Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers



July 22, 2020

The youth of today are facing a number of learning experiences from the dog-eat-dog world around them that we adults never fathomed at their age. Besides supporting their social and emotional development, you can arm them with the knowledge and skills to become active and engaged citizens of the world. Y4Y’s new Civic Learning and Engagement course offers many of the tools you’ll need.

Set in a virtual courtroom, your guide, Wayne, will step you through strategies for designing meaningful, high-quality projects to help students develop leadership and citizenship skills and connect to the community they live in. When you implement with fidelity, these projects will have a high impact and keep students engaged even after the program ends by raising their awareness of community issues, basic democratic principles and, most important, how these impact their own lives.

You’re familiar with the foundations of professional learning in the Y4Y environment, so connecting civic learning and engagement to your program will be a snap. The course covers eight key strategies:

  1. Identify and engage stakeholders.
  2. Define needs, goals and assets.
  3. Prepare for civic learning and engagement activities.
  4. Set the foundation for civic learning and engagement activities.
  5. Intentionally design activities.
  6. Use best practices for student engagement.
  7. Implement with fidelity.
  8. Celebrate and sustain your initiatives.

The course also has a module on Coaching Your Staff to ensure that your civic learning and engagement initiative is robust. Look for downloadable and customizable tools such as checklists for Brainstorming Civic Engagement Topics and Building School-Day Civics Into Out-of-School Time Projects, as well as Civic Learning and Engagement Project Examples. It may be a dog-eat-dog world, but developing today’s students into the conscientious leaders of tomorrow is our best defense against complacency. You know what they say about old dogs and new tricks!


July 22, 2020

For years to come, it may be difficult to measure the impact of the COVID pandemic on the children of today, given that nearly every student on the planet will be touched in some way by it. Like other challenging times throughout history, the degree of that impact will vary significantly. So, too, will the effects on child development. Y4Y urges 21st CCLC professionals to take some time at this crucial juncture to review our Social and Emotional Learning course and Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go and arm yourself with tools to help students stay as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as circumstances allow. While there’s no simple solution, keeping these basics of a healthy childhood in mind will help you be of greatest value in the lives of your students until that day in the future when this is all behind us. Here are some simple actions you can take:

Practice Frameworks for Social and Emotional Learning

  • Positive youth development supports positive outcomes by fostering competence, confidence, connections, character and caring. Simple action: Individually “catch students with character” from a list of admirable character traits you develop as a group and keep posted over your shoulder in your virtual program. This will build confidence and caring as well as character.
  • Mindfulness development increases the ability to focus on the present moment over past or future events. This can improve executive function skills and self-regulation. Simple action: Build age-appropriate mindfulness techniques into your daily program routine.
  • Trauma-informed practice seeks to minimize the effects of childhood trauma by offering safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration; empowerment; and respect for diversity. Simple action: Connect individually as often as possible with students you believe may be experiencing trauma. Your small, heartfelt gestures can have immeasurable value when you think of yourself as an anchor in the child’s life.

Five Skill Domains of Social and Emotional Learning

  • Self-awareness. Simple action: Ask questions that promote introspection, like “How did you feel in a situation?”
  • Self-management. Simple action: Ask questions that promote reflection, like “Do you wish you had done anything differently in that situation?”
  • Social awareness. Simple action: Ask questions that promote compassion, like “How do you think your friend felt in that situation?”
  • Responsible decision making. Simple action: Ask questions that promote planning, like “How will you react the next time you’re in a situation?”
  • Relationship skills. Simple action: Ask questions that promote collaboration, like “How might you work with others the next time you’re in a situation?”

