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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.



January 21, 2021

Are certain students in your program at greater risk of being frozen out of their best possible educational experiences? Last summer, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs published infographics that reveal non-white students (broken out both by American Indian or Alaska Native, as well as Black or African American) with disabilities were at greatest disadvantage. By some measures, this disparity was exponential, and based on 2018 figures when virtual learning hadn’t yet had an impact. It’s important to remember that comparisons in these infographics contrast minority populations with overall figures, which means the contrast with white counterparts is even greater. Consider these specifics:

  • In 2018, Black or African American children comprised 13.8% of the population of ages 6-21. Yet, in the school year 2018-19, 17.89% of school-age children with disabilities in the U.S. were Black or African American.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native students with disabilities had a 25% dropout rate between the ages of 14 and 21, as compared with the overall dropout rate of 16% of students with disabilities.
  • Whereas 29 of 100 students with disabilities are likely to be removed for disciplinary reasons, that number increases to 65 for Black or African American students with disabilities.
  • Both populations enjoyed less time in mainstream classrooms than the overall population of students with disabilities.

Using Y4Y’s new Including Students With Disabilities course, consider how your program can melt away learning barriers for students with disabilities. Engage in the full course to better familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations that apply to these students and to develop ideas on shaping your culture and specific activities. But make special note of the tools mentioned below, which have direct application to these disheartening statistics.

Tap into existing information about individual learning needs. You may or may not have access to an individualized education program (IEP) to give you insights into how exactly your student might learn differently, for example. Don’t be afraid to ask for it, using Y4Y’s customizable Sample Letter for IEP Access. Get up to speed on understanding how to read these documents using Y4Y’s Common IEP Sections and Common Acronyms tools.

Engagement is key to reducing the dropout rate. This is true in the school day and even more so in your 21st CCLC program. Y4Y has many great resources for keeping students engaged, including a new Recruiting and Retaining High School Students Click & Go micro-learning module. You may need to modify or adapt some of the tools within this Click & Go, using tips from the Including Students With Disability course. But always remember that your students with disabilities can and should be surveyed for their interests and strengths, consulted to develop an individual student development plan, and offered leadership opportunities.

Behavior is communication. This was never truer than it is with students whose disabilities are likely to impact how effectively they can verbalize what they’re feeling or experiencing. Every student deserves to be heard. Staff can benefit greatly from the Understanding and Responding to Students With Disabilities Training to Go. This PowerPoint can be adapted to a virtual learning opportunity, where staff can collaborate about current and future students, and develop practices and skills that support students in inclusive out-of-school environments. Knowledge gained about how best to keep your students in the least restrictive environment can easily carry over into the school day when your partnerships are strong.

Did you know that abolitionist Harriet Tubman had epilepsy that resulted from childhood beatings to the head by her master during her years of enslavement? The poet Maya Angelou experienced five years of trauma-induced selective mutism. Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph overcame infantile paralysis. Award-winning singer Harry Belafonte was profoundly dyslexic, causing him to drop out of high school. These amazing figures did not allow themselves to be frozen for life behind the barriers of disability, but understood the astonishing contributions they could make. You can be the advocate that sees in each of your students that exceptionalism is everywhere, and do your part to offer a warm welcome to all.



December 14, 2020

Whether in your program or through previous experiences, every member of your staff is likely to have had the opportunity to know and work with a student with a disability. But one or two experiences, while they may provide some valuable perspective, don’t provide enough knowledge to help you establish a truly inclusive program culture. Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, can help your program lay the foundation for a welcoming environment for all.

The host, Gail, will take you around the “All-In” Playground, where there’s something for everyone. Each jungle gym or playing field presents a different learning opportunity to build your program’s inclusion efforts. You’ll learn about six implementation strategies:

  1. Embrace inclusion as a core value.
  2. Know federal laws and guidelines on inclusion.
  3. Build a foundation for including students with disabilities.
  4. Build relationships with families and students.
  5. Design an inclusive program.
  6. Implement with fidelity.

Watch for helpful features throughout the course, such as a glossary, help line, menu, resources, inclusion guides and tips.

For more advanced learning, complete the Coaching My Staff section of the new course. Discover the three fundamental reasons for professional development around inclusion and advance your knowledge of the mechanics of developing or improving your inclusion efforts.

Don’t forget to peruse the comprehensive tools that accompany the new course. Just a few highlights include

As with any Y4Y course, you’ll earn a certificate of completion for each section, but be sure you’re logged into your account to save your progress! Besides that piece of paper, you’ll come away with confidence in your ability to make all students feel welcome in your program, a better understanding of how and why that’s possible, and best of all, the warm feeling of doing right by each and every student in your program.



October 1, 2020

Students with disabilities may face unique learning challenges during school closures or conversion to virtual programming. A recent webinar from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) shines a bright light on Resources and Practices to Support Back to School and Continuity of Learning for Children With Disabilities. While these resources are directed at school-day educators, 21st CCLC programs might find them useful — especially those on supporting families of students with disabilities. No time to watch the archived webinar? Y4Y has you covered! Here are some highlights:

Consider sharing with families the CEEDAR Center’s Virtual Toolkit and Family Guide to At-Home Learning, available in English and Spanish. The center recommends six strategies for helping students of all ages who struggle with at-home learning: model, provide clear directions, provide support, help the student stay on task, give specific feedback and use goal setting. The family guide has helpful tools and examples for each strategy.

