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September 17, 2018

Whether you’re an old hand or just had your first experience with summer programming, you know the best time to start planning for next summer is now. Here are some ideas from 21st CCLC sites that participated in the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative and used a planning process designed to produce high-quality programming.

Market your program to build interest before summer begins.

In Kansas, a summer program for elementary school students once struggled to enroll students in what was described as a “summer school” focused on academics. Using strategies from the Summer Learning Initiative, staff decided to call the program a “summer camp” instead of summer school and created a fun “summer safari” theme. They emphasized engaging, hands-on learning experiences that build students’ academic skills. The program sent personalized invitations to the students who would benefit most from participation, and followed up with phone calls. For the summer 2018 program, they were at capacity with a waiting list, and parents were calling to ask if their child could get into the program. The program director attributed this success to the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative’s marketing and intentional student recruitment strategies.

Offer activities that keep students engaged throughout the summer.

Incorporating student voice is essential to creating a summer program that students want to attend. A high school program in California provided a variety of opportunities for student input. For example, the site coordinator turned his office into a resource center and encouraged students to stop by to talk. The program also used student surveys. Staff members set up an outdoor canopy during lunch to conduct informal focus groups with students. The site coordinator said these efforts to incorporate student voice improved program quality.

Some programs used educational field trips that were connected to their learning goals and program themes. For example, a program in New Jersey with a theater theme took students to local performing arts centers for learning events, then had them write about their experiences in a journal. Structured experiences like this provide real-world learning opportunities that motivate student attendance and engagement.

"They don't have to be here — they want to be here." 

State Coordinator, California

Your work’s not over when summer ends.

Once your program ends, taking the time to learn from your successes and struggles can help you make improvements the next time around. Summer Learning Initiative participants created continuous improvement plans that included performance measures and measurement tools. They assigned staff, targeted groups for assessment, and set time frames to help them determine if they met their goals. Comparing actual outcomes to intended outcomes will help you understand the effectiveness of your program. Analyzing data and discussing lessons learned can help you make adjustments that will lead to greater satisfaction and success for staff and students.

For example, a program for high school students in Oregon struggled with student attendance — until staff members decided to incorporate more student voice and offered engaging science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) activities that matched student interests. A program in Kansas learned that many students were struggling during the school year, so the staff tried a new approach for the summer, using project-based learning to target specific skills and content. Students and teachers alike enjoyed the hands-on activities, and the program director reported increases in staff capacity.

"This helps them see different ways to teach. It's making them better teachers."

Project Director, Kansas

Summer Learning Initiative resources are free and available on Y4Y.

Even if you’ve never helped plan a summer learning program, you don’t have to start from scratch! Visit the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative webpage to watch short videos of Initiative participants and download the tools they used on. You can learn more about the steps for planning and implementing high-quality summer learning experiences by exploring the resources on that page and ones in the Y4Y Summer Learning course.



September 17, 2018

Projects and activities that engage and interest students can go a long way toward reducing behavioral problems in your 21st CCLC program. A strategic behavior management plan, however, can target problem areas and help your staff and students stay focused and productive. Your plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be targeted. Here are three information sources you can use as starting points:   

Behavior reports from the school. What trends do you see that need to be addressed? How might your program work with school-day staff, families and students to better understand these trends? Does the school use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or some other system to address these problems? What strategies might be appropriate for addressing behavioral issues and trends in a 21st CCLC setting? These are questions you can explore alongside school-day staff.

Observational data from your program staff. What behavioral issues has your program identified through formal or informal observations? What additional information or training does your staff need to understand the underlying issues? What strategies can you use to address these issues? For example, if problem behaviors are most likely to occur during certain activities or routines, are there changes you could make to reduce the likelihood of recurrence? 

IEPs and Section 504 plans. If a student in your program has one of these plans, discuss the plan with the school’s special education teacher(s) to make sure you know about any behavioral goals and strategies that are written into these plans. Identify specific ways your program can support these goals and strategies. 