Simple Practices for Developing Resilience

  • Pay it forward. Doing for others builds self-worth.
  • Express yourself. The skill of accessing and talking about feelings gives you power over them.
  • Hang out. There’s simple beauty and value in social time. That looks different right now, but you can make it a priority for students to have a safe, relaxed space with their peers.
  • Imagine. Talk about the future in happy, sunny terms.
  • Take care. As tempting as it is to “let go” with so much time spent at home, model and encourage good sleep, eating and exercise habits.
  • Lean into the fall. “Failures” can be reframed as new opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Wear your thinking cap. Create micro-opportunities for students to exercise and show off their critical thinking.
  • Call it half full. A positive spin can be put on many things, even a quarantine. Let students know that today’s experts believe they’ll grow up to be stronger, more resilient, and more empathetic adults for what they are currently experiencing in their young lives.

Bring a team with you! Check out Y4Y’s tool for assigning roles and responsibilities around social and emotional learning.


July 22, 2020

Flexibility is at the heart of every 21st CCLC program. Organized chaos is the name of the game. You’ve always found your greatest successes by moving and grooving with the prevailing winds, rather than sticking like glue to a rigid plan. But 2020 has brought a new meaning to the idea of flexibility. If only you WERE on plan B – maybe you wouldn’t be quite so hot under the collar this summer! But if you’re like a lot of other programs, you’ve made several course corrections since March 15. Maybe you’ve hit your virtual stride for summer programming, but see more uncertainty on the horizon this fall. Take heart: Y4Y, too, has been adapting on the fly, shifting to more virtual offerings for your professional development opportunities. Consider these tips – from two Y4Y spring webinar series on intentional program design and literacy – as you continue to go with the flow.

Time Is On Your Side

With less time on site, you and your school-day partners have a little more cushion in your schedules to check in — and doing so has never been more important. Everything feels like it’s happening in a silo right now, but for students to get the most out of the educational experience everyone’s working so hard to pull together, you’ll need to keep all communication channels open. Ask administrators if you can attend their virtual staff meetings in planning for fall so your program is prepared to align and support. Circle back with classroom teachers for key student-level data. Considering all standardized tests may not have been administered this spring, some school-level data may be lacking. Put your heads together on the most important skills or content your summer program can help students with to minimize the summer slide.

Homework Support

Your virtual programming might actually be connecting you with families MORE, not less, than usual. You are, after all, coming right into their homes virtually. How can you fill a need for academic intervention and homework support, especially when classes resume? Some families may be willing and able to support their student in content areas, but could use a refresher on today’s teaching methods or the ABCs of virtual learning. Have them “hop on” for quick tutorials, vocabulary reviews or tips on finding easy-to-use resources. If content can’t be easily supported at home, consider breakout rooms for your virtual program. You can offer a math room, a science room, a reading room or whatever is needed from day to day.

In the Service of Others

Now is the perfect time to think about service-learning opportunities, and to give students more ownership of their projects. Have them think about the unique needs around them – whether in the school community, neighborhood or town – and reflect on what they can do to help. Remember that project-based learning and service learning go hand and hand. Many programs are electing to produce homemade masks. But what are the best materials? Where are they available? What simple sewing is involved, and how can that be learned online? How can they be packaged safely, and where’s the best place to donate? Another idea is partnering with your local senior residential facilities, where residents are feeling totally isolated. Arrange a letter-writing campaign or regular video chats. Many citizen science projects are thriving during the pandemic. Each of these ways to contribute and learn make tremendous impact on young lives.

Training Day

Proper training is essential to setting your staff up for success. Summer is always a great time to take advantage of courses and Trainings to Go from Y4Y — both of which can be done 100% virtually. Also think about content-specific skills, such as those needed to successfully implement literacy activities virtually. Consider holding virtual staff meetings with breakout sessions on how to facilitate virtual book clubs or how to implement reading comprehension strategies. Read-alouds are a great example. This age-old favorite can and should be so much more for students than just story time. An enriching read-aloud demands planning ahead, such as using sticky notes to remind yourself where in the book you’d like to have students learn a new vocabulary word, reflect on literary elements, or do some critical thinking. Instead of assuming all staff possess this skill, consider targeted training and peer practice sessions.

