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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.



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.