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August 23, 2021

For generations now, educators have invited parents into the classroom to speak about their work in hopes of both engaging families and sparking professional inspiration. Meanwhile, virtual learning has opened many creative avenues. Consider how you might investigate virtual opportunities to bring a physician or researcher or entrepreneur who looks like your students into your program virtually, and make a surprising impact on your students’ lives.

Start by Asset Mapping

You always want to start with your own community when it comes to guest speakers, though we’ll move on to expanding that thinking in a moment. Guest speakers are nothing more than a new type of partner, and Y4Y’s course on Strategic Partnerships, and specifically, tools for identifying partners, community asset mapping, (and then mapping community assets to partners) can help. Reach out for guest speakers in your own geographic community if your goals include

  • Highlighting professionals who have walked in the same shoes as your students.
  • Featuring adults with an intimate understanding of your community.
  • Establishing a longer-term relationship that might lead to field trips or internships.
  • Providing a resource to families.

Reach out and Touch Someone

The quest for a guest speaker doesn’t have to be limited by geography. What goals of your program might demand expanding your horizons and reaching out to touch professionals outside your community?

  • A desire to connect students to a highly specific profession such as astronomer or neurosurgeon.
  • Inspiring students with a minor celebrity such as a lesser-known children’s book author or minor league athlete.
  • Offering a vision of life beyond your community.
  • Connecting with any professional areas that you can’t tap into in your own area, such as an active military member, farmer, marine biologist or TV producer.

Where Should I Start?

Follow these tips to empower your program and bring exciting guest speakers to your program.

  • Think big. The worst thing that happens is that your emails go unanswered or told no. It hurts nothing to ask.
  • Do your research. If a public figure, local or otherwise, is inclined to work with youth groups, you’re bound to find traces of that on their social media. If not, you can always note that you might be asking them to reach outside their comfort zone, and will keep their visit out of social media yourselves.
  • Reverse-engineer it. Build buzz about a lesser-known author or professional by introducing students to their books or work, then approaching the author or scientist (or athlete, etc.) with tales of the students’ enthusiasm over their contributions.
  • Make no promises. Speak in general terms with the students about the kinds of guest speakers they’d like to have in your program so you’re sure to include their voice, but don’t let them in on specifics until you have firm commitments.
  • Have an elevator email. Remember the 1-minute elevator speech you’ve been advised to carry around on the tip of your tongue? Modify it to a 1-minute email. Be dynamic! Be funny! Be shameless! But be professional. Guilt trips are never a way to go. Instead, keep it light and positive, focusing on how inspiring it might be for them to meet your students. Don’t forget to include a catchy, informative subject line – you’re a marketer now! Something like, “Our urban students love your book, Ms. Love,” or “Please take our rural students to the Phoenix Cluster, Prof. M!”
  • Be prepared. Once you have a commitment, make sure students have questions prepared. Offer them areas of wonders they could draw from, such as the guest’s own childhood, education or training, inspirations and even guilty pleasures.
  • Follow it up. If you’re lucky enough to get an exciting virtual guest for your program, be sure every student sends an old-school thank you note. “Package” the experience with a digital scrapbook to use for future guest and student recruitment. Most important, have a meaningful reflection project for your students.

Something to bear in mind as education shifts into recovery mode is that we have many areas of strength and resilience to draw from after the pandemic. One power of virtual learning is the ability to bring every corner of the world right into your program space. Prospective guests are sure to respect your focus on the positive. And why not show your students there’s a lesson to learn in every setback?



August 6, 2021

A sense of purpose drives most success in life, whether that success is as a parent, a home health aide or president of the United States. By tapping into that human instinct in every one of your students, you can make an immeasurable impact on their lives. Two Y4Y courses, Citizen Science and Civic Learning and Engagement, offer ways to help students find a path to community participation that can give them a sense of greater purpose well beyond their years in your program.

Citizen science means that everyday members of the community can make impactful contributions to scientific advances. This crowdsourcing of information takes little training or even deep understanding of all the principles at work, though often participants in a citizen science project gain significant knowledge through their involvement. Have your students felt like bystanders for the last 18 months, helpless as a new virus wreaked havoc on the world? Biomedical scientists are always looking for volunteers to advance their work. CitizenScience.org has a full list of projects soliciting help in all aspects of COVID-19. Explore many other topics, ranging from studying water quality to space feature hunting, at CitizenScience.gov or through your own internet searching. Just keep these simple tips and tools at hand:

In a similar way, Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course offers helpful guidance for channeling students’ interest in their community into meaningful contribution. Youth of today are increasingly engaged in the world around them. Whether this is because of social media, cameras on cell phones that make more human experiences universally accessible, or a less tangible raising of collective consciousness, there’s no denying that young people today are aware of the problems around them and they’re eager to fix them. Public figures like climate change activist Greta Thunberg, education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and gun control activist David Hogg may very well reflect the passion and drive you see in the students in your program.

