December 8, 2015

Guest blogger: Patrick Duhon, consultant and former director of the Providence After School Alliance

This is the first of two articles on planning for summer programming. January’s entry will look at program themes, staff preparation, and program outcomes and measurement.

While some school districts wait until spring to start summer planning, 21st CCLC and other out-of-school time providers need to plan early. Start between now and the new year, and you’ll be ready to deliver a robust program next summer.

Why so early? Your first step is getting the major players and pieces, including funding, in place. Here are the basics that deserve your immediate attention.                                                               

First, do advance planning with school and district leaders: 

Start by strengthening alliances with your advocates in the school system. Help them understand your program’s contribution to stemming summer learning loss.

Reach out to new partners in your district and demonstrate how your summer learning goals align with important academic outcomes and social and emotional learning.

Provide as much data as possible — pre/post test results, youth development outcomes, grades, test scores, independent reports or evaluations — anything that underscores the quality of your program.

Estimate your program capacity and the costs for scaling up your program; show your partners the largest number of students you could serve and the full costs for you to deliver that program. Determine the cost for the most robust program possible — but also know what you could be cut and still offer a high-quality program.

Once you’ve aligned your champions and determined the costs, identify the funding sources, know when you can tap them and secure the funding:

It’s important to note that summer programs usually run over two fiscal years. That’s true for Title I funding, a major potential source from schools, as the fiscal year is July 1-June 30. Show the district and partner principals the wisdom of funding some upfront costs, such as planning, training and supplies, before June 30. This will put a smaller portion of summer program costs in the next fiscal year. Ask soon, because schools usually submit Title I reallocation plans to states by January.

Considering both fiscal years might help you with other funding sources, too. Be mindful of this when budgeting and fundraising.

Research on high-yield out-of-school time programs — in the summer and year round — shows significant youth outcomes. Combine information on research with data from your program to connect to funding from other potential sources, including these:

Career and technical education funds: Work with your district to incorporate career awareness and exploration into your summer activities, and make a case for getting support from federal Perkins grant and local workforce development funds. Districts often struggle to provide these mandatory activities for elementary and middle school students, so may appreciate having your summer program connect youth with a variety of professional fields.

Other federal title funding for special populations: Your program can provide opportunities for English language learners and students with IEPs and special needs to thrive through hands-on, experiential learning. Districts often want more opportunities to offer these students.

Private sources: Align your summer program with STEM learning or another focus area of private and family foundations. Be creative by asking funders for “matching grants,” and use these to get district funds. Foundations win with new investments, and districts win by showing school boards they leveraged private funding.

 


September 11, 2015

The levels of excitement and chaos may seem to rise out of control when the school and program years get started. Not to worry, because Y4Y can help you “nail” the right combination of both elements to engage students and take advantage of their desire for free exploration. You create the framework through project-based learning, then tap gently to facilitate student learning and development.

Real-Time Virtual Learning

Your peers across the country have made Project-Based Learning the most popular course on Y4Y. Because of that, the Y4Y project team continues to work on new ways to extend your professional learning around this effective strategy. We call our newest offering a real-time virtual learning series; our first cohort started September 1 and will complete their experience on September 25. Virtual cohort members agreed to attend at least three of four live webinars, to participate in online discussions, and to conduct offline activities and explorations. The series will provide certificates of completion to cohort members who meet the participation requirements.

If you missed the enrollment window for “Project-Based Learning: Hands On, Minds On,” we can let you know about future real-time virtual learning events. Give us your e-mail address, and we promise to be in touch.

Here’s a glimpse into the first week’s webinar, where discussion included ideas about how to incorporate student voice into project planning. Activity leaders may start the process with a student brainstorming session that defines which topics students want to explore. If you don’t regularly give students opportunities to conduct such sessions, the “Planner for Brainstorming” tool on Y4Y will help you establish a structure, conduct the session and reflect on results.

