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October 21, 2021

Charming football stories, like that of real-life Michael Oher (featured in the beloved book and film The Blind Side), remind us that each teammate has a role of equal importance to play. So why should all the glory go to one? Y4Y offers numerous tools within several courses — from Including Students With Disabilities to Student Voice and Choice and beyond — that will help to ensure equity in your program and that nobody’s hogging the ball.

The quarterback leads the team, calls the huddle and ultimately decides who has the ball. This is your 21st CCLC program director (PD). To work toward greater equity, a PD should

  • Gather stakeholders to be sure the program mission reflects your team’s dedication to equity. Consult tools like the Positive Learning Environment Implementation Checklist for guidance. Knowing families and cultures is another great place to start.
  • Train staff on creating an environment that amplifies student voice with the goals of explaining how group norms can support a program culture that values student voice, and defining and developing those group norms with students. Place emphasis on equal opportunities for all voices in that training.
  • Be sure to consult your state and local education agencies for standard resources around language and initiatives relevant to you, like Minnesota’s LeadMN.

The tight ends and fullbacks might do a little catching or running, but a lot of blocking. These are your site coordinators. Their role in supporting equity in your program is to make sure that a play that was called with the best of intentions can be translated into real yardage. Your site coordinators should

  • Begin by ensuring equitable student voice and choice in practice. Check out the Y4Y Student Voice and Choice Implementation Checklist.
  • Be sensitive about all program communications, like your program’s Family Handbook (you can download and adapt a Y4Y sample), and all program forms (see Y4Y’s Process for Developing Inclusive Forms tool).
  • Advance the work around positive group norms by using Y4Y’s Group Norms Agreement. This is the student-driven aspect of your program culture, so getting student buy-in on equity is key. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised on that score. And on that note…

The wide receivers and running backs are the little guys that really get you down the field. These are your students. Not only do they need your protection at the snap; you want to be sure that each one has a turn at possession. This makes for a much livelier game and offers your best chance for a win. Really demonstrate that your 21st CCLC program is the place for students from historically disenfranchised groups to get a leg up:

Finally, your safeties, or frontline staff, are your last line of defense. Legislation around 21st CCLC programs is specific about who your program serves. You can be sure you’re within the letter and the spirit of the law when staff members ensure opportunity for enrichment and advancement to the students who need it the most. Staff should

Back to Michael Oher and the critical role of the left tackle: When a team has a right-handed quarterback, which is most common, the left tackle makes sure that when the quarterback turns for a throw, his “blind side” is protected. When it comes to ensuring equity in your program, do your best not to have a blind side. But just in case, you might have an equity warrior in mind within your organization who can serve as your left tackle. Be sure that position carries with it all the weight and power it deserves.



July 19, 2021

Many programs are concerned that creating a more inclusive program means having to give up some favorite activities, but this isn’t the case. Discover in your program how inclusion means addition, not subtraction.

Located in Boston, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The idea is to build enough flexibility into goals, assessments, methods and materials to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. By adopting UDL in your program, you can address your students’ diverse cultural and linguistic needs; disabilities; and differences in privilege — not with numerous, complicated initiatives, but a single overarching program design approach, summarized in this brief video. Greater equity is the result.

Consider the basics of the UDL guidelines, and what this design approach means in your 21st CCLC program for adding opportunities for inclusion of students with disabilities, without subtracting any opportunities from students without disabilities. In all you do, you should provide multiple means of the below elements.

Engagement — The “Why” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “why” choices by

Representation — The “What” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “what” choices by

  • Taking advantage of any existing documentation that can help you develop viable choices. Y4Y’s tool for interpreting common Individualized Education Program (IEP) sections can help.
  • Expanding activities with Y4Y’s tool that steps you through a sample opportunity to implement UDL.
  • Understanding a range of abilities from a neurological development standpoint, as addressed in Y4Y’s Developmental Stages of Reading Tool. The full Literacy Toolkit offers expert guidance that can help you apply UDL to literacy.
  • Remaining faithful to your needs assessments as established in your RFP and each program year. Y4Y’s Mapping Needs to Activities tool can guide you to address the academic subjects requiring your program’s focus, and the depth and breadth of that need. Just as a high rate of English learners in your program will drive fundamental literacy activities, a high rate of learning disabilities in your community impacts other types of academic supports.

