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August 6, 2021

A sense of purpose drives most success in life, whether that success is as a parent, a home health aide or president of the United States. By tapping into that human instinct in every one of your students, you can make an immeasurable impact on their lives. Two Y4Y courses, Citizen Science and Civic Learning and Engagement, offer ways to help students find a path to community participation that can give them a sense of greater purpose well beyond their years in your program.

Citizen science means that everyday members of the community can make impactful contributions to scientific advances. This crowdsourcing of information takes little training or even deep understanding of all the principles at work, though often participants in a citizen science project gain significant knowledge through their involvement. Have your students felt like bystanders for the last 18 months, helpless as a new virus wreaked havoc on the world? Biomedical scientists are always looking for volunteers to advance their work. CitizenScience.org has a full list of projects soliciting help in all aspects of COVID-19. Explore many other topics, ranging from studying water quality to space feature hunting, at CitizenScience.gov or through your own internet searching. Just keep these simple tips and tools at hand:

In a similar way, Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course offers helpful guidance for channeling students’ interest in their community into meaningful contribution. Youth of today are increasingly engaged in the world around them. Whether this is because of social media, cameras on cell phones that make more human experiences universally accessible, or a less tangible raising of collective consciousness, there’s no denying that young people today are aware of the problems around them and they’re eager to fix them. Public figures like climate change activist Greta Thunberg, education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and gun control activist David Hogg may very well reflect the passion and drive you see in the students in your program.

It’s never too early to start sowing those seeds of community purpose in your 21st CCLC program. Start by

Citizen science and civic engagement aren’t mutually exclusive. You may opt to offer both kinds of opportunities to your students to expand the breadth of your program. Studies tell us that they’ll expand their skills, feel empowered, grow into responsible and productive citizens, and even live longer by establishing the practice of being contributors. Most famously, the Harvard Grant study, now 83 years running, demonstrates that “people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” according to Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger. Your program, along with the school-day, may be the first communities your students are experiencing. Help them expand that vision of community beyond your walls, your city and even the country. Your students will benefit, and so will the world.



July 19, 2021

Is your health and wellness the first thing you let go of in your personal life when things get hectic? Is it also the first thing to give way when you need a little more space or time in your 21st CCLC program? Look to Y4Y’s Click & Go resources so that by partnering with school-day professionals, you’re committing to everyone’s well-being.

Consider New Risk Factors

The long-term effects of the pandemic will take years to fully document, but here are some concerns you might already have about your students:

  • Possible infection by COVID-19, including unknown lifelong health risks
  • A more sedentary lifestyle for a full year
  • Food insecurity, which could mean hunger, unhealthy attitudes about food and/or even higher processed food consumption than before COVID-19
  • Neglect or trauma in the family, which adds to their Adverse Childhood Experiences score (ACES), also bringing with it lifelong health risks (see Y4Y’s Background on Trauma Research Brief or Mini-Lesson: An Introduction to Trauma-Informed Care).

In other words, the time is right to focus on student health as an important aspect of their overall recovery.

Exercise Is Important, But Not All Important

Naturally, a generous dose of good old-fashioned running around or playground time is a go-to in your 21st CCLC program. When weather permits, those outdoor activities that allow for student choice, teamwork and physical exercise are irreplaceable. But some obstacles to your “plan A” for student health and wellness might include limited time, a program space that is not conducive, weather that drives you indoors, and possibly student mask wearing, which some students might find troubling during physical exercise. For these reasons and many more surrounding their future wellness, you can look to weaving in mindfulness exercises for students to address many of the same health considerations that exercise does.

Follow the Evidence

Chances are, your school district is well aware of the proven health benefits of mindfulness. Dozens of controlled studies indicate that active, routine participation in mindfulness or meditation can do the following:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Slow cognitive decline in older people and improve mental clarity and focus at all ages
  • Reduce cell aging
  • Improve immune response
  • Help to counteract psychological pain

These strong arguments for introducing your students to routine mindfulness exercises are sure to sway your school-day partners if they don’t already have a formal initiative in place. Or, maybe a wellness initiative exists, but little or no emphasis is given to mindfulness. Your program’s efforts will have greater impact if you collaborate, so Y4Y developed a microlearning Click & Go with easy-to-follow guidance to either tap into existing efforts or start a new ball rolling. Important tools to get you started are the Quick Guide to Initiating a Partnership and the Conversations Starters tool. Like any other collaboration with the school-day, your program’s voice at the policy table will amplify results — in this case, boosting students’ health and wellness recovery.