Focused Podcast

As you begin a project and help students form work teams, you’ll consider how to group students. The first podcast produced for the learning series is titled “Who Are They?” It discusses how personality types play out in team settings, and can help program staff think about creating teams and assigning tasks in ways that help students develop both social and academic skills and knowledge. 

Online Course

If your program wants to help students grasp the big ideas of school-day academics and develop the 21st century skills they need to succeed in college and career — while you also create a fun and engaging environment for learning — try project-based learning. Research shows that this instructional approach, also called inquiry-based learning, helps students master core content, increases motivation to learn and improves attitudes toward learning. Get more details about these and other benefits in the Project-Based Learning Research Brief, one of the tools in the Y4Y course.

You may choose to start project-based learning through one of its close cousins, such as service learning or civic learning and engagement. Projects in these areas can connect students to their community and civic life in fun and fulfilling ways.

Wherever you start, look to Y4Y for learning resources and helpful tools. Most of all, get ready for the controlled chaos of busy teams of students who get totally engaged in pursuing answers to their driving questions.

 

 


August 31, 2015

The Summer Institute (July 27-29) rounded up plenty of learning opportunities for out-of-school time professionals. Topic strands included family and community engagement, STEM, literacy, improving program quality, serving students with disabilities and more. Whether you were “back in the saddle” with us in Dallas or home at the ranch, you can review Y4Y sessions and get handouts and other materials. Find the Y4Y training team’s three presentations (in PDF) and associated handouts on the 2015 Summer Institute page.

Y4Y Session: Empowering Youth to Actively Participate in Prevention

This session — available as a video recording — describes how to use Y4Y resources to enhance implementation of afterschool drug and alcohol prevention programs. Learn how drug and alcohol use affect student achievement, explore interactive activities that are designed for grades K-12, and develop strategies for engaging families and building partnerships around prevention. 

During the session, participants learned how to find their state’s drug control update (see the “Texas Drug Control Update” handout for an example) to get a snapshot of local drug and alcohol issues that programs can use to focus their prevention efforts. To access the update for your state, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp and click “Policy and Research” and then “State and Local Information.”

Participants also brainstormed ideas for project-based learning and explored K-12 activities they could use right away to engage students and their families around prevention. “The Amazing Brain” and “Protecting Your Brain” are two of the Brain Power modules from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These address elementary-age students and incorporate learning in both science and prevention. The modules for middle school students combine short, informative student “magazines,” such as Weeding Out the Grass, with games that check their understanding, such as “Marijuana Bingo.” For high school youth, “Heads Up: Real News about Drugs and Your Body” provides fun activities that provide openings for deeper discussions about drug and alcohol prevention.

Y4Y Session: Investing in Family Engagement

Building family engagement in your program is easily worth the investment of time, energy and resources when you see the value in terms of student success. Use the materials from this session to explore best practices for improving and developing relationships with families.

During the session, participants watched the “Benefits of Family Engagement” video, then discussed what they already do and what they would like to do. After brainstorming about common challenges to family engagement, they used the “Overcoming Challenges” tool to identify possible underlying causes and potential solutions. Participants also used Y4Y tools to reflect on strategies to develop a more welcoming program environment for all families and begin some action planning around ways to support families and focus staff training on specific family engagement goals.  Find all the tools and resources from this session onon the Summer Institute page.

Y4Y Session: Building Literacy Through Fun and Games (Grades K-5)

Literacy after school can incorporate play that helps students gain critical academic and 21st century skills. This session helped participants see how to improve understanding of the building blocks of literacy and implement engaging literacy activities such as a vocabulary parade, finger play, poetry and song, and a picture walk.

Participants watched the “What is Literacy” video and discussed what it means to be literate in this technological age. As they reviewed the five components of reading, participants tried out phonemic awareness and phonics activities (from “Phonemic Awareness Activities”) and took part in a “Vocabulary Parade,” using Tier 2 words from the Word Up Project Lists as inspiration for their costumes. Participants viewed The True Story of the Three Little Pigs “reader’s theatre” example from Y4Y and shared how they practiced reading fluency in their programs. The session ended with a review of different Before, During and After activities to support comprehension (from “Comprehension Activities”) and effective questioning strategies. Participants were encouraged to think about how to incorporate literacy learning throughout the program day (using “Literacy Everywhere”).  Find all the tools and resources from this session on the Summer Institute page.

