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May 19, 2020

This famous quote by Aesop demonstrates the role of gratitude in our mental wellness. The times we’re living in might leave many of us with a heightened sense of worry, yet others are discovering the inner gratitude they feel just for having their basic needs met. Modern-day research supports Aesop’s theory! Gratitude is good medicine for both mental and physical health. Discover how Y4Y’s new course on social and emotional learning can help you take students on a journey to this point of wisdom.

At the heart of social and emotional learning are five skill domains that serve as a framework for developing positive, healthy habits throughout life. Let’s explore how gratitude plays a role in each.

Self-awareness is the skill of recognizing and being able to articulate your own feelings, strengths and limitations. Confidence and a growth mindset result from acquiring this skill. Only those with healthy self-awareness can gratefully measure their lives by its positive elements, viewing challenges as opportunities to grow.

Self-management is the ability to self-regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. With successful self-management comes goal setting and the ability to work toward those goals. When that happens, even those gaps in success at feeling gratitude can be tackled head-on with mindfulness exercises that build a positive outlook.

Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, no matter how big or small their differences from you might be. At times it may be tempting to view the misfortunes of others through a lens of gratitude that we are not, ourselves, in their shoes, but this isn’t true empathy. You can help students and yourself discover true social awareness. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the misfortunes of others move you toward compassion, and you view their successes and triumphs as cause for celebration.

Responsible decision making is the ability to make constructive choices about your personal behavior. This is where Aesop really got it right! How many mistakes in our lives might have been avoided if we felt that what we had was enough? This has financial, educational, professional and relational meaning. Of course, setting goals for improving your life in any of these arenas is not a sign that you lack gratitude. Rather, gratitude can be the well from which you draw the strength to envision great things.

Relationship skills speak to the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding diverse relationships. Here, again, gratitude can be a crystal-clear reflection of how we really feel about the people in our lives. Some are there by choice, and some are not, but someone who has had a positive social and emotional education can learn to focus on the best in others. More important, their gratitude for others will nurture those relationships.

You’ll be well versed on how to thread social and emotional learning into your 21st CCLC program once you complete the new Y4Y course on the topic. Until then, you can review Y4Y resources like the Delivery Methods for Social and Emotional Learning, the Social and Emotional Learning Implementation Checklist and the Social and Emotional Learning Activity Intentional Design Planner tools. Your students will thank you.



May 19, 2020

The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.

Prepare for Liftoff

The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.

Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.

Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:

Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.

Writing addresses how we structure language.

Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.

Always Start With Data

Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.

To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.

Let’s Get SMART

With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop  goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.

Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:

  • Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
  • Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
  • Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.

Let Your Activities Soar

Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.

The Third Dimension

When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:

Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.  

Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!

Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.

Intervention Activities

Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.

The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.

Enrichment Activities

When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.

Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.

It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.

Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?

Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.

On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!

BDA

The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.

More Ideas for Literacy Activities

  • Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
  • Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
  • Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
  • Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
  • Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
  • Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
  • Write a reflection on a science experiment.
  • Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
  • Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.

You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.

Nail the Landing

To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.

An Engagement in the Family!

You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!

One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.

How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!

Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.

Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.

Measure Your Success

The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.

Speaking of Measuring…

How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.

Fidelity has four measures:

  • Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
  • Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
  • Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
  • Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?

When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.

Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.



February 13, 2020

Bad weather is sometimes unpredictable and always out of our control. Cultures that have developed around some of the harshest weather conditions just lean into the storm with good preparation like dry clothes, an emergency kit and a strategic plan. Similarly, people can navigate life’s storms successfully by preparing socially and emotionally. That way, they’re ready to act and respond wisely when difficulties arise — and they always do! Your 21st CCLC program can use social and emotional learning strategies to help students develop this kind of “storm readiness.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has done a great deal of research and development in social and emotional learning. Here’s the definition CASEL uses:

“Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course spotlights five areas for personal growth identified by CASEL:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management
  • Responsible decision making

People sometimes say these are “soft skills,” which can make them sound unimportant or unnecessary. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Our ability to navigate emotions and relationships greatly affects how and what we learn, in school and beyond. Social and emotional skills are life skills. So, when you model and teach these skills to students, you’re helping them prepare for success throughout their lives.

Not convinced? Think back on your own experiences in school:

  • Remember your favorite teacher, coach or counselor? Why is that person your favorite? It’s probably not just because you loved math or were really good at soccer. Your personal relationship with this adult made you more interested in learning what he or she had to teach you.
  • Consider a time when you were anxious about a test, felt intimidated by a teacher or had trouble with a classmate. This likely kept you from doing your best. You may even have developed long-term anxiety about test taking, a particular subject or certain kinds of classroom interactions (like giving a speech or working in small groups).

Your experiences are similar to those of every learner, including the children and youth in your 21st CCLC program. Social relationships and emotional states have a profound effect on learning. Positive emotional experiences motivate people of all ages to work hard and try their best.

Developing smarter, kinder, happier, more productive human beings is a goal we can all get behind. Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course helps you envision how social and emotional learning fits with that goal and with your other program goals. It also shows you how to weave social and emotional learning strategies into your program activities, and how to support staff members throughout the process.

