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September 18, 2020

Students are more likely to become engaged and stick around for more when you build variety into your program. In traditional settings, students, especially teens, vote with their feet. When programming is online, disengaging can be as easy as clicking the “leave meeting” button. Why not take the guesswork out of knowing what will capture students’ attention and imagination? You can adapt Y4Y’s Student Survey for use with returning students to get their take on what’s working. Use the Elementary Student Interest Survey/Inventory or Secondary Student Interest Survey/Inventory to get a strong sense of what interests them.

As you’re customizing these surveys to make the most of program activities, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Offer many options. Think about those conversations at home around what’s for dinner. Vetoing is easy! But coming up with ideas isn’t always so easy. If you haven’t had hamburgers in a while, you might have forgotten how much you love them, or that they exist. When you offer your students a wide variety of interest areas, you’ll have greater success at homing in on something that really tickles their fancy, as grandma used to say.
  • Everyone is so over screen time. There’s a strong possibility that even your most avid gamers have had enough of screen time and are looking for other ways to engage in your program. Get creative with several flavors of project-based learning activities (use the Y4Y Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning in STEM or the Service-Learning Toolbox). As an alternative to search engines, use your survey to gauge how students might feel about doing real-world research (like calling partners in your community on the phone to brainstorm how they might combat poverty or improve a nearby green space) and collaborating outdoors with peers. (Don’t have tables outside? Partner with a nearby hotel looking to replace/donate their outdoor event tables, or use simple oilcloth upside down to sit on the grass.)
  • Sneak in literacy. You can offer a host of interest areas on your survey that embed literacy opportunities in ways that aren’t obvious (or painful) for your students. A treasure hunt for words can be done at home or in your program space. How might students design and theme their own word hunt? Your survey can package it as a “design-your-own-science-word treasure hunt” or “design-your-own-pet-word treasure hunt.” You can also sneak literacy into activity suggestions like board games, create-your-own cartoon, or create-a-new-language options on your customized survey.
  • Give plenty of physical options. There’s not a team sport on the planet that’s going to capture every student’s attention, but keeping active is important for your students’ health and wellness. Be sure your survey options range from shooting hoops to dancing to push-up contests and everything in between.
  • Be a social media stalker. If you’re still not confident you can develop a comprehensive list of what kids might be interested in, remember that even very young students have become involved on social media, for better or worse. Following hot musicians, sports figures and vloggers online can help you tune into popular culture and create a customized inventory that piques student interest.
  • Reach out to families. Don’t forget the benefit of talking to families in your efforts to sniff out those student interests. Use the customizable Y4Y Family Survey to help you discover what you’ve done well and areas you can grow to meet the needs of your students.

You know that “warm welcome” feeling of coming home to the smell of freshly baked cookies? You can create that much-needed feeling of comfort for your students this year. Start by discovering what matters to them. Then “follow your nose” to connect program offerings to student interests.



May 19, 2020

The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.

Prepare for Liftoff

The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.

Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.

Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:

Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.

Writing addresses how we structure language.

Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.

Always Start With Data

Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.

To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.

Let’s Get SMART

With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop  goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.

Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:

  • Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
  • Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
  • Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.

Let Your Activities Soar

Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.

The Third Dimension

When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:

Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.  

Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!

Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.

Intervention Activities

Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.

The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.

Enrichment Activities

When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.

Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.

It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.

Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?

Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.

On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!

BDA

The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.

More Ideas for Literacy Activities

  • Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
  • Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
  • Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
  • Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
  • Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
  • Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
  • Write a reflection on a science experiment.
  • Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
  • Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.

You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.

Nail the Landing

To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.

An Engagement in the Family!

You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!

One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.

How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!

Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.

Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.

Measure Your Success

The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.

Speaking of Measuring…

How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.

Fidelity has four measures:

  • Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
  • Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
  • Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
  • Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?

When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.

Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.



December 12, 2019

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you will [always see the crack in its] reflection.” ―Lady Gaga

The special role of 21st CCLC professionals is to act as a center of gravity for the students you serve, bringing together the efforts of families, community partners and school-day educators in a positive and constructive way. Gimmicks, manipulation, and pretending to care don’t work in the long run, and you know that. You want to be the real deal.

Nothing could be more important than earning the authentic trust of your school, community and family partners, but life is full of people who are slow to trust.

Patience is essential to building trust. Trust can’t be rushed. Take the time you need to avoid serious missteps, which can be hard to correct, as Lady Gaga so poignantly observes. Even when time feels so preciously limited, it never hurts to take a beat before you speak or act.

Transparency is also key. Hiding “bad news” from partners has been debunked in personal as well as professional partnerships as ultimately damaging to building true trust. You demonstrate that you have faith in a partner when you honor that partner with the truth.

Remember that keeping your word, following through, and demonstrating that you value relationships are additional key elements to building trust. Y4Y’s Supporting and Engaging Families tool has ideas on when and how to achieve this with families. The Y4Y Partnering With Schools Rubric has insights on what a strong school relationship looks like, and the Partnership Evaluation Rubric in Y4Y’s new Strategic Partnerships course examines healthy elements with community partners. All of these tools can help you build trusting partnerships.

Also at the center of a trusting partnership is mutual understanding of goals. The Responsibility Checklist for Principal and Program Director is a helpful tool to maintaining a trusting partnership with your school-day counterparts. The Memorandum of Understanding Tool spells out considerations you’ll want to take into account at the beginning of a community partnership to maintain trust for the life of that relationship and beyond. Understanding Program Families and other Y4Y family engagement tools set the stage for open dialog on program expectations, illustrating that activity planning is a joint effort.

