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February 17, 2021

Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Recruiting and Retaining High School Students (RRHHS) holds the premise that in every community, there are high school students who grapple with belonging. This can be especially true for students who are new to this country. Your program can lift up and inspire them to a whole new level of engagement and maturity. Be intentional in how you support these students, and help them chart their own course to adulthood. Looking for ways to help them break through language barriers, find their own place in your 21st CCLC community, and stay physically and mentally strong? Consider combining resources from Y4Y’s new courses on supporting English learners and student voice and choice, along with the new Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students.

Here are some challenges that immigrant teens may face, and where you can find Y4Y tips to support them.

Making Friends

Being the “new kid” as a teenager comes with some daunting statistics about student behaviors like falling in with a rough crowd and experiencing higher rates of substance abuse and even suicide. You can lay the groundwork for countering these statistics by training staff on creating a safe learning environment for English learners. A “safe environment” may be a new and welcome experience for English learners who are immigrants, depending on the circumstances in their countries of origin. Building trust among staff and students is an important first step in helping them build friendships and connections. You’ll appreciate the Y4Y RRHHS Click & Go tools for adopting a Youth Ambassador program because they put friendship-building at the center of your program design.

Cultural Assimilation vs. Family Wishes

In one generation, the U.S. went from being referred to as a “melting pot” to a “tossed salad” as people realized the benefits of keeping unique aspects of one’s home language and cultural rather than requiring people to give up those things to create a single, blended “flavor.” You can build trust by demonstrating to students and families that your program will respect and revere the practices they’ve brought with them. From the Home Language Survey and Knowing Families and Cultures tools to the Cultural Competence Training to Go and Family Goal-Setting Survey, you’ll establish, from the inside out, that your program is a shared effort between families and staff, and that participation in your community means never putting students in the position of having to choose between their heritage and their future.

Language Barriers, Low Literacy Levels and Interruptions in Formal Education

Tips for supporting a wide array of English learners in your program range from hiring a multilingual staff, which may be feasible if your students share the same native language, to using the universal language of math, as Marcy Richards describes in this month’s Voices From the Field: Diversity, Equity and English Learners. You can engage in Y4Y’s full course on the subject for in-depth professional development, or you can brush up on some basic concepts with Y4Y tools like Instructional Strategies for English Learners, Marzano’s Six Steps for Vocabulary Instruction, and a basic Sentence Frames and Stems worksheet, all of which can be downloaded and customized to meet students where they are.

No Sense of Control

There’s extensive research on the correlation between a sense of control in one’s life, and engagement and therefore success. Teens often grapple with feelings of restriction as they desire greater freedom to make their own choices and “do their own thing.” Immigrating to a new country (and learning a new language and culture) during adolescence can add to their frustrations and their sense of “not being heard.” Y4Y’s new Student Voice and Choice course can help! Adapt the Activity Choice Form to reflect your students’ ages and English literacy level. Tools like the Concentric Circles Discussion Format and Focus Group Format give you the added benefit of group work that builds friendship and community while reinforcing student voice and choice. Use the Student Goal Setting and Reflection tool as proof to your students that they have the power to say, to choose, and to control their futures as part of their new community.



December 14, 2020

As the weather turns cold and the country heads into a second cycle of COVID-19 closures, the idea of cabin fever — a phenomenon that already plagued educators in colder climates especially — may have new implications. Drawing from Y4Y's resources, you can arm yourself and your staff for an unprecedented season of cabin fever and serve your students in new and important ways.

You can begin by thinking about the signs of cabin fever, such as impatience, restlessness, general irritability, trouble concentrating, lack of motivation and fatigue. Remember, these look different in students than adults, but we’re all equally prone to them. Here are a few ideas on how to combat each.

Impatience. Right now, life feels like one big waiting game, so it’s only natural that we’re becoming impatient with waiting for a file to download, for class to be over, or for Mom to bring us a juice box. But what if you filled those times with something special so it doesn’t feel like waiting? Here’s an idea: Identify times when your students have to wait, and use transition strategies to help everyone stay focused and engaged. See Y4Y’s Transition Strategies tool for inspiration.

