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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!


December 18, 2017

Y4Y’s online courses, archived webinars, and other professional learning resources are always free and available 24/7 to 21st CCLC leaders and practitioners. So please forgive the use of “marketing lingo” in the headline. Here are some highlights of new content added to Y4Y in 2017, just to make sure you don’t miss out:

Citizen Science

By working with professional scientists on real-world problems, students hone their research skills by gathering and analyzing data. Check out the new Y4Y course for ideas that will get you fired up about the potential of citizen science. For a guided tour of course tools, resources and strategies, see this archived webinar. The Y4Y STEM Initiatives page includes links to a range of activities that engage students in the scientific process. You’ll find engineering design activities from NASA, making and tinkering activities from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and watershed-focused citizen science activities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For a deeper dive, set aside an hour or two to go through the updated STEM course. Meanwhile, you and your students can get a taste of citizen science by taking part in Audubon’s 118th Christmas Bird Count (Dec. 14, 2017, through Jan. 5, 2018).

Summer Learning

Stem the tide of summer learning loss with fun activities that target student needs. Another new Y4Y course, Summer Learning, gives step-by-step guidance on designing a high-impact program that students will enjoy. You can use Y4Y’s ready-made Trainings to Go to get others talking and planning for summer. You can also sign up for “The Right Stuff” Summer Learning Series webinars (the next one will be Feb. 7). Looking for ways to get families involved to prevent summer learning loss? There’s a blog post on that topic.

Virtual Institute for New Grantees

If the fall season was so busy that you missed the four-part virtual institute for new grantees, Y4Y understands! The institute’s webinars, PowerPoints and resources are archived and ready when you are. The virtual institute covers four topics: conducting a needs assessment, intentionally designing activities, implementing with fidelity and engaging partners for sustainability.

There’s more to explore! Bookmark the Y4Y website so you can browse the menus whenever you have some free time. If you haven’t visited in a while, you’ll notice an updated look and other improvements.

P.S. Happy New Year from the Y4Y Team!



September 21, 2017

You’ve worked hard to make your 21st CCLC program feel like a second home to children and youth. So how do you ensure that their families feel the same way? Try the three R’s of family engagement: Be a resource, be a refuge and help families refuel! 

These tips and the linked tools can help you put family-friendly practices in place right away. Also be sure to visit the Y4Y Family Engagement course!

 

Be a Resource

- Assess family needs. When family members pick up students, ask them to complete a brief survey or have a brief conversation to learn about areas where they need help. 

- With your program team, map community assets. Find agencies and organizations that target unmet needs. 

- Set up a family information center. Offer brochures and application forms for free or low-cost services, such as food pantries, housing support and children’s health insurance. Put information and forms where family members will see them when they pick up their children. 

- Hold an evening or weekend information fair. Invite students’ families and people from the service agencies and organizations to come learn about one another. Be prepared to help family members complete applications or schedule appointments. 

 
Be a Refuge

- Start by welcoming families, learning their names, using translators if they speak a language other than English, and doing other things to build trust.  

- Help families learn about the school system. Families want their children to do well in school, but cultural or personal factors may make them reluctant to approach school personnel. Help families understand education jargon, how the school system works and how to get help for challenges their children face. 

- Make connections to the school day. You see family members several times a week, so you can show parents what students have done on their homework, and suggest ways family members can help continue the learning at home. Make an opportunity for a casual, friendly introduction to a school-day teacher or principal. 

- Offer a safe space. Work with your facility manager or a local partner and local law enforcement to offer a community recreation space that adults can share with children. 

 
Help Families Refuel

- Nurture social and emotional connections. Hold regular (perhaps monthly) events such as coffee hours where families, program staff and school-day staff can get acquainted in a relaxed setting.

- Create opportunities for physical activity. Arrange for occasional yoga, dance or exercise classes that welcome all family members, including seniors and those with mobility issues. 

- Feed the intellect. Tell families about free or low-cost adult education and job training programs in the community. Connect parents and students to workshops about college financial aid and testing.

- Recognize financial needs. Coordinate with schools and local employers to hold a job fair, so family members can learn about local work opportunities. Provide information about housing support, unemployment benefits and other programs that help to meet basic needs. 

 

A Word About Respect

In all that you do, treat students and their families with dignity and respect. Take time to hear their voices, and to understand their strengths as well as their needs. Whenever possible, schedule program events at times that are convenient for families, and coordinate with school-day activities and community events. Respecting others never goes out of style. In fact, it might be considered the fourth R of family engagement — resource, refuge, refuel and respect