Finally, a critical practice in building trust is demonstrating that you appreciate the individuality of your partners — that they’re more than their roles. Here’s an example: When you take your child to Dr. Goodhealth, does the doctor call you by your name, or does she call you “mom” or “dad”? If Dr. Goodhealth refers to you only by your role, do you wonder if she leaves the room and refers to your child as “the GI bug in exam room three” instead of the one-and-only “Sarah”? Changing your practices with something as simple as calling students’ parents by their names and learning a little about them will demonstrate that you care about them for more than their role in your life or program, and thereby foster trust. Use the ideas in Y4Y’s Reaching Out to Families tool to help you connect. Also, be aware of the challenges your students’ families may be facing. Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement is a Y4Y tool that can broaden your awareness.

Just like that mirror, never forget that broken trust can and should be repaired.



October 10, 2019

“Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become a leader, success is about growing others.” As a 21st CCLC program leader, you no doubt see the wisdom in this insight from business leader Jack Welch. After all, supporting and acknowledging your team’s professional growth benefits your program as well as individual staff members. It also helps you retain staff because it shows you’re invested in their success and treasure their contributions.

Y4Y’s new online Human Resources course walks you through nine key strategies you can use to manage and develop your staff. It covers everything from hiring to training to building a positive work environment to managing staff performance. Here are three tips you can start using right away:

Help staff members find their sweet spot. If Natalie loves to plan, enlist her to help plan the next Family Literacy Event or Citizen Science Experience. Once she’s had success, provide opportunities for her to grow her skills and use them in new ways. For example, ask her to lead a planning team, create an event planning checklist for staff, train others in event planning, or join a strategic planning session. If these tasks seem to take her out of her comfort zone, provide encouragement and support. Helping her find the “sweet spot” between current and potential abilities will help her grow.

Provide feedback to focus and inspire your staff. Let’s say Natalie loves planning so much that she offers to help students plan their culminating project presentations. As you observe her interact with students, you hear her say things like “Let’s do it this way” and “Here’s a better idea.” Should you call her aside and say, “Natalie, you’re making too many decisions for students instead of letting them make their own. I’d like to see you improve in this area.” Or should you say, “Natalie, I’d love for our students to develop their project planning and decision-making skills. Would you be willing to team with Linda to plan some coaching strategies to help students learn and practice these skills?” Which feedback is more likely to inspire and support Natalie in changing her approach? For most people, the second approach works best. See the Coaching My Staff section of Y4Y’s Human Resources course for ways to coach your staff (especially site coordinators) to program gold!

Recognize good work. Use formal and informal strategies to tell staff members their contributions are noticed and valued. For example, during employee reviews, be specific and give examples of what employees do well. Implement an employee recognition system to spotlight effort, innovation, problem solving and results. Recognize individual and team efforts. See Y4Y’s Employee Retention Training to Go for ideas you and other program leaders can use to keep staff engaged.

For more ideas on ways to treasure your staff and help them grow, see Y4Y’s new Human Resources course. To share your own ideas and success stories, leave a comment below. 



August 9, 2019

Experts agree that heeding student voice can help out-of-school time programs engage students and help them grow academically, socially and emotionally. Sometimes, though, when the defining characteristic of your program seems to be noise, you might think you have more student voice than you can handle! How can you be sure you get it right? Here are some quick tips and Y4Y tools.

Engage Students in Program Decisions

Consider these questions. If you can’t answer “yes,” decide what actions you need to take:

  • Are students represented on your program planning team?
  • When your team starts to plan for the next program term, are all students included in a goal-setting activity or discussion?
  • When your team reflects on results at the end of a program term, are students included, too?

Also consider this:

  • Who thinks about program culture and climate, and sets norms for behavior — staff alone, or do students contribute?

Involving students in decisions helps give them a sense of ownership in program activities and supports engagement. Equally important, it equips young people with important skills like collaboration, communication, caring and reflection.

Do Formal and Informal Observations

The next time you’re surrounded by students in your program space, conduct an informal observation: Close your eyes and listen.

  • Maybe you’ll hear comments like this: Wow! I get it! Cool! Can we do that again? I want to try that, too.
  • Or, maybe you’ll hear this: Go away, I’m doing this. Get somebody else to hang with. Do I have to do that now?

This type of quick, informal check can tell you how things are going in the moment, so you can act immediately if students and colleagues need help to find their focus.

To capture information for designing an effective schedule and engaging activities, use a formal observation tool. Y4Y’s Observation Checklist will help you consider staff and student engagement, fidelity of implementation, and the status of the physical environment. The data you gather can help with intentional design of student activities and staff professional learning events.

Conduct Surveys and Use the Results

Want to know how students and families feel about your program, and how you can do things differently or better? Surveys offer a quick, anonymous way for audiences to tell you what they think. Here are some Y4Y survey tools you can use:

When you ask others to respond to a survey, be prepared to react in turn. You won’t get future feedback if you ignore what respondents tell you now. After you analyze the combined data, be sure to share the results. You can post charts on the wall, include numbers in the electronic newsletter, or announce results through social media. Present the data beside plans for future activities to demonstrate how audience input helps to shape your program.