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September 23, 2022

Diverse group of students running in a parkThe school dismissal bell is a phenomenon that should be studied. The second that the sweet chimes grace the ears of students, a sort of shapeshifting happens. Children and youth transform from slow-moving students to track stars hurtling toward the finish line! As they rush out the door to their buses, chaos ensues. Imagine a slow-motion replay of their exit as Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube,” plays in the background as they improvise their “school dismissal dance.” You get the picture.

But not all students head out the door. For some, their out-of-school time (OST) programs are just getting started. This is where the learning continues. This is where it’s all happening.

America After 3PM, a 16-year study published this spring by the Afterschool Alliance, confirms that parents and communities truly value OST programs. The findings below highlight some advantages of OST programs and ideas for making them even better. But wait — there’s more! You already have an OST program that supports student success and values family engagement. Why keep that all to yourself?! Read to the end for some tips on connecting with policy leaders in your school district, reaching out to colleagues in neighboring communities, and expanding your program’s outreach to spread the word on the value of your OST program.

Not Just “Another Brick in the Wall”

The OST programs of today are not where imagination and creativity go to die, and just like students, they’re not “one size fits all.” According to the Afterschool Alliance study, parents recognize a wide array of benefits:

  • Technology is great, but unproductive screen time is a real problem. More than eight in 10 parents in the study agreed that afterschool programs provide opportunities for young people to live beyond the screen by learning life skills and building confidence. Sounds like a recipe for a productive member of society!

Try this: Not all screen time is created equal. Building digital literacy is important to ensure that students can successfully navigate the digital age. That’s why Y4Y created the Digital Literacy Click & Go especially for you. Learn about digital literacy and what your program can do to teach digital literacy skills to youth. Let’s face it — the last thing parents want to do is play the part of FBI agents when it comes to tracking down their children and monitoring their every move. Luckily, most of the parents surveyed (84%, to be exact) agreed that OST programs help to reduce risky behaviors.

  • Physical activity and nutritious foods are super important factors for parents. In fact, these OST benefits were cited by 84% and 71% of parents surveyed, respectively. These factors only grow in importance when considering low-income families, families living in urban communities, and Black and Latinx parents.

Try this: See the Y4Y Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day Click & Go for tools and detailed information to help you make health and wellness a priority for you and your staff!

Let’s Give the People What They Want

You know that OST programs like yours provide students with the tools they need to be successful in and out of the classroom. However, there are areas of opportunity for OST programs to support families as well. Consider the following findings as you seek to fill any gaps you may have in your program to ensure that families feel valued!

  • One of the most important factors in fostering student success is bringing families into the conversation. Children tend to model their attitudes and self-image after family members, so it’s critical that families feel included in their student’s OST journey. However, the Afterschool Alliance study found that only 43% of parents reported that their child’s program offered parent and family activities.

Try this: Y4Y recognizes that children thrive when families are valued, so we created an entire course on family engagement, complete with useful tools!

  • Even though helping your students strengthen relationships in their community can also positively impact their “health outcomes, educational achievement, feelings of connectedness to the community, and economic prospects,” only 36% of the parents surveyed stated that their child’s OST program prioritizes this. Including service learning and community service is a great way to make sure your program is meeting the needs of students and their families.
  • Some parents and families believe that enrolling their child in OST programs might expose their child to “negative influences, experiences, and values, such as bullying and peer pressure.” Unfortunately, only one in four parents said they feel there’s substantial information on OST programs within their community. Parents want to be in the know! Keep them updated with newsletters and social media, and encourage open communication about your program.

Shout It From the Rooftops

Wait, you’re telling me that you already have an OST program that caters to students’ needs, prioritizes family engagement, and provides opportunities for service learning — and you’re not performing a song and dance about it? The world needs to hear about your program! Thankfully, there are ways to make this happen.

Try this: Check Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course. You and your staff will get an in-depth understanding of how to identify strategic partners in your area and develop an outreach plan to engage them and to develop strong partnerships. To convey the value of your program, you’ll also need a killer elevator speech that lets potential partners know what your program is all about and why your program is the one they should work with! The Y4Y course also comes equipped with an abundance of tools that cover important topics such as community asset mapping, conveying needs to partners, and developing an effective memorandum of understanding. We know you’ve got a hectic schedule, so we tried our best to think of everything!

Out-of-school time programs really are a priceless gem that sets students up for success — and parents already agree! So use this knowledge to your advantage! An open and continuous dialogue between families and your staff will only enhance what your program can do. Furthermore, learning how to make the most of partnerships (and the resources and connections they provide) is a surefire way to take your program to the next level.



July 26, 2022

July’s the perfect time to think about expanding your program’s sisterhood (and brotherhood)! Use this helpful checklist to lay the groundwork for staff recruitment and retention as you plan for fall programming. 

