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May 22, 2019

Your students have spent the school year being fed and watered. It’s time to shine the bright summer sun on their budding minds, and watch those colorful petals unfurl!

Tilling for a New Crop: Reflect

As you review data to identify and invite the students who most need support during summer months, also take time to reflect on ways you and your students have bloomed over the past school year. What strategies ”fed and watered” this growth? Have you told your colleagues and students about ways you've seen them bloom, maybe by overcoming a challenging situation, learning a new skill or daring to try something new?

Try these ways to review data and identify students who most need support:

  • With your program team, use your continuous improvement process to review your program’s spring session to see what worked well for students and staff. Note any programmatic issues that disrupted growth. Grab your gloves and pull those weeds out of the mix!
  • Your stakeholders — including teachers, principals and parents — can offer valuable advice on this year’s crop. Meet early to revisit your academic and enrichment program essentials with these cultivators of young minds to strategically target recruitment.

Sowing the Right Seeds: Recruit

Be intentional about recruiting students who can benefit most from the summer program you’ve designed. Based on teacher recommendations and needs assessment results, make direct invitations to the students and their families. For ideas about structuring and managing student recruitment, start with the Y4Y Summer Learning Youth Recruitment Planner tool, and also try these strategies:

  • Take advantage of family and community activities to set up an information table where families can learn about your summer program activities and goals.
  • Advertise your program through social media. Be specific about program goals so you attract the students and families you hope to serve.
  • For more recruitment ideas, visit the Implementation Strategies section of Y4Y’s Summer Learning course. See Step 5. Intentional Design: Recruit Students.

Helping Families Harvest: Identify Local Resources

For students who don’t have access to summer programs, try these strategies to support summer growth:

  • Coordinate with community partners to distribute materials about summer activities at libraries, museums, parks and historical sites around your district.
  • Participate in spring school-based family activities to help sing the praises of community resources and offer at-home ideas such as those in the Y4Y Family Engagement Strategies tool and the Learn More Library of the Y4Y Summer Learning course. Here are some examples from the Library:


April 11, 2019

When family members join the band, student learning rocks. Y4Y’s updated Family Engagement course can help you plan a variety of high-interest, high-impact activities that families will look forward to doing — whether at home with their child, at your program site or in some other location in the community.

If you’re thinking about taking the course, but have limited time, or aren’t sure where to start, here are some ideas:

  • Want to sample the topic with a high-level overview? Check out chapter 1 in the Introduction section. This chapter describes the benefits and importance of family engagement, and how it aligns with 21st CCLC program goals. 
  • Would you like a playlist that describes all the steps for planning to implement a family engagement plan? Download the Y4Y Family Engagement Implementation Planning Checklist
  • Are you the “band leader,” the one responsible for leading professional learning at your program or site? Explore the Coaching My Staff section to get tips, tools and ready-to-use presentations.
  • Want to preview or sample all the components? Start here for links to the Introduction, Implementation Strategies and Coaching My Staff sections, as well as course tools. There’s also a Learn More Library with links to selected external videos, publications, web-based resources, and lesson plans and activities.

When you fit it into your schedule, you’ll find that Y4Y’s Family Engagement course helps you tune up your practice, get everyone on the same page and amp up the learning!



March 21, 2019

Designing activities that engage families and address their needs can improve your program’s performance. As you plan activities, be sure to look at your family needs assessment. If you haven’t checked needs recently, the Y4Y Family Engagement Survey can get you started. Find it and many other resources in the updated Family Engagement course.

Here are five activity types that can add horsepower to your program’s family engagement engine:

Skill-based activities: These activities help adult family members gain new knowledge and skills, serve as good role models, and support and nurture their children. Topics can include GED preparation, English as a second language, nutrition and healthy living, and understanding the school system. For some topics, you might want to partner with the school, the district or local agencies.

Enrichment activities: Engaging in enjoyable activities can help family members strengthen connections to program and school staff, build friendships with community members, and explore and expand their interests. Topics might include arts, crafts, exercise (such as Zumba or yoga) and attending cultural and sporting events.

Family and student shared activities: These activities pull family members into student learning while introducing ways they can support their children. Topics can include activities with a high fun factor, such as educational games, and future-focused activities like college and career planning.

Leadership activities: Family members can become “learning mechanics” for your program when you engage them in roles that involve making decisions, taking leadership or mentoring peers. When family members serve on your program planning team, lead special events or advocate for your program in the community, they take ownership and feel valued.

Resource-linking activities: You provide important support for families when you make them aware of community resources. Consider working with partners to design events that introduce employment services, food banks, literacy support and more. Your program might host a vision or dental health screening, or create a resource table where families can take discount coupons and information when they pick up their children. For more, see this Training to Go on Connecting Families to Resources.

Remember to communicate! The best family engagement events are the ones family members attend. So, make sure everyone knows what’s coming. You can send notices home with students, of course, but also use other ways to communicate. For tips on using social media, see our recent Y4Y post: Social Media: Where to Begin.



