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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.



July 19, 2021

There are many moving parts to your program. Here are some quick and easy ways to support your staff and keep a light but steady grip on your program and its success.

Your Best Resources Are Your Human Resources

The term “human resources” is so common that we don’t often stop to think about the meaning. If your program isn’t doing everything in its power to invest in staff, it’s guaranteed that you’re not getting the most you can out of your greatest asset. There are many ways you can invest in staff. Here are just a few:

  • Provide direct benefits. Many programs are revisiting their funding, budget and payroll structures with added funds from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER III). Passing some of that funding on to staff directly demonstrates that their nose-to-the-grindstone grit and perseverance throughout the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
  • Support professional development. Making full use of free resources like Y4Y’s dozens of Trainings to Go and online courses means offering staff paid time to hone their knowledge and skills. Increased personal investment in your program and improved job performance are sure to result.
  • Create opportunities to recharge. Students aren’t the only ones in the process of recovery. As the old saying goes, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. Many 21st CCLC educators feel like root vegetables right now. A year of virtual programming has permanently blurred that line between home and work, making it all the more difficult to recharge at home. Now that programs are back in person, leadership needs to insist that staff give themselves the quiet or family time they deserve. As your program is able, you can even build on this effort by offering staff activities around socializing, mindfulness or whatever they express an interest in doing together as a team.
  • Delegate and empower. While the above offer ways to give something to your staff, don’t underestimate the ways your staff and your program can benefit from taking—with the right kind of framework. Take staff’s thoughts, ideas and advice about new policies or activities. And take their offers to show initiative on projects or committees. The good news is: This kind of taking also builds confidence, rapport, skills and passion in your greatest resources.

For more ideas on this important topic, be sure to check out Y4Y’s Employee Retention Training to Go.

That’s a Great-Looking Staff. Whatever Will You Do With Them?

Moving beyond your methods for valuing and keeping the staff you have, good 21st CCLC management also means having a program culture and policies in place that allow them to realize their full potential. How will you work as a cohesive team to achieve optimal outcomes?

  • Centralize. Has one member of your staff chased down access to online resources to align with the school day? Has she shared that access with her peers? Has another forged a partnership in the community for his high school students’ tech club but hasn’t had a chance to tell your sister sites about it? Are student files, program policies and schedules in SharePoint or a central, protected website so that any information that might be needed is appropriately accessible to everyone in your program? You can all work more efficiently and effectively by pooling your information and making access simple. Centralizing can also benefit your program fiscally. You might get bulk discounts from partners, or have materials you no longer need but another site can use.
  • Communicate. Many of the concerns around centralizing can be addressed when you implement adequate communication methods. Debriefs provide an excellent opportunity for in-the-moment “what worked, what didn’t” conversations, which are essential to continuous improvement. Weekly team meetings that share important and not-so-important updates and solicit contributions from every member will ensure no resource goes unused. An open-door policy by leadership and opportunity for anonymous feedback are critical. Not only will both parties benefit from an easy mode of exchange; the policy will reassure staff of their value.
  • Continuous improvement. Your program is bound to enjoy some degree of improvement with efforts to invest in staff, centralize information and resources, and communicate generously. But don’t skip those management steps and choices that tie continuous improvement into the fiber of your leadership. Follow up on those passions of staff to discover how you can support progress. Put structures in place that channel all feedback, even when roadblocks are encountered, into a “lessons learned” program bank. And, of course, offer everyone, including your top employees, constructive suggestions and opportunities to improve their practice. Maybe they’d like professional development in an area of need in the program or in a topic of interest to them. Check out the Y4Y Professional Learning Feedback Survey as just one example of a tool for using staff feedback for your continuous improvement.

Strong 21st CCLC management means loosening your grip enough to give staff the freedom to be effective while holding them fast to shared goals for your students. Now is a great time to brush up, or to bring along new leadership, on basic strategies with Y4Y’s Human Resources and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program courses.  



May 20, 2021

Through the pandemic, 21st CCLC programs across the country learned just how valuable cooking lessons can be. Many plan to carry them on indefinitely. Discover point by point all of the skills and knowledge that you can build in your students with a good old-fashioned afternoon in the kitchen.

  • Build literacy skills. Reading a recipe expands your students’ vocabularies. Depending on the difficulty level of your selection, students might learn to distinguish between chop, mince, dice and cube. Putting these terms, and their differences, on their brain’s back burner can be an introduction to nuance. We know that extensive vocabulary building actually broadens thinking, self-expression and ultimately success. Check out the Y4Y Literacy Everywhere tool for more tips.
  • Exercise math skills. Cooking is a "textbook" lesson for working with fractions (e.g., “mix 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda”).
  • Learn about real-world science. Again, depending on the age of your students, there are concepts in chemistry and physics to explore in cooking. We’ve all heard the story about how the first chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be chocolate cookies but their baker misjudged how the chocolate would behave in the oven.
  • Collaborate. Too many chefs in the kitchen? No such thing in your 21st CCLC program! But each student needs to understand her or his role in each task, take turns and play to their strengths. The STEAM tool for Selecting Student Roles for Group Work is easily adapted to the kitchen.
  • Develop healthy eating habits. Preparing a simple soup in the kitchen instead of popping open a can means using fresh ingredients. You can also help students develop the habits of reading labels on packaged foods and making healthy choices. Does the recipe give the option of substituting whole milk for cream? How does the fat content compare? Every ingredient is a potential research project in healthfulness. Be sure to partner with school-day professionals for consistent messaging and to see what gaps they may be seeking to fill. For tips, see the Y4Y Click & Go on Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day.
  • Plan, budget and shop. Cooking is a great opportunity to exercise the planning process. Instead of starting your cooking lesson with a pile of ingredients and the needed equipment, start it with a recipe and a conversation around what you have and what you’ll need. Now that you can shop online together, go back to that cream soup and ask: how does the cost of cream compare to milk?
  • Honor history and cultures. Just as each ingredient is a research opportunity in healthfulness and cost, each recipe is a research opportunity in history and culture.

As your students increase their comfort in the kitchen, you can make recipe selection a group activity, honoring student voice and choice. Every parent of a picky eater knows that a dash of voice and thick slice of kitchen help can increase a child’s interest in the resulting product! Or, rather than seeking agreement for each recipe selection, if your program is small enough, you might assign each student a week to bring in their own favorite recipe from home. Beef up your family engagement and invite a family member to come in to help.

Afterschool educators across the country warmly invited students into their home kitchens (virtually) throughout school closures in a resourceful effort to keep them engaged. Just imagine how well loved those in-person cooking activities will be when students can take in those savory aromas from a delicious pot of soup simmering on the back burner while all their learning simmers in their bright young minds.



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:



April 22, 2021

Research demonstrates the importance of students having a say in what and how they’re learning for the most successful educational outcomes. But building the bridge between their opinions and impactful activities might require you to learn a new skill. Turn to Y4Y’s new course on student voice and choice for a quick study of this 21st CCLC best practice.

Where to Begin

Gathering student voice can be done on an individual or group basis. Each has its merits. Individual input offers students the comfort of anonymity, where a group approach fosters the kind of collaboration and idea sharing that can yield richer and more developed outcomes. Use these Y4Y tools to help you get everyone’s perspectives:

Making it Happen

Those All-Important Facilitator Skills

You can hone your staff’s role with the Using Facilitation Practices That Incorporate Student Voice and Choice Training to Go.

With the above tools and more at your disposal, staff can effectively build their skills to facilitate student-driven activities and keep these important principles at the forefront:

  • A “guide on the side” approach means students take center stage in their own learning. You’re there to provide guidance and support.
  • Adopting effective questioning techniques, and using words like “why” and “how,” leads to richer learning.
  • Brainstorming is your best friend.

The message you convey by tying student voice and choice to all you do is loud and clear: We hear you, we honor you and we believe in you.