  • Budget time for defining or refining your organizational culture and climate. Y4Y’s Click & Go on this important step walks you through how to break down this work if it’s all new to you. Chart your plan using the Implementation Checklist.
  • Show your dedication to an inclusive process by using Y4Y’s Culture and Climate Perception Surveys for staff and students. 
  • Establish or reinforce an effective, ongoing communications channel where staff feel safe providing feedback. This involves a compassionate management style, consistent team meetings, and a way for staff to give anonymous comments to leadership. Y4Y’s Effective Workplace Communication Training to Go can help.
  • Ask for staff input on the qualities they’d like to see in their future coworkers. Then be sure to honor that input when you advertise and consider new candidates. Who knew “resilience” would become a top characteristic that an employer might seek? Yet here we are.
  • Be sure all methods of human resources outreach are updated to reflect the shifts you’ve made in your culture and climate, and why you’ve made them. 
  • Budget time and resources for professional development throughout the program year. The more intentional you are in the planning phase, the more effective your training will be this year. Reminder: Slide 1.6 of the Coaching My Staff section of the Y4Y Introduction to 21st CCLC course can walk you through an assessment of your program professional development needs.
  • Consider a formal mentorship program to match veteran and rookie staff members and foster the sisterhood/brotherhood you’re reaching for.

Start the Healing
The pandemic has impacted employee connections and turnover across most industries. The “sisterhood/brotherhood” metaphor rings true in education because the extreme challenges you’ve faced together for over two years draw you close like family, yet it’s also true that we often turn on those people we’re closest to. You and your 21st CCLC staff deserve a glacier of credit just for showing up, not to mention how consistently you’ve worked to support student academic and emotional recovery. But your staff’s high expectations for themselves and each other might have taken a toll. It may seem impossible to ask staff for more or different investments in students and in your program without risking more burnout or diminishing wellness. 

So, what’s the solution?

The not-so-easy answer is: It will be different in every program. Certainly, every program should emphasize principles of mutual respect in all things. But gone are the days when organization leaders develop language around culture and climate without consulting the people that make up the organization. Your program family will gain strength only by listening to and celebrating every voice. This practice helps you expand your program’s appeal to current and prospective program staff (“brothers and sisters”) who want to leave work each day knowing they made a difference.
 



June 14, 2022

Conference or meeting with elementary school teachers students and parentsDo you ever feel like your 21st CCLC program is simply tapping into an already tightly woven community? This may be the case if your program has been around for a while, you lucky ducks. But if your program is new, or if people frequently move in and out of the area, you may be bringing some families together for the first time. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, serving a mix of “old” and “new” families. Whatever the case in your community, what lessons did you take away from the past program year for engaging those families? They were probably feeling torn by a strong need for supports and a healthy concern about gathering. With tips from Y4Y, reflect on your community’s greatest needs so you can plan family engagement events in the coming year that serve important purposes — including fun.

Now That’s a Fine How-Do-You-Do
Get a jump on those warm community fuzzies this fall from Day One! Staff need to be sure to know their community culture and understand the challenges that are unique to family engagement in your community. Besides tools, Y4Y offers staff training in cultural competence — try to make this important professional development a priority over the summer. (What you thought you knew about your community may have shifted dramatically.) Do you have standouts — some call them “super-volunteers” — who you can reliably go to, even after their children have graduated from your program? You know, the ones who always have their finger on the pulse of the neighborhood (in a positive way — gossips need not apply). Try to keep them on your program team through this slow shift back to “normal.” They can help you set the tone and hit the right notes as you start the program year.

Tell Me What You Need, What You Really, Really Need
Don’t let your community needs be a mystery! A crystal ball isn’t going to tell you what families are looking for when it comes to adult learning opportunities or group activities. Survey, survey, survey! Y4Y offers a family engagement survey and tips on focus groups to get a clear picture of what your families might be looking for from your program. Below are topics that just a few years ago you might not have expected to have such importance. Have potential partners lined up to offer family experiences and adult learning in:

  • Mental health resources
  • Mindfulness and other stress-reducing strategies
  • Response to trauma
  • Financial “rescue” resources
  • Childcare “co-ops”
  • Access to healthy foods

Be sure to gather this data as early as possible for the most effective planning of family engagement events. One important question on any survey: Are you more comfortable online or in person? Be ready for hybrid or parallel offerings for at least one more program year.

Did Someone Say Something About Fun?
As you work with families, you may very well be tackling some heavy topics and situations. Responding appropriately requires sensitivity and understanding. Y4Y’s Voices From the Field guest, Kathy Manley, grew up in abject poverty and later taught children who were in the same situation. She offers poignant insights into recognizing signs of poverty in children and how best to navigate those signs. She points out, for example, that children raised in poverty may sometimes laugh at seemingly inappropriate times as a defense mechanism or a way to find the lighter side of even the darkest subjects. Talk with mental health specialists on your program team about healthy ways to respond — and ways to tap into the “funny bone” as you work with children and adults.