It’s never too early to start sowing those seeds of community purpose in your 21st CCLC program. Start by

Citizen science and civic engagement aren’t mutually exclusive. You may opt to offer both kinds of opportunities to your students to expand the breadth of your program. Studies tell us that they’ll expand their skills, feel empowered, grow into responsible and productive citizens, and even live longer by establishing the practice of being contributors. Most famously, the Harvard Grant study, now 83 years running, demonstrates that “people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” according to Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger. Your program, along with the school-day, may be the first communities your students are experiencing. Help them expand that vision of community beyond your walls, your city and even the country. Your students will benefit, and so will the world.



July 8, 2021

Some educators suggest we should resist the idea that “learning loss” is the only thing that happened to students during the pandemic. Why? They want everyone, including students, to recognize what they’ve gained over the past 18 months. For example, some gained technology skills; developed a greater appreciation for family, friends and the great outdoors; and discovered resilience they didn’t know they had. Yes, there were losses, but there were gains as well. What does this mean in your 21st CCLC program?

Focus on the Positives

If policymakers were to build from scratch a new program to support learning recovery today, it might look a lot like a 21st CCLC program. Summer and afterschool learning. Tutoring. Family engagement. Student voice and choice. Attention to social and emotional learning and positive learning environments. Increased support for underserved students in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. These are priorities that have been emerging in all recovery plans, so existing 21st CCLC programs are ahead of the game! With that in mind, let’s set aside those negatives that are getting plenty of airtime and focus on the positives.

  • Funding. The American Rescue Plan for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER III) is disbursing funds through states and school districts. Whether you’re in a school-based or a community-based program partnering with a school district, you’re sure to be already collaborating on how your program can beef up tutoring, especially to meet shared student goals. If you missed Y4Y’s webinar on ARP ESSER III addressing how 21st CCLC programs can make the most of funding, check it out today!
  • Lessons learned. The world of education is ever-evolving. Challenging periods can provide important lessons, if we pay attention. Your program professionals have likely discovered how to be resourceful about everything from seeking out education resources to strengthening human connections — with peers and students — when faced with obstacles. Your students’ families have learned how to advocate for their children on a whole new level. And students are walking away with skill sets nobody would have imagined at such young ages.

Name and “Own” Your New Strengths

Which of these new strengths have you, your staff or students developed during the pandemic?

  • Flexibility. You had that going for you before the pandemic, but now you’re the Olympic gymnasts of education when it comes to flexibility.
  • Tech wizardry. Staff and students alike have gained amazing skill sets for navigating the virtual world. You’re making the most of a whole host of useful features on various platforms and eking out new kinds of experiences — like fascinating field trips around the world and in your own (literal) backyards — thanks to virtual learning.
  • Organization. The added workload called on staff to heighten their organizational skills. At the same time, students — even younger ones  — developed impressive skills at time, schedule and workload management.
  • Social and emotional development. The five skill domains of social and emotional learning (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationships skills) got a lot of “exercise” during virtual learning. Most educators have concerns that gaps in social-emotional development are as pronounced as academic gaps. Yet being on camera every day gave many students a boost in certain aspects of self-awareness and self-management. It also reinforced an appreciation of relationships, leaving students eager to participate and be fully present for in-person learning.
  • Resilience and a growth mindset. The oyster and the pearl are the ultimate symbol that an irritant can turn into something beautiful. The resilience that all staff and students have gained sets everyone up for great future achievements.