Read Read Read

Think outside the box when it comes to book clubs in your program. You might task students with reading the same book or the same short story, article, blog or poem. Another idea is to suggest they each find something to report to the group on a common topic, theme or genre. By posting questions ahead of time to your social media page or discussion board, you can conduct asynchronous learning and reduce student anxiety about the virtual spotlight, setting them up for success during your group literary meeting. Make the most of your shared screen time — students can give a commercial-style book review, or create a short video with family consent to share at the end of each unit.

The Best Advice

Friends of Y4Y shared some of their do’s and don’ts as your COVID-19 plan B, C, D through Z takes shape. Shannon Browning of Macomb, Oklahoma, shared a bit about their rural 21st CCLC summer program, which has been offering virtual activities in the arenas of cooking, story time, science experiments, and crafts, based on student interest inventories taken last September. They’ve made sure they’re staying in contact with school-day partners to build on what students took away from the school year. Since internet access is an issue among her students, Ms. Browning emphasized the importance of maintaining phone contact and delivering activity materials with clear directions and personal notes from staff. A key to engagement: have staff produce activity videos themselves; don’t just direct students to online resources. After all, 21st CCLC is very much about relationships, and even though some staff members had to learn how to use their phones to record videos, they got a kick out of it, and the students and families love staying connected this way.

Tim Zoyac of the Pathways 21st Century Program in Bridgeton Public Schools, New Jersey, noted how challenging programming has been when 30% of his students are without internet connections. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to meet students where they are. He suggests programs reach out to their parent organizations, professional partners and state agencies to learn where the gaps are, and be prepared to offer support in new and possibly very different ways. This will look different from community to community, and even from school building to school building.

Building on these themes, Johanna Friedel from Greenville, Texas, said their program has closely monitored virtual attendance as a data point to determine what engagement efforts are working and what are not. Their program continually monitors site-specific and overall problems, goals and needs. From the beginning, they saw the value in centrally locating resources and plans on a Facebook page. The program also created its own YouTube channel in response to the heavy need for video offerings. She advises programs to make sure they keep instructions for at-home learning activities simple and basic. Finally, recognizing the social and emotional needs unique to the current environment, Ms. Friedel spoke of student leader video interviews being shared out to inspire students to be open about their own feelings around everything from teachers and staff to quarantine in general. Kids didn’t sign up for plan B either, but we’re all in this together!


June 16, 2020

What if brain scans showed actual thoughts, including ideas, opinions, interests, hopes, dreams, beliefs and assumptions? Just think of all the ways you could use that knowledge! You’d better understand your students. You could design activities to help them examine and improve their thinking, learning and communication skills. Those skills could serve them well in school and throughout their lives. If only there were some way to make thinking visible.

Good news: There is! Even better news: You don’t need a brain scan or high-tech equipment to make students’ thinking visible. According to Harvard’s Project Zero Visible Thinking initiative, simple but powerful “thinking routines” will do the trick.

Thinking routines are structured ways to help students ask quality questions, listen (to themselves and others), and document thoughts and thought processes to make them “visible.” Once thinking is made visible, students can more easily spot things like unexamined assumptions, factual errors, missing information and faulty reasoning.

Thinking routines can be used with students of all ages and ability levels. Writing isn’t the only way to make thinking visible. Students can draw their ideas, speak them into a voice recorder, or have an adult or fellow student act as a scribe.

Y4Y has several ready-to-use tools you can use to engage students in activities that will activate their growing minds and make their thinking visible. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Mapping Knowledge and Wonders has two mind-map layouts — one for students to map what they already know about a topic, and another for what they wonder about the topic. This is a great tool for project-based learning.
  • Planner for Brainstorming is a checklist you can use to plan brainstorming sessions and to follow up later on those elements that need improvement or revision. If students are leading the sessions, share the checklist and techniques with them ahead of time to help them build their leadership and facilitation skills.
  • Incorporating Writing Into Citizen Science Activities has ideas for creating a “culture of thinking” by incorporating writing into citizen science activities.
  • Comprehension Checklists include questions you can use to make reading comprehension problems “visible” so you can help students understand and analyze text during the reading process. There’s a checklist students can use to monitor their comprehension and “make visible” the reading strategies they used.
  • Rubric for Assessing Social and Emotional Competencies is a self-assessment students can use to identify (“make visible”) their strengths, and think about which ones they’d like to improve, across five categories of life skills: social awareness, self-awareness, self-management, relationship management, and responsible decision making.
  • Effective Questioning has questions to use when reading aloud to or reading with students. Model self-questioning strategies to help students internalize these practices so that they can access them as needed while reading. Teaching questioning techniques can help students become more engaged and active readers.

