and assets, understanding your state’s application (or request for application — RFA) and applying or reapplying for a grant. Your role in this phase depends on your role in the organization.

A few things to know about planning if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • You should have an idea of the who, what, where, why, when and how of 21st CCLC programs. The introduction section of the new course is a great primer on the spirit of 21st CCLCs.
  • Ask your supervisors or peers what aspect of 21st CCLCs your program emphasizes (or plans to emphasize, if it’s a new grant). Examples include general academic enrichment, career exploration, STEM/STEAM projects, community engagement, or social and emotional learning (SEL). Remember: (1) there’s not a single “right” answer — your program is designed around the needs of your community; (2) your program might emphasize more than one area of need; and (3) your program’s priorities have probably shifted over time. Try to understand these shifts and when and how they might happen again. Embrace a flexible mindset about shifting priorities. These priorities can inform your interactions with your students.
  • As you become comfortable in your role, recognize that you’ll be a key player in data collection and setting priorities! If you’re providing academic support but discover half of your students aren’t able to focus on academics because of difficult situations or traumatic experiences in their personal lives, your frontline feedback will be critical in moving the needle toward more emphasis on SEL.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about planning if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • Whether a new grant or an existing one, get to know the elements of programming for the grant(s) you’re managing. What are the regulations around areas like staffing, expenditures and recruitment? Whether a pre-existing or new position, you might ask your program director to connect you with other programs in your area or state to speak with peers in the field about their own hard-learned do’s and don’ts. Remember to continue to crosswalk these discoveries with your program’s grant proposal and regulations.
  • Begin to think about the relationships that will be key for you to establish and maintain as a site coordinator. What will your role be in interacting with school or district administrators? With families? Within the organization?
  • Consider your role in training staff, and bearing that role in mind, acquaint yourself with the initiatives and priorities your stakeholders are calling for as they prepare the grant, or that have been documented in an existing grant.
  • Review the full Intro to 21st CCLCs course, especially the section on coaching my staff, to gain a better understanding of where to find the resources you need.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about planning if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • For a new grant, begin by bringing together serious stakeholders (folks who are ready to work!) from every aspect of programming — partners and parents from around the community and local education agency (LEA). Train together with the full Intro to 21st CCLCs course before moving forward with the grant planning strategies described there.
  • For grants that are funded but not yet implemented, forge an open line of communication with the team who contributed to its writing.
  • Your 21st CCLC state coordinator is your new best friend. Look to them with any questions you have along the way.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

Middle: Implementation

Phase 2 is implementation. Anyone joining a 21st CCLC program midstream is likely in this phase of the grant, which lasts for most of its lifespan. A new team member will have a “getting to know you” period, which hopefully leads to a “helping the program improve” period. Consider what’s been done for you versus what lies ahead, depending on your role.

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • Review your program’s policies and procedures, including those around safety. It’s best to direct any questions to your site coordinator or program director to be sure you’re honoring the grant.
  • “Off book” advice from peers can also be helpful. Just be sure to understand official practices set forth because it’s always possible that other frontline staff don’t fully understand the guidelines or have fallen into bad habits. An example of this could be poor handling of student privacy or ways of addressing behavior management.
  • Be sure to understand all aspects of activity delivery. If you don’t fully understand why an activity was designed a certain way, don’t be afraid to ask. You’re a much more effective facilitator when you’re invested in the process.
  • Offer real-time feedback to peers and supervisors to ensure the most effective program delivery.
  • Remember that relationships are the foundation of your work with students. Regularly foster appropriately warm and engaging personal interactions with each young person in your group.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • You’re an important bridge between the program director, who has a high-level view of activities and budget, and the frontline staff who put activities in motion. Be sure your communication style and advocacy for appropriate allocation of time, space and resources makes sense up and down the organization.
  • Understanding how to intentionally design activities is an absolute must. Revisit the grant as often as needed to carry out this key role.
  • If you’re coming into a previously existing position, ask your program director and frontline staff what they liked about how your predecessor coordinated the work. What changes would they like to see?
  • Communication outside of the organization is just as important. Gauge where the program is with recruitment, family engagement efforts and data collection, and try to be consistent with your predecessor if you’re coming in midstream. After your stakeholders have gotten to know you is the time to make improvements to that system, unless they make you immediately aware of problems that existed before you entered the program. In that case, assure them of your commitment to the grant and the students it serves.
  • Staff training should be a priority. You may discover that staff training in your program is little more than being handed a policies and procedures guide. Explore the Y4Y courses and Click & Go’s, and determine which ones your staff can benefit from right away. Consider asking staff members to take different courses and share their takeaways during staff meetings.
  • Engage in Y4Y’s Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • Observation is going to be a top priority. Spend your nonprogram hours catching up on everything about planning that has been documented, and spend your program hours visiting sites.
  • Be sure that, in addition to the day-to-day aspects of your program’s implementation, you understand the components that went into its planning. This knowledge will help you remain true to the program goals and understand its “roots” so that you can revisit all aspects of planning as needed.
  • You might consider an informal survey of your stakeholders via email to assure them that you want to honor their voices as the program takes a little different shape under your leadership. Assure them that changes will be made only to benefit students or to ensure that the program follows the letter of the grant.
  • Continue or establish a culture of positivity and improvement. This includes encouraging sites to budget time and resources for staff to feel safe about giving honest feedback and for training.
  • Ensure that systems are in place for recruiting students and staff, choosing and designing appropriate activities, and collecting and managing data for the duration of the program. Be sure to look ahead to your reporting requirements so that there are no surprises at reporting time.
  • Engage in the Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course, and meet with site coordinators to understand existing delegation and to discuss any changes in responsibilities.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