Restlessness. The solution to restlessness is staring every educator right in the face: MOVE. How can you incorporate more movement into your program? Just before the initial pandemic shutdown, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreation Opportunities, which was also summarized in a blog post. A key takeaway that applies even in a virtual environment is the need to incorporate movement wherever you can. For example, have students jump up and down whenever another student offers a correct response to a question. Be inclusive of your students with disabilities when thinking about these goals. Consider these tips from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) for home workouts.

General irritability. Combat negativity with positivity! You can start with Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment and other tools from the course. Thanksgiving is still in your rearview mirror. Practice gratitude with students by having them take turns expressing what they’re grateful for, and why. When the holidays are over and life feels especially dull, liven things up with a joke-of-the day assignment or a dance party to raise spirits.

Trouble concentrating. This is an issue that 21st CCLC programs have always faced after students have put in a long school day. That “brain break” of some social time before jumping into any academics is always key, but cabin fever might bring on the kind of concentration barriers that seem insurmountable. This month’s LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, is a tremendous resource for how and why meditative practices are key for adults and children in achieving a clean mental slate and state. If you missed the real-time webinar, you can catch it in the archive in the new year.

Lack of motivation. Believe it or not, routines can be good for you, and even a path out of the doldrums. After all, a routine is a small set of goals you set for you or your students each day. In Y4Y’s webinar series on approaches to learning, specifically in Webinar #1: Building Trust With Students in the Whole Environment, the U.S. Department of Education's Y4Y Technical Assistance Team discusses the sorts of structures that offer predictability and comfort in the face of the uncertainty everyone is facing right now.

Fatigue. This may be the trickiest symptom of cabin fever to combat. Some students may be suffering from the kind of fatigue that comes from too little sleep. This is pretty easy to recognize in most students. Occasionally, fatigue can result from too much sleep, which isn’t always as easy to recognize. Be sure your program gives students the opportunity to complete all homework, to take that task off their plate. Revisit Y4Y’s Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go to help you recognize and address signs of trauma in your students. Finally, don’t forget the importance of supporting and engaging families if student fatigue persists.

We see signs around the country that many adults aren’t coping well with restrictions that mean their lives have to change — in some cases quite dramatically — for an indefinite period of time to keep everyone safe. Let the lessons of social and emotional learning be your guide to appreciating the resilience and maturity students stand to gain from this period of their lives. While cabin fever might not have a tried-and-true cure, your 21st CCLC program may be the chicken noodle soup that gets your students through the worst of it.



November 16, 2020

Last month, a newly published study came as a pleasant surprise to most Americans. It revealed that overall, the mental health of teens is better now than it was two years ago. Of note, the study is based on a national survey whose sampling “aimed to fill quotas for gender, race/ethnicity, urban/ rural location, and region of the country....” A couple of key takeaways included the value of more sleep and more family time for teens. It also noted an increase in video chatting with friends, despite all the time they’re spending on screens in school and afterschool programs like yours. However dim this glimmer of a silver lining may be, how can you arm your program with this good news and stay together in positivity heading into the winter months?

Y4Y’s course on Creating a Positive Learning Environment gives you direction on laying the groundwork, but more important, points out essential elements to use as your guiding philosophies to be sure the tone of your program is always a positive one. As noted in Y4Y’s July webinar: in a positive learning environment, everyone plays an equally important role in creating a place where everyone feels safe and respected. This environment increases engagement and productivity and enables students to thrive and grow. Remember these words: Equally Important. Safe and Respected. Engagement. Productivity. Thrive and Grow. This may be a bit more challenging when your environment extends to the kitchen tables of your students, but some great ideas were also shared in a June Y4Y Showcase, Creating a Positive Learning Environment at Home. Knowing there’s a chance that teens may actually be more well-adjusted now than their counterparts two years ago, you can make the most of these circumstances.