Ready to Implement

Luckily, simple mindfulness exercises require little training for staff to lead. As an added bonus, when staff engage in these activities, they reap the short-term reward of being more patient, compassionate educators and the long-term health benefits noted above. But be sure to get staff on the same page at the outset. Y4Y’s Staff Health and Wellness Self-Assessment and Self-Assessment on Personal Views of Health and Wellness will help. Also see Y4Y’s Best Practices for Mindfulness tool.

Although practicing mindfulness can help you learn how to let things go — an argument, disappointment, anxiety or even grief — the practice itself is something your program should keep a tight grip on. And be sure you’re giving students the tools they’ll need to do likewise throughout their long, healthy lives.



May 20, 2021

Did you know that intentional support doesn’t have to be active? Your English learners’ brains may be taxed throughout the school day by the mental effort of learning new content in a foreign language. Consult Y4Y’s new course, Supporting English Learners, for ideas on how you can let language learning “simmer” in your students’ minds by using fun and engaging activities.

Social vs. Academic Language

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to France. Are you more likely to be learning phrases like “May I please have butter with my bread?” or “Wouldn’t Kant be amused by the juxtaposition of this graffiti on a city beautification billboard?” The bread-and-butter sentence is an example of “conversational” language — words and phrases people might use in everyday life. It uses a simple sentence structure and concrete nouns. It places a low cognitive demand on listeners. Another name for it is “social language.” What about the second sentence, the one about Kant? While the musings of a legendary philosopher might come up in conversation, even some native speakers might pull out the dictionary to look up “juxtaposition.” That sentence is an example of “academic language,” which uses a more complex sentence structure and abstract nouns (things you can’t see, hear, touch, feel or smell). Unless you’re helping an English learner prepare for a vocabulary test, stick with “bread and butter” words when you’re giving instructions or having a casual conversation.  

Context-Embedded vs. Context-Reduced

Another consideration when supporting English learners is how much context you’re offering for English vocabulary building. Context-embedded language offers visual clues, gestures, facial expressions or specific locations to help learners use their prior knowledge and intuition. Providing context isn’t exclusive to social language exchanges. For example, a lesson in geography can be presented with a whole host of visual clues, yet a social conversation about an experience of being bullied could be challenging. So, be sure you’re offering plenty of context. Visuals, visuals, visuals!

Cultural Competence Is On You

You can offer English learners greater ease in communicating when you recognize that it’s the responsibility of your staff to understand the cultural norms your students bring to the program every bit as much as it is for students to learn the norms of your program. Here are some elements of cultural competence, with examples that show the importance of that cultural competence:

  • How they use symbols. The @ symbol can be used in Spanish to include male and female. Amig@s means friends of both gender.
  • How they problem-solve. Perfectionism in the Japanese culture could make it emotionally challenging for a student with this heritage to embrace the “freedom to failure” that we advocate in problem-based learning projects.
  • How they communicate nonverbally. Indian head-nodding can be agreement, but a student from this culture might nod along to give the impression of understanding or agreement out of an internal pressure to appear polite even when confused.
  • How they learn. Some African cultures have demonstrated their concern for children through strictly adhered-to rules, so these students may be uncomfortable questioning new authorities, even on noncontroversial topics.
  • How they resolve conflict. Girls from many parts of the world may not be as experienced as boys in advocating directly for themselves in uncomfortable situations.
  • Their ways of knowing. Verbally passing wisdom between generations is part of most cultures, especially tribal cultures, and your staff should honor this mode of knowledge building.

What “Passive Support” Looks Like

Your program probably isn’t teaching English to students who aren’t native speakers. Rather, you’re supporting their learning and engagement. So what does “passive support” look like in the context of your program? As we’ve covered here, you’ll focus on social exchanges with lots of context and visual cues, and be sure your knowledge of their cultures allows them the greatest space for growth. Within these parameters, consider activities like these:

  • Bilingual Mad Libs. A universal favorite that often leads to belly laughs, these side-by-side fill-ins can help students build vocabulary and exercise their understanding of parts of speech. Talk with your school-day partners and design them yourself based on current curriculum. Don’t forget to allow for a generous side of silliness!
  • Bilingual Board Games. Bingo is a favorite, but the sky’s the limit! No budget for game purchases? No problem! When students design the games themselves, they’ll have even more fun. This could mean adapting donated English-only games (partner with your local Goodwill store or ask your elementary school to hold a game drive), or a quick internet search for DIY board games could give you dozens of ideas for helping students build their own from scratch.
  • Icebreakers. What are icebreakers, after all, but communication devices! Try a guessing game like “I Spy”, or maybe a group drawing. Each student adds a new element to a drawing and explains in English what it is and why they added it.
  • Show and Tell. Another childhood favorite, your students have the opportunity to research and rehearse what they’ll tell their peers about a cherished object or photo.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Whether virtual and your students have to search out URLs, or in person and they’re looking for three dogs in a row in your program space, scavenger hunts are a lot of fun. If you’re worried about fierce competition, offer different kinds of winners besides “first” to finish. Most creative answers? Most collaborative? Most independent?