End: Sustaining

Continuing and sustaining is the last phase of the 21st CCLC grant process, though there are elements of this phase throughout the life of the grant. The hallmarks of this phase include culminating events, final data collection and reporting, fiscal reconciliation and reporting, planning for continuous improvement of the program, and sustaining your initiatives beyond the period of grant funding. And yes, it’s possible to be a new frontline staff member, site coordinator or program director coming in at this phase. While you’ll have a flurry of catch-up to do no matter what your role, you can make the most of your circumstances by focusing on your assets — any and all groundwork that has been laid for you. Your investment in wrapping up loose ends will pay off in the role you’ll get to have planning for the next year or grant cycle.

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • Sharpen your skills of observation! The qualitative data you can provide about the growth of specific students and the success of activities will be important.
  • Don’t forget that culminating events are a wonderful opportunity to fully engage families. As your resources allow, budget the time, space and funds for something truly special.
  • Recognize your role in family and community partnerships. As your site coordinator or program director seeks to strengthen and leverage these partnerships, be sure that your interactions with families and community members are respectful and enthusiastic. You can inspire their support!
  • The same goes for student interactions. Program recruitment depends heavily on student word of mouth, especially in high school programs. You might be coming in at the end, but leave students with a great feeling about the future of your 21st CCLC program!
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • Your program director will depend on you for end-of-cycle data collection. Quickly familiarizing yourself with related staff, budget and data needs will be key.
  • Reassure partners about the future of the program, even if leadership is undergoing shifts. Be future-oriented in your conversations, and don’t be shy with specific asks for upcoming cycles. Grant funding is limited, but creative solutions can lead to sustaining programs indefinitely.
  • Continuous improvement is essential at this stage. Give staff and students a safe opportunity to provide feedback, and collaborate with your program director on how to honor that feedback.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • Accurate reporting will be your most important task if you’re joining a program at this phase. Relationships with SEAs, LEAs and site coordinators will be essential. Their investment in your program by this stage is significant, so don’t be shy about enlisting their help!
  • It’s never fun to jump in the moment decisions need to be made, but if you have to, be sure that in your continuous improvement of the program you’re bringing all stakeholders to the table. Some of your program’s initiatives, such as STEAM or including students with disabilities, may have dedicated program teams. If not, now might be the time to assemble those teams in order to have the voices you need to feel confident in your decisions about future years/cycles.
  • Ideas about sustaining your program (or at least some of the enrichment activities your program has offered) beyond your 21st CCLC grant may be one of the reasons you were hired at this phase. Don’t waste any time putting those ideas in motion, connecting with old partners and new, and thinking creatively about leveraging those partnerships.
  • Throughout this “end” phase of your grant year, keep in mind that all the information you’re collecting truly serves these multiple purposes. Bearing that in mind can help you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

Whatever your role in your 21st CCLC program, don’t let the game of catch-up get you down. There will always be folks who want to help, both up and down the organization and among your community partners. Taking a few beats to focus on what’s already been done for you will help you get your bearings, and it might even lift your spirits about the future of the program and your place in it! And, of course, Y4Y will be there right by your side with tools and resources. Before you know it, you’ll be the seasoned afterschool professional lending someone else a hand. Won’t that be the flip side of the coin!