Action & Expression — The “How” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “how” choices by

  • Considering universal accessibility to make program activities authentic and relevant to each student. Check out Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist to get you started.
  • Embracing group work that gives everyone an important role and plays to each student’s strengths. Y4Y’s Selecting Student Roles for Group Work can help.
  • Recognizing the value of project-based learning (PBL) as an instrument for student-driven achievement at many levels. Y4Y’s PBL Diagram and Classroom Facilitator Packet can set you on this path.
  • Adopting the design thinking process in your STEAM enrichment activities. This process expands on PBL by putting students behind the wheel of problem discovery. This accommodates more complete inclusion by promoting both agency and collaboration. Learn more about this approach with Y4Y’s Design Thinking Framework: Project Planning Template.

Horace Mann said, “Every addition to human knowledge is an addition to human power.” When you add inclusion by way of UDL, you’re adding to your program’s power. The only things you’re subtracting are feelings of exclusion and isolation.



May 14, 2021

We’ve adopted the chemical principle of “osmosis” into our educational jargon, but the strict definition refers to something traveling from a space with higher concentration into one of lower concentration. Is your program saturated with equity? Have you developed a program culture and climate that’s oozing with so much equity that all students can’t help but absorb that energy? Check out tools from several Y4Y courses that will aid in your equity by osmosis.

  • Equity on arrival. The return to in-person programming is a gift you don’t want to squander. Check out Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment for tips on setting the stage for a positive learning environment. How do you welcome students, for example? Are students who aren’t native English speakers more comfortable being greeted in their native language, or do they prefer not to stand out? Will a student in a wheelchair feel bad if you ask everyone to “jump up” or “stand tall” to give their “highest five”? The power of the greeting can never be overstated. The way you greet each student can impact other students in your program as well.
  • Voices in perfect harmony. Student voice is critical in your program, but those voices aren’t always in harmony. Don’t let discord amplify inequity. Y4Y offers a Guide to Socratic Seminars (and a Socratic Seminar Student Assessment) so that you can establish group norms and expectations for all opportunities around student voice.
  • Words matter. Y4Y’s tool for using Socially Responsible Language reminds staff and students alike that a disability or any other characteristic that might set a student apart demands language that demonstrates you don’t define the student by that single characteristic.
  • Know your audience. Your students may have life experiences or cultural heritage completely outside your own. Building cultural competence across your program is a critical step toward ensuring equity. Get up to speed with Y4Y tools such as the Background on Trauma Research Brief and publications like “Strategies for Building Cultural Competencies” (available through Y4Y’s Supporting English Learners “Learn More Library”).
  • Is equity your greatest social and emotional need? When you consider that the five skill domains of social and emotional learning (SEL) are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills, you may well determine that promoting equity more successfully is high on your list of SEL program priorities. Using Y4Y’s Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment and Assessing Social and Emotional Learning Organizational Readiness, you can be intentional in identifying this priority, as well as how best to implement SEL that emphasizes equity — a new concept known as transformative SEL.
  • Citizens all. Y4Y’s course on civic learning and engagement walks you through key strategies for turning your students into the kind of responsible citizens who know how to recognize inequity and effect change. Tools such as the Investigating Issues in Your Community checklist give them guidance on how to explore this and other pressing concerns in their world.

To distinguish equality from equity, The Interactive Institute for Social Change offers a free download of the above image by artist Angus Maguire, with attribution. Equality means everyone gets the same thing, represented by each child getting a single crate to stand on (making only some students able to watch the ballgame). But equity gives every child equal opportunity to see over the fence, even if smaller children receive more crates. This sort of imagery can be invaluable to the students in your program who might not understand why one student gets more proverbial crates than they do. Consider posting an image like this in your program space. Then remind students through your words and deeds that it’s your personal goal to make sure each of them has all the crates they need.



April 28, 2021

The “buddy system” has gained traction in classrooms, extracurricular activities and dedicated organizations through the last decade. As your 21st CCLC program begins, at last, to return to an in-person format, you may consider incorporating structures that range from casual buddy pairing to formal peer mentoring as a way to embrace full inclusion of students with disabilities. Borrowing from tools in Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, explore how the buddy system benefits all.

Who Makes a Good Buddy?