However passive this kind of support, you can still be intentional, being mindful of your needs and goals. Consult the Y4Y Supporting English Learners Intentional Activity Design Planner to organize that process.

Young Minds

Remind your students that we spend the first part of our lives learning so much because that’s when our brains are most ready for the learning! A new language is no exception. Help your ELs understand, too, that knowing multiple languages will give them a life-long advantage in understanding linguistic concepts. Finally, give yourself a big pat on the back every time you sneak in that passive support on their journey.



May 20, 2021

Through the pandemic, 21st CCLC programs across the country learned just how valuable cooking lessons can be. Many plan to carry them on indefinitely. Discover point by point all of the skills and knowledge that you can build in your students with a good old-fashioned afternoon in the kitchen.

  • Build literacy skills. Reading a recipe expands your students’ vocabularies. Depending on the difficulty level of your selection, students might learn to distinguish between chop, mince, dice and cube. Putting these terms, and their differences, on their brain’s back burner can be an introduction to nuance. We know that extensive vocabulary building actually broadens thinking, self-expression and ultimately success. Check out the Y4Y Literacy Everywhere tool for more tips.
  • Exercise math skills. Cooking is a "textbook" lesson for working with fractions (e.g., “mix 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda”).
  • Learn about real-world science. Again, depending on the age of your students, there are concepts in chemistry and physics to explore in cooking. We’ve all heard the story about how the first chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be chocolate cookies but their baker misjudged how the chocolate would behave in the oven.
  • Collaborate. Too many chefs in the kitchen? No such thing in your 21st CCLC program! But each student needs to understand her or his role in each task, take turns and play to their strengths. The STEAM tool for Selecting Student Roles for Group Work is easily adapted to the kitchen.
  • Develop healthy eating habits. Preparing a simple soup in the kitchen instead of popping open a can means using fresh ingredients. You can also help students develop the habits of reading labels on packaged foods and making healthy choices. Does the recipe give the option of substituting whole milk for cream? How does the fat content compare? Every ingredient is a potential research project in healthfulness. Be sure to partner with school-day professionals for consistent messaging and to see what gaps they may be seeking to fill. For tips, see the Y4Y Click & Go on Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day.
  • Plan, budget and shop. Cooking is a great opportunity to exercise the planning process. Instead of starting your cooking lesson with a pile of ingredients and the needed equipment, start it with a recipe and a conversation around what you have and what you’ll need. Now that you can shop online together, go back to that cream soup and ask: how does the cost of cream compare to milk?
  • Honor history and cultures. Just as each ingredient is a research opportunity in healthfulness and cost, each recipe is a research opportunity in history and culture.

As your students increase their comfort in the kitchen, you can make recipe selection a group activity, honoring student voice and choice. Every parent of a picky eater knows that a dash of voice and thick slice of kitchen help can increase a child’s interest in the resulting product! Or, rather than seeking agreement for each recipe selection, if your program is small enough, you might assign each student a week to bring in their own favorite recipe from home. Beef up your family engagement and invite a family member to come in to help.

Afterschool educators across the country warmly invited students into their home kitchens (virtually) throughout school closures in a resourceful effort to keep them engaged. Just imagine how well loved those in-person cooking activities will be when students can take in those savory aromas from a delicious pot of soup simmering on the back burner while all their learning simmers in their bright young minds.



April 22, 2021

Pablo Picasso was 12 years old when he sketched Plaster Male Torso with the technical skill few artists master in a lifetime. Yet he became best known for his cubist and surrealist works that challenged the boundaries of the art world and even set new ones. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators can take a lesson from Picasso’s journey in recognizing that innovation is born of understanding the basics, then envisioning new horizons with an open mind to boundless creativity. When STEM education is combined with the creativity of the arts, you get the design thinking approach that underpins Y4Y’s newly updated STEAM course. In this overview of last month’s LIVE With Y4Y event, Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education, you’ll come to appreciate how art and STEM actually do make a fine pair.

This LIVE event was designed to

  • Define and demonstrate experiential learning approaches: the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process.
  • Connect experiential education to academic skill building, particularly in science and mathematics.
  • Provide examples of experiential learning in out-of-school time.