You can use this information to identify and prioritize behavioral goals and strategies to implement in your program. For example, if you decide bullying is a significant problem, you might start by asking staff to read our Y4Y blog post on preventing bullying. Follow up with a meeting to discuss the resources and strategies mentioned in the post. Agree on specific steps for immediate intervention and long-term prevention. (The Y4Y Incorporating Multiple Viewpoints Checklist can help your staff consider practices that support a safe, respectful and inclusive environment.) Write down your goal and what steps you’ll take, and check in with staff regularly to assess progress and adjust your approach as needed.

Whatever your goal, the key is to keep it simple and be strategic. You can’t prevent or “fix” every problem behavior, but you can make a positive difference if you have a goal, a plan and the commitment to follow through.


August 21, 2018

The start of the program year always brings a mad scramble to get staff. You know you need the right number of people and the right qualifications to be successful. But what does “right” mean? You may be tempted to hire anyone who is interested, so you have enough adults for the number of students you plan to serve. However, many program directors would advise you to take time to be selective. If you truly get the right people, you will have a higher quality of programming and fewer turnover issues.

Define the Job and the Qualifications

Do you have job descriptions for every position in your program? If not, don’t worry; job descriptions don’t have to be long and complicated. Sit down with your planning team and discuss what you need for each role you want to fill. If you need an algebra tutor, your ideal candidate would most likely be a math teacher. For a gardening class, teacher certification is not vital; this person needs to know how to connect with young people and grow plants. Be sure to describe any work outside of the actual program. For example, does the position require creating lesson plans? Be very clear about the schedule and time commitment. Explain how long each class or program day is, how many days per week are needed, and how many weeks the commitment will last. If all staff are required to attend weekly staff meetings, spell that out. Being clear and specific in your description makes it more likely you will find the right person.

Look Beyond the School for Candidates

When you have defined qualifications, think outside the box about where to look for staff. If the math teachers in your school are not interested in algebra tutoring, think about other teachers. Is there a science or special education teacher with experience teaching algebra? Because your position is different from what they do all day, they might enjoy the change. A retired math teacher would know the content and how to work with students, and might enjoy a fun, part-time connection with youth. For a gardening position, ask around the school for avid gardeners, check with families about their gardening skills, or talk to a local Extension agent. The math teacher who turned down the algebra tutoring might love to lead a gardening club. Explore hobbies and other interests to discover new ways school staff can engage with students. High school and college students are other great resources. While not all students can create lesson plans, many can implement existing curriculum and bring fresh excitement and energy to activities. An education or math major might be a great fit for that algebra position.

Consider Motivation and Engagement Style

You want your staff to have skills that match your needs but you don’t want the extra money they will make to be their sole motivation. You want people who are excited to engage with your students and will contribute to a positive program culture. To get a feel for fit, many programs use scenario-based interviewing. Ask an applicant how they would respond to situations that occur in an out-of-school time setting. You might ask about managing behavior, engaging with families, or teaching a specific topic. Think about your program values and how you want staff to engage with students. If the program emphasizes project-based learning, ask the candidate to describe how they would design a project. Some programs will have an applicant volunteer for a day or two to see how they interact with students and other staff, or will observe them during a school-day position.

While being intentional with your staff recruitment takes some time, you will be rewarded with great staff who provide high-quality learning experiences, engage positively with your youth, and are committed to your program. To learn more about intentional staff recruitment, check out the Y4Y course on Managing Your 21st CCLC Program. The course tools include a Sample Human Resources Packet that contains sample job descriptions, interview question examples, ideas about recruiting staff and much more!



August 21, 2018

According to the National Science Foundation, humans have somewhere between 12,000 and 70,000 thoughts each day. Sad to say, up to 80 percent of those thoughts are negative — but we can do something to change that. Educators hear a lot about positive youth development, character education, positive behavior interventions, social emotional learning and positive program climate. Programs that formalize these practices can contribute to building confidence, resilience and happiness for the youth we serve. With or without a formal program, you and your out-if-school time program can immediately implement practices that will start harnessing the power of positivity.