Equally Important

Why is “equity” such a hot topic today? Our youth are forward thinkers. They recognize the beauty of equity and equality where it’s found, and feel deep concern about places where it isn’t. Tools in Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course, such as the Incorporating Multiple Viewpoints Checklist and staff Training to Go on Incorporating the Democratic Process can arm you with the fundamentals of equity, and therefore positivity in your program.

Safe and Respected

When you use the word “safe” in your program, does it have multiple meanings? While the Y4Y Click & Go on Developing and Implementing a Safety Plan is a must-have to ensure you’re not overlooking physical safety, pairing “safe” with the word “respected” recognizes you also look out for your students’ emotional safety. Be on the lookout for signs of Trauma, and prepare to intervene as is appropriate to your program and host institution. Keep in mind how critical building relationships is to fostering respect and safety between students and with staff. A place to start is the Y4Y Building Student/Educator Relationships Questionnaire. Maintaining positivity in your program without these tenets would be impossible.

Engagement

You’ve all seen it. In fact, probably some of your best program memories are of activities where the students were all so invested, they were clamoring to have a turn, smiling, laughing and excited. Engagement equals positivity, plain and simple. Check out Y4Y tools for ensuring student engagement, such as a STEM course tool Student Engagement Tips for Grades K-12, and the secondary and elementary student interest surveys.

Productivity

Your 21st CCLC program doesn’t emphasize “achievement” in quite the same way the school day does. There are no grades, and activities and projects are paced and crafted around a gentler framework. But contributing to a demonstrable improvement in school performance is what sets 21st CCLC apart from many other afterschool programs. Under current circumstances, your homework help might be the most important way you’re helping your students be productive. Remember, that involves supporting families as well as students (as discussed in this month’s blog post, Together Online). But productivity is the end result of positivity, so if you sense that even this most essential role of your program is struggling, try revisiting these ideas to foster that positive learning environment.

Thrive and Grow

The five skill domains of social and emotional learning are a great gauge of how your students are developing as students and as people. Back to that silver lining around the dark cloud of the pandemic: students are building a resiliency and a resourcefulness that will universally make them conscientious leaders of tomorrow.

Finally: Families. Families. Families. When you think about the very roots and goals of 21st CCLC programs, you already knew the important role of families that the new study echoes. That doesn’t mean your family engagement efforts just got any easier. Y4Y tools like Reaching Out to Families, Supporting and Engaging Families, and Knowing Families and Their Cultures will be assets to your program as you make the most of these relationships. In light of the obstacles to family engagement efforts in non-English-speaking households, please also consider visiting the new Y4Y Supporting English Learners tools for resources such as the Family Goal-Setting Survey.

It’s easy to stay positive when data suggest that young people might be OK after all of this is over, and even in the midst of it. Let positivity be a core value, a driving priority and the glue that allows a new kind of togetherness.



September 18, 2020

This timeless adage honors how crucial diversity is to group success. Even “diversity” is diverse! Differences may include culture, heritage, racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic status, geography, beliefs, personal preferences, and life experiences. Including diverse students (and staff) can strengthen individuals as well as your 21st CCLC program in general. In education, “inclusion” has a special meaning: It’s a term schools and 21st CCLC programs use to describe how they ensure that students with disabilities can meaningfully participate in activities.

Research heavily points to the benefits of inclusion, both for students with disabilities and for students who don’t have disabilities. Your program has many goals, and each of these documented benefits of inclusion are among them. Proper implementation of inclusion will

  • Build a sense of community.
  • Demonstrate to everyone that acceptance of differences is at the heart of your program culture.
  • Improve everyone’s academic outcomes.
  • Develop all students’ social and emotional wellness.
  • Be a celebration of individual strengths, not a focus on deficits.

Finally, inclusion in your 21st CCLC is the right thing to do, both ethically and legally. There are free tools you can use right now to help with inclusion in your program. Y4Y has a series of 10 short, topical implementation guides that are perfect as discussion starters or as handouts to bring new staff up to speed on key steps to a more inclusive program.