July 16, 2018

How is your summer program going so far? Are students engaged and attending? Retention can be a real challenge this time of year, when you don’t have the automatic incentive of school attendance to support program attendance.

Two keys to retaining students in summer and out-of-school time are family engagement and student engagement. Ideally, you already have some engagement strategies in place. For example, if you’re going to have an attendance contract with incentives for compliance, that needs to be set up at the outset. If you decide to have a parent liaison — a tactic proven to improve retention — you need to recruit a volunteer or part-time staff member well in advance. Here are more ways you can add to your retention toolkit if your current strategies aren’t enough.

Family Engagement

The younger the student population, the more family engagement matters. Here are some ideas for keeping parents and caregivers involved.

  • Pick up the phone. Call families of children who’ve missed more than a day or two. Let them know their child’s participation is important to the child and to the program.
  • Send materials home. Keep families engaged by showcasing what their children are doing. Suggest “conversation starters” about an aspect of program content that families can discuss together, followed by simple activities the whole family can do at home — find examples here.
  • Set up a family meeting. Involve whole families in program content with a fun, active event.
  • Recruit family members to help with programming. It’s not too late to get family members who aren’t at work during the program day to help with field trips, games, art activities, reading aloud or any activity where you could use an extra (untrained) adult.
  • Make a “good news” call. Boost retention by calling families to report children’s academic or behavioral gains.

Student Engagement

Keeping young people involved in program content and activities is important no matter the age group. It’s especially vital for high school and older middle school youth, whose parents have less influence over their attendance and who juggle other priorities that compete with program attendance. 

These ideas for engaging students are long-term strategies, but now’s a great time to start!

  • Set up a culture of high expectations. An environment in which students hold one another accountable will go further than any number of reminders from adults.
  • Get students involved in authentic work. You’ll get built-in motivation from project-based learning that delivers products with tangible benefits for the students or the community. Use this checklist with students and staff to gauge participation levels.
  • Tap into the power of peer groups. Students are more likely to show up when they know their group needs their creativity and input — and will miss them if they’re gone.
  • Support staff to build strong relationships. The quality of youth-adult relationships is an important factor for getting young people to come back. Try using positive youth development approaches and other ways to create a positive environment.

If you haven’t already built these retention tactics into your program, what can you add today? What can you put on the planning list for next year?



April 20, 2018

As more people use mobile devices to stay connected, texting seems like a natural way to inform and engage families. If your 21st CCLC program is considering it, here are some things to keep in mind:
 
Have a plan. Meet with your program team to discuss whether texting might be a good tool for your communications toolbox. Discuss possible pros and cons. Who will be in charge of setting it up, creating and sending messages, and responding if a family member sends a message in return? 
 
Select a texting platform. A texting platform, also called a short message service or SMS, lets you send messages to multiple subscribers at once. With most platforms, you can import contact information from a spreadsheet, which makes messaging easy and quick. Some platforms let you store messages to be sent automatically. It’s smart to test the platform with team members to work out any kinks and to make sure everyone knows how to use it.
 
Get family members’ permission. On your program’s student enrollment form, where it asks for family members’ cell phone numbers, also ask for permission to send text messages from the program. Remind families about this option periodically in letters or newsletters, or in person.  
 
Use texting to remind about actions or deadlines. Texting works best for quick reminders like “We hope to see you Friday at 7 p.m. at the high school for the ABC Program’s student showcase!” Texting isn’t the best tool for explaining concepts like why it’s important for students to present their work to an audience.  
 
Keep it short. Messages that get to the point respect families’ time. Also, if your message is longer than 160 characters, some phone carriers will break it into two parts. Be specific, but not wordy. 
 
Limit the number of texts you send. If parents know you’ll send texts only to share important or useful messages, they are more likely to pay attention when you write. 
 
Personalize when possible. Some texting platforms enable you to personalize messages you send to a group. Also, sometimes, you might choose to send an individual message to just one or two families.   
 
Proofread before you send. Double-check times, dates, spelling and grammar. If you’re not sure about something, ask a colleague to take a look.  
 
Don’t over-rely on texting. Some families might not have a mobile device, and some might choose not to sign up for text messages from your program. So don’t make texting your only form of communication. Delivering a message multiple times in multiple formats is a good practice, no matter what you’re communicating. That’s why major companies often advertise their products in a variety of ways.       
 
Y4Y’s Family Engagement course points out the importance of making information available in a variety of formats and languages that families can understand. Texting is just one of many possible tools your staff can use to overcome common challenges in communicating with families. Also take a look at the recent Family Engagement Virtual Institute for a wealth of resources.
 
Does your 21st CCLC program use texting? What has the experience been like? What benefits and drawbacks have you seen? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your ideas and strategies with peers on this Y4Y discussion board so that others may benefit from what you’ve learned!