Dr. David Coffey, Director of the Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University, offered key takeaways, including these:

  • Making meaning of mathematics through experiential learning can offer reluctant students a new opportunity to understand material.
  • Reflection at the end of a problem-solving experience can counteract the “learned helplessness” many students have around math.
  • Educators need to shift traditional “I do” practices to “we do” and “I do” by guiding student learning rather than always directly instructing on concepts.
  • Facilitators don’t have to have perfect content knowledge as long as they’re willing to be a fellow explorer with their students and open to their own learning. This can also be referred to as radical collaboration.
  • The act of teaching, itself, reflects the scientific method, as teachers make revisions based on experimentation.
  • Think of “failure” as an acronym: “First Attempt In Learning Unless Reflection Exists.” In other words, reflecting on failure propels learning forward.
  • Design thinking is also called “human-centered design.” Staff facilitating these kinds of projects need to be curious about people, and convey that curiosity to students. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Remember: Curiosity is contagious.

Teaching the scientific method has been central to scientific education and practices. This process involves these steps:

  • Determine a question.
  • Research the question.
  • Develop a hypothesis.
  • Test a hypothesis through experimentation.
  • Collect data.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collected.

Design thinking, an educational tool to solve real-world problems, is gaining traction in STEM education today. To employ design thinking, the student will chunk problem-solving into these steps:

  • Empathize with the community you’re seeking to serve.
  • Define and understand the problem or challenge.
  • Ideate potential solutions.
  • Create a prototype.
  • Test the effectiveness of the prototype.

Mr. Ariel Raz, head of Learning Collaborations at the Stanford d.school, shared his organization’s views and practices around design thinking:

  • Simply put: Design thinking is a creative pedagogy that means “make something that matters.”
  • The liberal arts and the sciences intersect through design thinking because empathy and understanding of user needs drive the scientifically based making.
  • Giving students a creative challenge is difficult to reconcile in a system that’s too heavily standardized. As educators and learners themselves, facilitators need to grow comfortable with failure.
  • A fundamental departure of design thinking teaching from problem-based teaching is having no preconceived problem or project in mind. This is the empathy step.
  • A backward-mapping skill is important to use in the design thinking process, like the “project zero thinking routine.” The thinker might examine and analyze a known tool and identify its parts, purposes and complexities. Commercial fabricating demands this kind of inquiry.
  • A Stanford study of average-achieving middle school students demonstrated that teaching them design thinking techniques allowed them to apply creative problem-solving strategies in new contexts.
  • A growth mindset is baked into design thinking; failure is necessary to success. Perseverance and grit go hand in hand with the philosophy of failing early and failing often to achieve the best outcomes using design thinking.

Ms. Deborah Parizek, Executive Director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), shared insights on STEM education:

  • HFLI is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning learning, teaching and leading to better impact the experiences that students, their families and educators have to the greater good of underserved communities.
  • Having a teacher who’s a partner in learning enriches a student’s experience.
  • Design thinking builds academic skills like collaboration, critical thinking, data collection and analysis, and communication. All of these skills will add to a student’s academic and professional success.
  • HFLI strives to help students become confident and independent learners, and describes learning to navigate obstacles as an orientation of innovation. This skill building fosters inner motivation for students to commit and contribute to the world around them.
  • Ms. Parizek shared project examples ranging from kindergartners proposing improved pet environment prototypes to college-bound students tasked with redesigning equity access to higher education opportunities for Hispanic youth. Each went through similar design thinking processes.
  • In out-of-school time intervention, 21st CCLC programs have the opportunity to help students identify their unique strengths to build confidence in their part of team collaboration, then use that confidence to challenge them in areas of need.

A final STEM approach discussed was the engineering design process. Partnerships between 21st CCLCs and national agencies use this vehicle to help students explore a myriad of STEM professions.

Ms. Jamie Lacktman, Robert K. Shafer 21st CCLC Program, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, described the engineering design process her program exposes students to in partnership with NASA:

  • Students should understand from the beginning that they are driving research and design decisions.
  • This initiative has led students to appreciate the layers of research that go into a design challenge; often understanding one concept demands researching numerous others.
  • Effective designing means ensuring that everything adds up — both budgetarily and physically.
  • Asking “why” is central to innovation.
  • The NASA design challenge has improved student perceptions around gender and ethnic diversity in STEM professions.
  • This year’s hybrid format lent itself to a friendly competition between two prototype teams that has amplified enthusiasm.
  • Although a rubric is available to measure the project success, there are many other measures — like students adapting, committing, rising to challenges and recognizing the long-term benefits — that are every bit as meaningful.

A common thread in all of these STEM education approaches is the role of students in their own learning. These principles can be applied in 21st CCLC programs to large-scale challenges as well as day-to-day problem-solving. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s newly updated course on STEAM to help you implement design thinking in your program today!