Tip for getting started: Pick a tool or routine mentioned above, and try it out with your peers at your next staff meeting.

Thinking can seem like a mysterious process that’s internal and invisible. “Thinking routines” are a low-tech way to uncover hidden thought processes so they can be examined, assessed and improved. Make them part of your repertoire, and your students will be better thinkers, planners, creators and lifelong learners. And who knows? Maybe one day those brain scans will catch up with your visible thinking practices and “bright idea” will have a whole new meaning.


June 16, 2020

Independence Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate how countless cultures come together to share the unique identity of America. Are we a melting pot? A tossed salad? Whatever your choice of metaphor might be, how is this practice reflected in your program’s culture and climate? Check out Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course to do that self-check.

Mission, Vision and Values

When was the last time your program team sat down to reflect on what your program is all about? If your celebration of diversity isn’t woven into the fiber of your stated values, consider shaping new culture statements to guide your program’s mission and vision of what you plan to achieve. It might be something as simple as “We will honor the diversity of our staff, students and families.” Check out Y4Y’s Positive Learning Environment Implementation Checklist to walk you through the essential steps. When you incorporate the idea of celebrating diversity into the very foundation of your program, you have a much better chance of meeting that goal.

Celebrating Diversity in Practice

Once you’ve established the celebration of diversity as a goal on paper, how can you demonstrate to students and families that you’ll “put your money where your mouth is,” as the saying goes? Here are a few simple ways to foster a positive learning environment by celebrating the many cultures that make your program and our country a rich tapestry:

  • Take a virtual tour together of a museum that celebrates an artist or culture outside the U.S., such as Museo Frida Kahlo in Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico, the Pinacoteca de São Paulo in Brazil or the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, Kenya. Thousands of other virtual museums are available online.
  • Listen to music from different countries and have students identify something they like about it.
  • Invite students to take turns sharing a game or sport that’s a tradition in their family, whether their family recently immigrated or has been in the U.S. for generations.
  • Choose a simple word or object as a class, such as “dog,” that you’ll look up in 20 or 30 different languages. Have students compare the sounds or spellings or symbols.
  • Explore picture books that tell traditional stories from other countries.
  • Design a web of inclusion. On a whiteboard or online, you can ask a student, “What’s something that’s interesting or unique about yourself that you’re willing to share?” Listen to the response, then ask the next student to connect this to his or her own life. For example, if the first student says, “I’m right in the middle of five children,” the next student might say, “I’m the oldest, but when I was little, I had an imaginary older brother and that would make me a middle child.” The third student could then connect with birth order or imaginary friends. Encourage questions and pose some of your own that demonstrate your interest in different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Offer an art project around flags of the world. Students might wish to create a flag from a country of their family’s origin or a place they hope to visit one day.

Don’t Forget the Warm and Fuzzies

Your positive learning environment will be complete when you follow these simple strategies as you connect individually with your students. An educator can never be sure what messages a student experiences in life outside your program, but it’s fair to guess they may not always be affirming ones, especially if they have cultural barriers to overcome. You wouldn’t be a 21st CCLC professional if you weren’t already a warm and caring adult to children, but some days you may just be looking for a little extra help in forging those more difficult relationships. Try Y4Y’s questionnaire for building student/educator relationships

The poet Maya Angelou once said, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” What an uplifting way to view our unique country and the safe space you’ve created for students.