Bear in mind that students with disabilities are among those least served during long stretches of virtual learning. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the IRIS Center provides timely tips on helping students with disabilities in a virtual environment. You can also access a webinar, offered over the summer by the Office of Special Education Programs, that covers many more resources to help educators support these students during pandemic-related closures. These resources bring messaging back to the value of focusing on individual strengths. Celebrating what each student can contribute to your program will help everyone recognize it truly does take ALL kinds to make the world go ’round.



September 18, 2020

Comfort foods may be satisfying in substance, but sometimes we crave something different or exotic. The same can be said of program practices. How does your 21st CCLC program build on the basics of substance while experimenting with new flavor combinations to bake up the perfect recipe for your afterschool program?

Keep the Cupboard Stocked

Whether you’re a new grantee or you’ve been in this kitchen a while now, it’s important to remember your fundamentals throughout the program year — the elements of running your program that can ensure its longevity. You have reporting responsibilities, and they all come back to doing what you said you’d do in your grant, which was based on the needs in your area. Depending on your state practices, that grant might have been written before the pandemic struck, but you can still track and report your data faithfully. Y4Y’s Tool Starter Set is the butter, flour, eggs and sugar that every 21st CCLC program will need to ensure success. The Project/Program Planner brings you back to your goals in all you do. Keep lines of communication open with your state agency to understand how best to adapt and report on those goals. For this program year, that adapting may be the most important ingredient in your continuous improvement efforts.

Try Out New Flavors

Has your professional development this summer exposed you to new ideas you’d like to try in your program? Do you wonder if the time is really right to test something out? Without a doubt, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of multimodal learning, especially if you were limited to a single way of supporting your students’ learning throughout the exclusively virtual portions of your programming over the past six months. Hopefully you’ve now navigated how to support some in-person programming and can give thought to things like activities that include visual, audio and hands-on (tactile) opportunities, whether those activities are focused on STEM, literacy, health and wellness, or some other topic.

Don’t forget to fold in some new strategies for ensuring a positive learning environment. The program environment itself differs from in the past, so of course basic safety and interpersonal interactions have a new flavor. You can adapt the Y4Y Setting Up a Positive Learning Environment Training to Go to review the importance of this element of 21st CCLC programming, then brainstorm together on how you can foster the warm fuzzies that are needed more now than ever. If your program is virtual, how can you individualize your welcomes like you once did as students walked through the door? What can you carry over from the old days to keep things as consistent as possible?

Be a Test Kitchen

During Y4Y’s summer webinar series on Strategic Partnerships, in Session 3 on Implementing Partnerships, guest speaker Ms. Marcy Richardson, Manager/Director of the Anchorage School District 21st CCLC Program, shared her practice of partnering with the school district to explore innovative ideas and projects within their 10 program sites. Her background in business management and marketing prompted Ms. Richardson to use this unique approach to forming a strong, two-way collaboration. Her 900 highly diverse elementary students benefit from fresh ideas and resources that different district departments are considering for broad implementation, while the district gets a measurable “beta” test population before expanding to its 30,000 elementary student population. Examples of this kind of exploration range from new cafeteria menu items to robotics. It pays to bring those partners along on new flavor adventures!

Whatever your mix of staple ingredients and new mix-ins, being true to your audience of “taste testers” (primarily, your students) is vital to the success of your recipe for this program year. The best recipes nourish students’ bodies, minds and spirits. They satisfy students’ hunger for knowledge and connection, comfort them with routines that are familiar and safe, and introduce new “taste experiences” that challenge and delight.

Hats off to all of you 21st CCLC chefs who are working so hard to keep students engaged and well nourished, in every sense of the word!

P.S. Y4Y would love to collect and share your best recipes for 21st CCLC success. Sign into your Y4Y account and post your ideas, big and small, on the Y4Y “Recipes” discussion board.