  • Student leaders in your program: that young lady the other girls watch and copy, or that young man who always seems to have a group of kids gathered around him. You recognize natural leadership a mile away, and that gift gives young people the confidence to be gracious toward a peer with a disability.
  • Anyone who demonstrates compassion: that student who notices and speaks up when anyone gets left out or left behind.
  • Young people who love teaching others: whether it’s because they like to “be the boss” or they just like to be helpful. You can help students positively channel those inclinations.
  • Academic superstars: your highest-achieving students may or may not be your most outgoing, but they’re always up for a challenge and understand that schoolwork isn’t easy for everyone.

What Is Peer Mentoring?

  • Fostering friendship. “Assigning” friends doesn’t have to feel as forced as you may believe. Just as icebreakers show us, people inherently want to be friendly toward one another. Often they just need some structured way to bridge any social awkwardness.
  • Offering support. Make your peer mentoring program what you need it to be. Will students support each other academically? Socially? Assess these needs with the Environmental Checklist from Y4Y’s Including Students With Disabilities course or use the Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment.

Where Do I Start?

  • Once you’ve established your program’s needs, bring in stakeholders like special education teachers and parents of students with disabilities to define your buddy program. Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool can help.
  • Offer student training. Being any kind of mentor demands training, even if it’s just to establish a strong understanding of responsibilities and boundaries. Refer to the Y4Y tool on Socially Responsible Language.
  • Align strengths. Are you seeking to pair a student with a disability whose primary goal in your program is to make friends? Place her with that natural leader. Does your student with memory deficits just need a little patience with instructions and reminders? Pair him with that old soul in your program who never gets ruffled.

Who Benefits?

  • EVERYONE! It isn’t just students with disabilities whose lives are enriched through the buddy system. Peer mentors develop skills in forming friendships, building compassion and preparing for leadership. Most of all, the climate and culture of your program will reflect the equity and celebration of individuality you want it to.

Looking for More Resources? Check these out:



February 8, 2021

Comedian and journalist, Stella Young, offered a delightful and humorous firsthand perspective on what it means to be a person with a disability. She said, “It’s not a Bad Thing, spelled with a capital B and capital T.” Nor does it “make you exceptional, brave or a source of inspiration just because you happen to get up in the morning and remember your own name.” Her words remind us that we’re all differently abled, and no one wants to be labeled. With tips and tools from Y4Y’s new course on including students with disabilities, your program can embrace this idea and move toward true inclusion.

A starting point for authentic inclusion is the use of person-first language when referencing a disability. For example, instead of saying “Emma’s autistic,” which equates Emma with her disability, you’d say “Emma has autism” or “Emma has a diagnosis of autism.” Those last two examples present Emma as a person first and foremost, separate from her disability. For more examples of person-first language, see Y4Y’s Socially Responsible Language tool.

It might be tempting to shrug off this shift as simply more pressure toward political correctness, but the depth of attitude that accompanies a shift in language is significant. Try it. Also, check out Y4Y’s Process for Developing Inclusive Forms to ensure written communications based on inclusive practices and language. You’ll be stepping away from identifying your students by their disability and teaching their peers to do this as well. Just as we all see beyond hair color or last name as soon as we learn even a few more things about a person’s individuality, so too must we practice seeing beyond a disability. Fine-tuning our language is the first step.

What Ms. Young so humorously alluded to is that a person with a disability doesn’t want to be “an inspiration” to others simply because he or she is disabled. Rather, people want to be acknowledged for their genuine gifts and contributions. Every student, without exception, deserves the opportunity to shine in your program. Just make sure you have different paths to the stage! Check out Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool so that each staff member understands their part in making your program inclusive for all students. Assess your space with Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist. Maybe literal ramps are what your students with disabilities need to access a stage where they can shine. Learn about Expanding Activities, and remember: Knowing each student’s strengths – and they ALL have them – is the key to developing young stars.

Ms. Young would likely agree that it’s OK to say you’re inspired by someone’s perseverance or positive attitude in the face of a challenge, whether that challenge is caused by a disability or some other circumstance. Her point is perseverance and a positive attitude are inspiring characteristics in anyone! Credit the person, not the disability or circumstance. Genuine inclusion in your 21st CCLC program means removing obstacles that stand in the way of all students showing the world their truly inspiring star power.