Look for opportunities to build some laughs into your family engagement activities this year. After two years of virtual and hybrid learning, there may be more focus than ever on student learning and achievement. But who says you can’t laugh and learn at the same time? Family engagement events can be a great distraction from the heavier side of life, and you have all the room in the world to build in some fun! Consider shaping a literacy or STEAM event, for example, around:

  • A summer blockbuster comic book movie
  • Your city’s (or state’s) favorite baseball or football team
  • NASA’s 2024 mission to the moon
  • A simulated Olympics, tying academics to physical challenge stations
  • A “real-world” Minecraft or other popular video game event
  • A spin on a traditional American holiday — what celebrations around the world parallel Halloween, for example?

Are You Ready to Engage Current and Future Families?
Does your program culture and climate help you:

  • Welcome and support all students and families?
  • Foster a sense of community?
  • Consider the needs and priorities of all stakeholders (including kids!)?
  • Make room for fun?

If you can answer “yes” to these four questions, congratulations: Your next program’s already set up for a warm and wonderful start that engages all families, whether they’re newcomers or old-timers.



May 13, 2022

A teacher and three of his female pupils planting seedlings in a raised bed in the school garden. All three girls are using small gardening equipment to help plant.The sun is out, fruits and vegetables are in season, you have the luxury of time, and happy moods abound! How will your summer program be intentional in addressing students’ health and wellness? What pieces of a healthy summer can be carried into the next school year? Start with your school partnership and intentional program design to be confident you’re putting health first.

Be Ambitious

When it comes to student health, your program can afford to be ambitious this summer because you’re not in it alone! Your community is invested in your students’ well-being too, so bring them along. With those high ambitions in mind, assess the greatest health needs among your students.

Make Your Intentional Plan

Box checking can be exhausting, and each year it feels like there are more boxes to check. When it comes to health and wellness, take advantage of out-of-school time’s flexibility to lean into feel-good activities that boost spirits and by extension, student well-being.

You Are What You Eat

Nutrition can play a big role in your summer program. Last summer in a Y4Y Voices From the Field podcast, Simone Miranda of the Schenectady City School District shared how her program’s partnership with a local farm led to fresh fruits and vegetables — and career exploration opportunities — for her students. Renee Starr and Megan Grubb from Brooklyn Center Community Schools took this idea one step further by braiding 21st CCLC funds with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every region has some form of agriculture that students can take important life and career skills from. And with a strategic partnership in place, maybe they can even take home some fresh food!

  • What are your community assets? Dig deep into what organizations you can partner with by using Y4Y’s Mapping Needs to Partners, Mapping Community Assets, and Community Asset Mapping tools.
  • As you reach out to new partners in your community, it’s helpful to create an elevator speech about your program. Adapt your speech for existing partners to emphasize the health and wellness needs of your students, especially those that have crept in as a result of the pandemic.
  • With partners in place, consider all the ways good nutrition can be part of your summer. Cooking with students is a great opportunity to practice reading, math, and general problem solving as well as conversations and lessons around what constitutes healthy foods and portion sizes.

Our Friends the Neurotransmitters

Chief among the natural ways of boosting neurotransmitters associated with mental and emotional wellness are exercise, mindfulness, gratitude, novelty, goal setting, and time in the sun. Your summer program is the perfect setting for all of these, and Y4Y has tips, tools, and resources to guide you:



February 10, 2022

More than just a word, “resilience” is a measurable area of growth. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of threat.” According to research, two thirds of any given human population demonstrates resilience through a continued ability to function after traumatic events such as 9/11. Maybe some resilience comes from a natural tendency or family culture to be optimistic — it’s not totally clear yet. But professionals have little doubt that you can build resilience, in young people especially, by adopting a growth mindset. Tools from Y4Y’s Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go, and courses in Stages of Child and Adolescent Development and Social and Emotional Learning, can help your program be intentional in nurturing resilience in your students.

A Foundation of Understanding

Your staff members probably have amazing insights and observations about child psychology after working with students in your program and previous jobs. But what kind of formal training on this topic has taken place to ensure your program offers the best individualized approach to building resilience? Here are some useful Y4Y tools and short trainings to start conversations around understanding what makes students tick:

Time to Implement

Use these Y4Y tools to put interventions into practice within your program space:

Measure Success

Some of your success in nurturing resilience will be evident. The child who lost a beloved grandparent begins to smile and laugh again. The child who was in a car accident realizes that playing out his experience gains him attention and awe from peers who ask questions. Maybe he even shares his fears out loud, building his skills of self-awareness and his peers’ skills in social awareness and relationships skills through empathy. Be sure you’re noting these observations with Y4Y tools and planning for ways to measure the resilience more formally that you’ve nurtured in students.

Turn to Nature to Nurture Resilience

Just as those picture book characters show students different ways to persevere, you can turn to nature to nurture resilience in your students. Consider forest fires. In our limited view, we think of fire as needless destruction, and in many cases, perhaps it does have unnecessary human causes. However, even before forests became a habitat for humans, they had adapted to fire. They depend on a cycle of fire and regrowth to remain healthy. Every student, whether they’re living with mild stress to full-blown crisis, can remember this: From the ashes comes new, stronger growth.