You might also want to check out Y4Y’s new Creating a Positive Learning Environment course. It has strategies for infusing a “can do” attitude into program activities and routines. That course shows ways your staff can improve the overall program culture and climate, whereas the Social and Emotional Learning course shows ways to help students manage their internal “weather system.”

Why not put on your snow boots or galoshes and jump in with both feet?



February 13, 2020

Counselors have a saying: “Environment always wins.” At the height of flu season, this isn’t always great news, but instituting the Dracula sneeze, aggressive hand washing and a generous supply of hand sanitizer are measures every educator knows can sway the environment in their favor. But when it comes to positivity, slather that stuff all over your 21st CCLC program.

Creating a program environment that enables your staff and students to do their best work is a smart way to magnify everyone’s efforts. Not sure where to start? Take a peek at Y4Y’s new Creating a Positive Learning Environment course. Chelsea, your guide, will welcome you as an “apprentice builder” and walk you through six strategies to help you renovate your program environment. You’ll learn how to define and assess organizational culture and climate, plan for behavior management, build relationships, be intentional about designing a positive learning environment, and plan for continuous improvement. A few tweaks can make a big difference.

Add this course to your tool belt, and use it to strengthen your program’s foundation, imagine new possibilities, and make dreams come true for students and families. It might be easier than you think to create a “yes, I can” environment where confidence, curiosity and enthusiasm are contagious. 



February 10, 2020

Great research momentum is building on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the impact they can have throughout life. This research provides a new window into the thoughts and emotions of what may be a troubling number of your students. Consider for a moment what the view might be from their side of that window. Is it a jungle out there?

Ask yourself, “Do I see a pattern of any of these behaviors in a student I’m concerned might be experiencing trauma?”

  • Inappropriate displays of emotion, whether anger, crying, or even laughter that’s not appropriate to context
  • Withdrawal from activities or peers, especially when others are enjoying themselves
  • Tendency to jump at sudden sounds that don’t startle others
  • Expression of distressing thoughts, either verbally or through drawings
  • Ongoing complaints of a stomachache or headache
  • Aggression
  • Quickly changing emotions
  • Habitual absences

If you answered “yes,” that student may well feel like getting through each day is like navigating a jungle. One common finding in children who’ve experienced trauma is a heightened state of arousal, which can resemble a sensory processing disorder. This could mean hypersensitivity to sounds, lights, touch or movement. Your 21st CCLC program could feel as loud and overwhelming to a student as a Grateful Dead concert would to Grandpa. But before you go lowering the lights, demanding silence from everyone, and pushing for 6-foot personal bubbles, bear in mind these essential tips for building resilience:

Encourage doing for others. When students feel they’ve helped another person, especially if they have a unique gift to share, it boosts their confidence and sense of purpose.

Be positive. The old fake-it-till-you-make-it adage came about for good reason. There’s a wealth of data on the impact of gratitude in one’s life. Transition times are a great opportunity to play with positivity. Maybe students can quickly call out their favorite dessert or color as they pass under the overhead fire alarm, starting their turn with “I LOVE….”

Create safe opportunities to socialize. Humans are unquestionably social creatures. Of course, circumstances matter. Be intentional in grouping students into small groups for looser activities, especially when you suspect a student may be dealing with trauma.

Talk about feelings. Remind students that there are no bad feelings to have. Naming feelings instead of pushing them away helps people process emotions so that they can move forward.

Reinforce and exhibit good self-care habits. A sense of powerlessness is likely to plague traumatized students. Healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits may not be fully within their control, but you can talk up simple practices like treating oneself to dancing around the room for exercise, getting outdoors as much as your program allows, or taking a 10-minute “power nap” to get back some of that lost power. (Stress management ideas are available on Y4Y).

Help students think constructively about the future. Universally, children are focused on the future. That is where most of their living lies, after all. Thoughts and dreams of a better life are not exclusive to students of any demographic, but an understanding of how to get there may be. Make a practice of brainstorming as a group how, for example, a student whose parents can’t afford college could become an engineer. Better still, bring in visitors who have personal stories like this to share.

Remember that behind every success story are a few whopper “failures.” Maybe you’ve heard the saying “Failure is the breakfast of champions.” It’s not failure itself that feeds success; it’s what you learn from it. You can embed the practice of thinking about something constructive you’ve learned from failures — whether it’s something as small as spilling water on the floor or something more significant, like failing a test or a class — into every undertaking. It’s not a true failure if wisdom is gained.

Get students to think for themselves. Ask leading questions instead of offering solutions to problems or dilemmas. Help students view problems as jigsaw puzzles: the person to place the last piece is the one who finishes the puzzle. How gratifying it is for a student to solve her own puzzle.

Researchers and frontline professionals are in agreement that even a single nurturing, attentive connection with an adult — and it truly could be any adult who has the child’s best interests at heart — improves the odds that a child who has experienced trauma will succeed in building resilience and overcoming ACEs. Put on that big yellow hat and be prepared to fight your way through the jungle together.

Check out Y4Y’s Click & Go on Trauma-Informed Care for more ways to serve these very special students.