Positive Self-Talk

In Kathryn Stockett’s book, The Help, a little girl learns this mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” This is exactly the kind of positive self-talk we want to encourage in our students. How often have you heard a student say, “I’m not good at…” or “I can’t…”? Make a conscious effort to help them rephrase those thoughts more positively: “I’m getting better at…” or “I’m learning how to…” When you take the time to restate something in a positive way, you help a child train their brain to think more positively. You might ask students to develop a positive mantra for the program and individual mantras for themselves. Devote a quick minute each day to repeating those mantras and further developing their positive self-image.

Gratitude

Students can get caught up in the game of comparison: someone else has fancier belongings or is more skilled at a sport. Help students realize their natural abilities and identify their strengths. Consider having students start gratitude journals. Processing thoughts for a few minutes a day can build important cognitive skills, and capturing them in a journal develops writing skills. You could start a gratitude sharing practice during snack time. Ask students what they are thankful for that day or what they are looking forward to in the program. Helping students learn to identify and focus on positive things in their world builds a positive world view.

No Complaining

How many complaints do you hear in a typical program day? It’s time to issue a no complaining challenge! We can help students — and ourselves — learn how to respond more positively and effectively to whatever life throws at us. In his book, A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen describes his complaint-free challenge. He uses a 21-day cycle, during which participants wear an arm band and move it from one arm to the other each time they complain. This creates a physical reminder to think more positively. You might have your students create positivity friendship bracelets and try the same challenge. The goal is to keep the bracelet on the same arm for a full 21 days. Students can remind each other not to complain and help each other rephrase thoughts to be more positive.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” You can help students change how they view themselves and their world, and lower the percentage of negative thoughts in their day. Try one of these positivity practices and watch the impact on your students and the overall climate of your program. For a ready-to-use professional learning session on positive youth development, download this Y4Y Training to Go. For a quick one-page reference, also grab The 5C’s of Positive Youth Development.



August 7, 2018

Could you pass a basic test of financial literacy? According to the FINRA Foundation’s National Capability Study, in 2015, 63 percent of Americans couldn’t. Can you calculate the interest you would owe on a loan, do you know the difference between a 401K and an IRA, or do you know how to improve your credit score? Because so many adults struggle with these concepts, we need to do a better job of preparing students and closing the financial literacy gap.

Where are young people supposed to learn about money and their financial future? In 2018, according to a report from Next Gen Personal Finance, only 16.4 percent of students were required to take a personal finance course prior to graduation. Out-of-school time programs that connect activities to the real world are the perfect place for students, from elementary to high school, to enhance and apply financial literacy skills. The big question is where to begin, especially when many adults may not feel confident in financial literacy.

A number of groups, such as the Jump$tart Coalition and the Council for Economic Education, have done some thinking about what financial literacy should look like at different ages. At its most basic, financial literacy can be broken down into these categories:

  • Earning
  • Spending
  • Saving and Investing
  • Credit and Debt
  • Protecting and Insuring

So, how do you help students of all ages better understand those categories and give them opportunities to explore and practice related skills? Financial literacy shouldn’t be taught through boring slides that explain compound interest. Let students truly explore financial concepts in action!

  • Students can collaborate to create a business and sell a product, such as pet rocks. Give students a start-up budget that they must manage. Let them determine their expenses, price their product, and learn about profit and loss. Have them make proposals to other students for investment money. See this Edutopia blog for more ideas about introducing entrepreneurial activities.  
  • Middle and high school students can participate in the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game, which is specifically designed for out-of-school time programs.
  • Give students a taste of life after graduation. Many online resources offer game-of-life lessons, or you can try the Finance Authority of Maine’s online Claim Your Future game. Here, students can try out various education choices, careers and other financial decisions.

Teaching financial literacy also provides great opportunities for community partnerships and high-value connections to students’ family members. Many banks offer some form of community outreach programming. This could include a speaker who would visit your program, a volunteer who would teach a series of classes, or the opportunity for your site to offer banking days complete with student savings accounts. Invite parents and other family members to build financial literacy alongside their children, or schedule events at convenient times and locations for family members who work during program hours.

To explore more resources and ideas for incorporating financial literacy into your program, visit the Financial Literacy for All section of the Y4Y website and download the Quick Guide to Financial Literacy.