The High-Leverage Practices in Special Education website shares best practices for addressing student behaviors in face-to-face, online and hybrid environments. High-leverage practices are those that are foundational to effective teaching and can be used regularly with students of all ages and abilities. These practices are intended to complement, not replace, data-driven interventions. The site includes unedited clips of teachers implementing “R.U. Asking” (a problem-solving strategy) and including checks for understanding and opportunities to respond throughout instructional time to keep students engaged.

In the OSEP webinar, University of Northern Colorado professor Todd Sundeen addresses concerns affecting educators with limited access to educational technology in rural communities, which represent one in nine U.S. students. He tells about families taking extreme measures like sitting in their cars in school parking lots to access the building’s broadband internet for their children. He advocates collaborating with parents to ensure they’re included in all conversations, following up with students who aren’t participating virtually, providing parents with learning opportunities on how to best support their children’s learning, and making sure that funding structures provide full access to technology and adequate internet access.

The National Center on Improving Literacy offers evidence-based strategies for serving students with literacy-related disabilities, who are more likely than their peers without disabilities to regress during distance learning. The center advocates explicit and systematic instruction focused on the five “big ideas” of reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Recommendations include providing students with disabilities with additional intervention time, using small-group or one-to-one intervention three to five times a week, and following academic intervention charts from the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). You can access implementation toolkits, ask-an-expert and other resources through the center’s website. Be sure to check out Kid Zone, a source of online literacy games and activities for students who need intensive literacy intervention.

Karen Erickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addresses remotely serving students who are medically vulnerable and/or have complex disabilities. Some of these students may be physically unable to interact with technology or have other barriers to engaging for necessary lengths of time. As a result, family engagement and support among each other has become essential in the virtual environment. Teaching assistants grew into new supportive roles, such as preparing students for their day with short recorded videos. Ms. Erickson says strategies at Project Core have been invaluable to families helping their children navigate new formats for learning. She also points to Tarheel Reader and Shared Reader as helpful resources for reading. Above all, she says, focus on routine. Be flexible and responsive, and share resources generously with families.

A new guide is available from the Center on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS). Returning to School During and After Crisis describes how a multi-tiered systems of support framework can support students, families and educators during transitions back to school. The center urges educators to focus on the basics — the smallest number of things you can do well to support student learning. Your connecting, screening, supporting, teaching and monitoring should work to creative a positive, predictable and safe learning environment that fosters students’ social, emotional, behavioral and academic growth. The segment of the webinar that discusses this guide features New Jersey’s PBIS implementation efforts.

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) presents a process of intensive intervention that’s based on experimental teaching. It integrates data-based decision making across academics and social behaviors. NCII focuses on explicit instruction (I do, we do, you do) sequencing, progress monitoring and collaboration. Visit the center’s website for videos and webinars from educators implementing these practices remotely.

Lynn Fuchs of Vanderbilt University reinforces the importance of explicit instruction for students with disabilities, offering an eight-step method for online teaching strategies. Packaged explicit instruction interventions are available at the Vanderbilt University website. Similar resources are also available at the NCII website to address the performance gaps that students with disabilities are likely to experience in a virtual environment.

The state of Michigan, in recognition of the avalanche of information and resources directed at educators attempting to navigate during the pandemic, offers a simple guiding philosophy: Focus on routines. Teaching and using routines, both social and academic, has been shown to foster a positive climate and increase student success. These routines become even more powerful in a climate of uncertainty such as now, as they provide a safe, predictable and supportive environment where students know what it takes to be successful and can develop the skills to be so. Michigan makes sure the resources shared with special educators reflect this spirit of simplicity. The resources for teams may have the greatest relevance to 21st CCLC programs.

Lise Fox of the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations offers insight into resources for early education professionals and families. You might want to share these resources with families who have preschool-age children. The center emphasizes social and emotional wellness for students, families and staff.

The OSEP webinar concludes with a panel discussion featuring three professionals who offer their experience and advice on implementing successful re-opening strategies for students with disabilities. The panelists reinforce the value of communicating with families. Nobody should have to stumble around in the dark, trying to find their way through such uncertain times, least of all students with disabilities. Feel free to forward this post to others who might find this information useful!



September 18, 2020

This timeless adage honors how crucial diversity is to group success. Even “diversity” is diverse! Differences may include culture, heritage, racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic status, geography, beliefs, personal preferences, and life experiences. Including diverse students (and staff) can strengthen individuals as well as your 21st CCLC program in general. In education, “inclusion” has a special meaning: It’s a term schools and 21st CCLC programs use to describe how they ensure that students with disabilities can meaningfully participate in activities.

Research heavily points to the benefits of inclusion, both for students with disabilities and for students who don’t have disabilities. Your program has many goals, and each of these documented benefits of inclusion are among them. Proper implementation of inclusion will

  • Build a sense of community.
  • Demonstrate to everyone that acceptance of differences is at the heart of your program culture.
  • Improve everyone’s academic outcomes.
  • Develop all students’ social and emotional wellness.
  • Be a celebration of individual strengths, not a focus on deficits.

Finally, inclusion in your 21st CCLC is the right thing to do, both ethically and legally. There are free tools you can use right now to help with inclusion in your program. Y4Y has a series of 10 short, topical implementation guides that are perfect as discussion starters or as handouts to bring new staff up to speed on key steps to a more inclusive program.

Bear in mind that students with disabilities are among those least served during long stretches of virtual learning. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the IRIS Center provides timely tips on helping students with disabilities in a virtual environment. You can also access a webinar, offered over the summer by the Office of Special Education Programs, that covers many more resources to help educators support these students during pandemic-related closures. These resources bring messaging back to the value of focusing on individual strengths. Celebrating what each student can contribute to your program will help everyone recognize it truly does take ALL kinds to make the world go ’round.