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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.



August 7, 2020

Your 21st CCLC program has much to offer students, especially those with fewer opportunities than their more-affluent peers. As you reflect on student needs, it’s unlikely that the question of program priorities has ever carried more weight than it does at this very moment in time. Chances are, helping students feel safe is at the top of your list. After all, how can students focus on learning if their minds are engaged in worry?

Safety can mean many things. Freedom from threats of physical danger or harm might be the first thing that comes to mind. But there’s also social and emotional safety — a feeling of acceptance and support that frees us to express ourselves and take the “good risks” that learning requires. In the current flurry of activity, as you prepare for a fall opening unlike any you’ve experienced as a 21st CCLC professional, you’ll feel more confident in every step, in every decision, if you and your colleagues jointly address two essential questions: (1) What can we do to make students, families and staff feel safe as they participate in program activities? and (2) How can our program culture and climate support “safety,” in all its forms, as a priority for all? Answering the second question will help you answer the first one!

You’re in luck because Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course is shaped around key strategies for addressing your program’s culture and climate. The Culture Climate and Perception Survey is a great tool to be sure you and your staff are starting off at the same place. Try doing the staff survey individually. Collectively, you can then reflect on who you are as a program and what you want to become. What do you value collectively? What are your priorities?

Someone might ask, “Is it OK to change our program priorities just because the world around us is changing?” It’s not only “OK” — it’s critical that your priorities and values reflect the immediate needs of your students. Accept that you may need to spend more time than usual on basic health and safety measures, knowing that one day soon you’ll have the luxury of arranging field trips and other community-based experiences. Revamping your activities to accommodate social distancing might not feel like “improvement.” That word implies “better than,” and maybe that’s not how you feel this year’s program is going to look. But “better than” can be “better suited to.” If your revamped activities are better suited to current conditions and student needs, your program is remaining faithful to continuous improvement. Even if those amazing STEM projects don’t look the way you imagined, and the simple “high-fives” in the hallway that have always motivated students and staff have to take the year off, you can offer fun, creative activities and positive feedback in other ways that are better suited to the circumstances.

Here's an idea: In June, Y4Y presented a four-part webinar series, An Artfully Formed Positive Environment, with sessions dedicated to sketching your organizational culture and ensuring a positive learning environment, appropriate safety measures, and social and emotional learning. Consider hosting a virtual watch party of these timely strategies, rich with voices from across the country, and discussing them with your staff in light of current circumstances. Give everyone a chance to express their ideas and concerns so that you can address them as a team. That way, you can head into the fall with a shared goal of paving a high road for your students, where the path is dry, the view is fine, and there’s room for all. That road can lead to success, to safety, to basic well-being — it’s up to YOU to determine what your students need most right now. Y4Y believes in you (air high five!).



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.