 

 


July 17, 2015

The laid-back days of summer are perfect for getting young people outside to explore the neighborhood, talk with community members, and think of ways to improve the places they live, play and learn. In fact, student-generated civic engagement projects can provide powerful lessons in “how society works” and how groups and individuals of all ages can make a positive difference.

For example, the students in your afterschool program might decide they’d like to turn an unsightly vacant lot into an obstacle course or community garden. They’d need to find the property owner (which might require a visit to City Hall or the County Courthouse), ask permission, develop a detailed plan and rationale, solicit advice and participation from local business and community leaders, obtain any necessary permits (another trip to City Hall) and work together to make it happen. By encouraging them to dream of what could be, and to turn dreaming to doing, you can help young people develop meaningful civic knowledge, skills and dispositions. 

The “Civic Learning and Engagement” materials on Y4Y make it easy for you to get started. This special section of the Project-Based Learning training module includes examples of civic learning and engagement in action, a process for helping students generate and act on their own ideas and tools for successful civic engagement projects.

Opportunities for civic learning and engagement are especially important for low-income and minority youth served in 21st CCLC programs. Researchers have found that low-income youth are less likely to become politically engaged than their more affluent peers. Results from the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress show that a persistent civic achievement gap persists among racial and ethnic groups. Less than a fourth of those taking the assessment (22 percent) said they had worked on a group project, and only 2 percent reported going on field trips or having outside speakers.    

You can make a difference by opening the door to active involvement in local civic projects that interest your students and helping them reflect on their experiences.   

 


June 17, 2015

Just like the youth your programs serve, no two families are alike. Often we think of diversity just as race or ethnicity, but it has many other aspects (e.g., social class, geography, age, abilities). Acknowledging and better understanding differences can help build cultural competence and break down barriers to family engagement in your programs. 

Cultural Competence

What comes to mind when you think of culture? Many people compare culture to an iceberg because the surface aspects of people’s cultures, or parts that the world sees such as style of dress and types of food, make up only a small part of the whole culture. Most people’s ideas of who they are and their culture come from much deeper aspects of self, such as religious beliefs, family ties and ideas about friendship.

During a recent Family Engagement and cultural competence training activity, participants reflected on what they believed were their surface aspects of culture and what they believed were deeper aspects. After, participants shared with partners, and a few commented that this activity helped them realize how often we make assumptions about families and don’t ever get to know them on a deeper level. When we understand families on a deeper level, we will better understand the students we serve and increase our ability to engage them and their families in our programs.

Family Engagement

There are many strategies you can use to make culturally diverse families feel more welcome and involved in your programs, and to overcome the challenges to family engagement. Consider using an Understanding Families Program questionnaire at the beginning of the year to start building communication. This will help families share information and see themselves as resources for the program. Be proactive in building relationships with families through parent newsletters, good news postcards or other ideas from the Reaching Out to Families tool. Plan intentional and personalized next steps with the Knowing Families and Cultures tool to consider a variety of methods for involving families.

Additional Resources

Our approach to understanding and connecting to each family and understanding their culture must be personalized and based on research. Help your staff actively recognize their individual cultural lenses and/or biases and learn how to be respectful of families and children by engaging in cultural competence scenarios.  Also check out the Family Engagement Resource Providers webinars for effective tips, strategies and activities to support family engagement efforts.

For more web-based resources to improve family engagement into your program, visit Y4Y’s Family Engagement Learn More Library

Also, please be sure to check out the Family Engagement plenary panel discussion and many breakout sessions that will occur at the Summer Institute in Dallas, Texas. More details will come soon, so stay tuned for announcements from our partner federal contractors.