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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.


July 16, 2019

This quote is often attributed to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She was known for her commitment to human and civil rights, and she often advocated for the youth of this country. Parents and out-of-school time professionals share the beautiful dream of giving young people a thriving future. Working toward that goal together can improve the chances for success.

Since the 1960s, research has shown that students can reap significant benefits from family involvement in their education. This is especially true for disadvantaged students. Among 21st CCLC families, only 50 percent of parents have completed high school, and 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs. What does this mean for your family engagement efforts? First, it means it’s important and worth doing! Second, it means you may need to challenge any assumptions that low levels of family engagement mean disinterest or “lack of commitment” on their part. You’ll need to consider and address such issues as the transportation and scheduling difficulties families at lower socioeconomic levels may face as they work to put food on the table.

Your program staff can build their knowledge with Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement, a tool in the updated Y4Y Family Engagement course. A helpful tool for making a creative plan is Y4Y’s Supporting and Engaging Families. If your family engagement efforts fall short of your expectations, take heart. Emerging wisdom surrounding success cites the importance of learning from failure, whether your own or someone else’s. In fact, “automatic success” doesn’t necessarily give you layers of information you can use to advance your expertise. It sounds like a cliché, but failures truly are learning opportunities. You and your staff can adopt this positive approach by conducting the Family Engagement Training to Go with a critical eye toward learning opportunities.

As Mrs. Roosevelt’s contemporary, Humphrey Bogart, might say, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

For additional information on the benefits of family engagement, and ways you and your staff can forge family partnerships, visit the updated Y4Y course on Family Engagement.



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: