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May 18, 2017

As you wrap up your school year or summer program, you will surely have plenty to celebrate. (See Six Tips for Celebrating Program Success for ideas about planning that special event.) Chances are, you also have ideas about things you want to improve, and applying a continuous improvement process can help. Not sure what that might look like? Get the Continuous Improvement Process Diagram from Y4Y.

Routinely following a continuous improvement plan will ensure your work goes smoothly. See the Y4Y Summer Learning course for guidance and tools to help (they work for the regular school year program, too). If you don’t have your plan and process designed yet, now is a great time to start. Here’s a preview to get you thinking — it includes links to tools that can help you organize for sound planning.

Step 1. Define What You Will Do
This step involves developing a purpose, goals and a logic model, which will be an important living document as you design, deliver and reflect on your program’s success. The logic model outlines these components:input: 

•    Inputs (your resources).
•    Outputs (your activities).
•    Intermediate outcomes (your benchmarks for progress).
•    Long-term goals (the impacts you want to make on student success).

Get the logic model tool here. 

Step 2. Implement With Fidelity
The best plan in the world may fail if it’s not carried out as designed. That’s why you’ll want to pay attention to how you implement program activities. Everyone on staff needs to understand the design and help monitor fidelity of implementation. Use the Observation Checklist to help with this step.

Step 3. Collect Data
The Y4Y Continuous Improvement Planner helps you track what and how to measure, who will be responsible, and when the measurements will take place.

Step 4. Analyze
Examine your data and reflect on results. How did each activity contribute to the results? What might you delete, tweak or add to get better results?

Step 5. Improve
As you plan for a new semester or summer, consider ways you might want to adjust your activities and your logic model to fit the next group of students you serve.

To become savvy about continuous improvement, take time to build your skills and knowledge right here on Y4Y! 



April 18, 2017

Effective out-of-school time programs partner with families, students and schools to achieve the best possible educational outcomes. As you plan your programming for this summer and beyond, make sure to get the input you need to keep those partnerships healthy. Here are some ways to get input: 

•    Informal “hallway conversations”
•    Formal meetings with individuals or groups
•    Structured small-group discussions
•    Suggestion boxes
•    Surveys

Not sure where to start? Check out our ready-to-use Y4Y stakeholder surveys!

If you’re planning a summer program, use the Family Survey and Student Survey from our new Summer Learning course. By administering these surveys at the start and end of your program, you can demonstrate your program’s impact, and find what you’re doing right and where you can improve. 

Y4Y’s new STEM surveys for grades K-1, 2-3, 4-6 and 7-12 can help you design STEM programming that engages students’ minds by focusing on subjects that already interest them. 

You can align your program with school-day learning by using the Survey of Teacher Programming Needs to find out where students are struggling and could use extra support.

Finding out what families, students and schools think about your program (and ways they can contribute) can make it more effective. Y4Y stakeholder surveys can do some of the work for you. It’s the perfect place to start!



March 16, 2017

Students need to feel safe, encouraged and welcome to keep their stress levels down and their minds open for learning. But creating a positive, inclusive environment is easier said than done. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone! In fact, it’s often best to enlist the help of school-day staff, parents and community members. Here’s how you can start:

Take positive steps to prevent bullying. 
The first step to stopping bullying is knowing how to spot it. Know how bullying is defined and learn about warning signs that can tip you off if a student is being bullied or is bullying others. When you see bullying happening, intervene immediately. Then follow up by finding out what happened and supporting the students involved.

Work with school-day teachers. 
Coordinating bullying prevention efforts is an important part of sharing responsibility with school staff. Align policies with schools to send a consistent message to students that bullying is never okay. Improve your connections to schools with the Communication and Collaboration Checklist.

Engage parents and family.
Including family members in bullying prevention can help students feel safer and more secure, and make parents worry less. Help parents and family develop the skills needed to talk about bullying with youth in productive ways, and share ideas for how family can be part of the solution. These efforts can support your goals for family engagement.

Get the community involved. 
Bullying affects entire communities. Taking the lead on prevention can be a service learning project for students, and a great opportunity to demonstrate the value your program brings to your community. Consider which of your existing partners might help, reach out to new ones and recruit volunteers.

Share knowledge and resources with others. 
Online or in person, bullying causes misery now and can lead to unhealthy behaviors in the future. The website StopBullying.gov offers many free, research-based resources and strategies to help young people and adults stop aggressive behavior and build a positive community climate. For example, learn about the different roles: students who bully, students who are the targets of bullying, students who assist and reinforce, students who defend, and students who want to help but don’t know how. Also see The BULLY Project website for ideas about how to take action.

When students don’t feel safe, you can’t possibly expect their full attention. Don’t let bullying-related stress be an obstacle to their happiness and their ability to learn!



March 16, 2017

Phillip A. Collazo, MSEd., Education & Training Specialist, Kids Included Together

Knowing a little about biology and brain chemistry can make a big difference in helping students lower their stress levels. Here’s a promise: You won’t need to memorize formulas or spend hours in special classes. As 21st CCLC practitioners, you work in the ideal environment to build pleasure into learning.

What Research Says

According to research conducted by Dr. Stuart Shanker, stress ranks as one of the greatest barriers to learning. He wrote extensively about decline in the mental and physical well-being of U.S. children due to stress. 

When humans experience stress, our bodies produce cortisol, which some call the “stress hormone.” High levels of cortisol have been linked to “increased anxiety, depression and challenging behaviors in children and youth” (Ruttle et al., 2011), and to “higher risk for developing learning difficulties or impaired cognitive abilities” (Suor et al., 2015).

Our bodies can balance the negative effects of stress by producing endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals. Fun, active and engaging activities that also encourage positive social interactions are some of the easiest and healthiest ways to activate endorphins and reduce classroom stress. Both exercise and relaxation can help. 

In an ideal world, children and youth would spend their days learning at their own pace, while also having fun in and out of school. In reality, curriculums, learning objectives and high-stakes tests often control the content and pace of the school day. How can we help children reduce stress and make learning more fun? Here are two strategies that work well together.

Stress Reduction Part 1: Manage Time to Match Focus

This solution involves managing time by strategically grouping content — what Preston (2013) calls “activity chunking.” Many educators have successfully used versions of this strategy for years. 

Start by setting realistic and achievable expectations. Consider your students’ natural attention span, and chunk activities accordingly. Preston recommends calculating the average focus time of students by adding five minutes to their age. For example, the average six-year-old should be able to attend to an 11-minute lesson. Psychologists, scientists and researchers hold varied opinions on attention span, with estimates ranging between 15 and 40 minutes (Briggs, 2014).

For tasks that can complement academic content while still giving students a chance for a break, incorporate activity centers into your program. With common classroom materials you can plan quick exercises that develop key STEM and literacy skills. With these suggested STEM and reading activities, you can “chunk” in as needed to help students refocus.

Stress Reduction Part 2: Activate Senses to Feel Good

Plan activities that capture your learners’ interests, and then play to their strengths. According to Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1991), we all have “a unique blend of capabilities and skills (intelligences).” Plan activities and short breaks that use a “six-sense” approach. Look for ways to get students to use their eyes, ears/voice, fingers, muscles, balance and social skills. End it all by encouraging the group to take two deep breaths together. The sensory activities release those feel-good endorphins and help students refocus for their next learning activity.

Here are a few ideas for building the senses into activities and breaks:

- Ask young students to act out characters when they read a story aloud. Older students may enjoy dramatic readings of poetry or plays. Don’t be shy: add a musical soundtrack with some group humming to keep the beat.
- Stand up and “shake your wiggles out” now and then.
- Play a creative game of Acrobat-Simon-Says, use call-and-response chants, or create finger play songs.
- For older students, include time for meaningful socializing by encouraging share-outs, group polling or content debates.
- Play games like “I Spy” or practice yoga poses. See “Tips for Helping Your Child Focus and Concentrate” from PBS Parents for more ideas.​

Everyone Benefits

Fun, active and engaging activities that benefit students can also benefit the adults in your program. Chunking activities can help you organize so you provide better support to help students meet academic goals. Managing time frames and achieving small goals increases educators’ sense of accomplishment, just like for students. Best of all, these strategies work for students of all abilities and can help make your program more inclusive. 


Resources
For information on creating an inclusive setting that welcomes students with disabilities, visit the Implementation Guides section of Y4Y to find resources on addressing individual needs, engaging all learners, supporting social-emotional development and other topics.

References
Briggs, S. (2014). The science of attention: How to capture and hold the attention of easily distracted students. Retrieved from opencolleges.edu
Northern Illinois University, Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. (2009). Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Summary. Retrieved from facdev.niu.edu
Preston, J. (2013). Increasing attention span and engagement in the classroom through chunking: A method that works for all grades. Retrieved from brighthubeducation.com
Ruttle, P. L., Shirtcliff, E. A., Serbin, L. A., Fisher, D. B., Stack, D. M., & Schwartzman, A. E. (2011). Disentangling psychobiological mechanisms underlying internalizing and externalizing behaviors in youth: Longitudinal and concurrent associations with cortisol. Hormones and Behaviors 59 (1), pp. 123-132.
Suor, J. H., Sturge-Apple, M. L., Davies, P. T., Cicchetti, D., & Manning, L. G. (2015). Tracing differential pathways of risk: Associations among family adversity, cortisol, and cognitive functioning in childhood. Child Development 86 (4), pp. 1142-1158. 


December 16, 2016

It’s not too soon to begin reviewing your program data – especially around this time of year. So, take a moment to review some tips on using data to make your program stronger and your students more prepared for college and their careers.

Check out archived sessions from the 2016 21st CCLC Summer Institute for helpful guidance on several areas of program management. For data use, go to Plenary Session 4, which discusses using data to demonstrate and improve alignment with the school day. The session offers plenty of useful information, but if you’re in a hurry, jump to the timecodes below for a few quick takeaways to help you use data to improve program outcomes:

[12:17-15:44] Consider using a logic model to illustrate the intended result of a new season of programming. Then, capture data so you can see which factors really make a difference for student outcomes. The logic model can also help explain your program’s goals and successes to parents, community partners and other audiences.

[24:30-24:56] Look closely at your data to see how successfully you’ve promoted staff professional development, built partnerships and aligned program content with the school day. These practices can be powerful levers to improve student outcomes.

[27:36-29:33] Work with your state’s afterschool network to find ways to effectively leverage data from your program and other programs in your state. You can find information about your state’s afterschool network from these websites: the Afterschool Alliance and The Power of Afterschool.

[35:25-37:18] Keep the lines of communication open between your program and your partner school district by using teacher-staff meetings, surveys and tools that facilitate information exchanges and drive mutual support. The more you know about the school day, the better you’ll be able to create action plans that support students.