Apply What You’ve Gained

There are so many positives and new strengths to focus on! How is your 21st CCLC program moving forward to apply what you’ve learned and make “learning loss” an obsolete term? See how many of these things you’re already doing:

  • Trying new virtual platforms. You’re no longer afraid of the brave new virtual world. The more tricks you can find, the better! Check out Y4Y’s two archived webinar series on 21st CCLCs in a virtual world (part 1 for novices or part 2 for masters). You’ll learn about dozens of platforms and how you can use them virtually or in person.
  • Leaning into the power of resilience. Keep reminding students that as things get better, as things feel better, they’ll carry with them always the muscles built when they had to be resilient. Nothing hits a message home like a good story. Y4Y offers a Teaching Resilience Book List with suggestions for read-alouds at different grade levels.
  • Counting on partners. You may be increasing the number of paid and volunteer tutors in your program. Your retired teachers association is a great resource. Be sure to map other community assets as well. To learn the basics of partnership development, see the Implementation Strategies section in Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course.
  • Making time to connect. Developing relationships is the pinnacle of social and emotional development. So even as academic focus intensifies, you’ll want to make sure that human connections stay front and center in your program. Y4Y’s Building Relationships Training to Go is a great tool for brushing up if staff are looking for fresh ideas on how to connect with students. These basic ideas carry over into ever-important peer relationships as well.
  • Bringing students along in planning. In February’s Education Week, there’s a great quote from Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade civics teacher in Boston Public Schools (and Boston’s 2013 Educator of the Year). She notes, “One important lesson I’ve learned from my students is that everything I plan with them goes much better than anything I plan without them.” Build on the self-awareness they’ve developed and consult Y4Y’s Student Voice and Choice course or accompanying tools like Student Survey: How Do I Learn Best? if you’re looking for tips on how to effectively incorporate student voice in your program and activity planning.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, every human experience gives us a new opportunity to weigh our practices, our habits, and our ways of doing — and to weed out the things that don’t work. With that exercise comes the opportunity to view new experiences differently. Instead of focusing on “learning loss” in your 21st CCLC program, scrounge around for the unexpected opportunities brought about by the pandemic, and discover how you can build on those gems to ensure a bright future for all your students.



April 7, 2021

The school day is the protein-rich foundation in your students’ day. Your 21st CCLC program is the light and sweet finish. When you align your efforts, everyone leaves the table satisfied. Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, has simple tips on forming a delicious pairing.

We’re Hungry! (The Why)

This spring is an important time to commit to intentional collaboration with your school-day counterparts. This collaboration can and should intersect with staff at every level of your program.

  • School-day teachers are taking an inventory of the academic recovery each student is facing. Students’ circumstances and their responses to virtual and hybrid education during the pandemic can vary widely, even within a single virtual classroom. Students’ academic gains and losses through this academic year are also likely to vary widely.
  • Student health and wellness have suffered universally as well, but schools may be spread thin, given the high priority on academic recovery. Your program can play a key role in supporting students’ health and wellness.
  • Funds are available! The Afterschool Alliance produced a webinar, “$122 Billion for Education in American Rescue Plan: What It Means for OST Programs,” on how out-of-school time programs like yours can boost their role in recovery. Your school-day partners will be hungry to work with you to maximize access to this funding on behalf of your mutual students.
  • Most districts can’t follow their students through the summer, but your program can. Jointly, you can decide the best approach for each student.

Spread Generously. (The How)

Developing or strengthening partnerships with the school day doesn’t have to be complicated. Just intentional.

Delish PB&J. (The What)

Get ready to implement the best activities your creative, mouth-watering programming juices can muster!

Unless you’re allergic to peanut butter, the idea of the PB&J pairing of the school day and your program should strike just the right tone. Each is made better with the other right there for balance. And each nourishes students in different but important ways. “Spread” the word!



March 18, 2021

Every day brings more promise of a return to “normal” 21st CCLC programming. Rich lessons we’ve taken from a year of full or partial physical separation from students include these:

  • An understanding that connectedness is everything. A decade of social media might have suggested that you can trick the brain into believing those human connections can be replaced with virtual (“wireless”) ones, but a year of pandemic has blown that theory out of the water. Relationships matter.
  • Despite those charming articles and blog posts about how the pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate and reset their eating habits, 21st CCLC families are more likely to be food insecure and dependent on processed foods for basic sustenance.
  • “Self-care” has grown way beyond buzz words; professionals in many industries, but ESPECIALLY education, are keenly aware of an escalation in stress levels from the day-to-day demands of flexibility. The stakes of student outcomes make most education professionals eager to begin bridging the learning gap that has only widened for 21st CCLC students over the course of the last year.

As the school year winds down with anything but normal momentum, the hope of more in-person programming can at least offer your program the opportunity to be one with your students, set a footing for a summer of remediation and healing, and set new priorities and practices on well-being going forward.

There’s a certain irony in suggesting the need for more “heavy lifting” to arrive at your happy place, so consider all of the resources you can take advantage of passively. Grab a cup of tea, jump on your rowing machine, or even step out with your laptop onto your patio this weekend and check out these archived webinars and Click & Go mini-lessons and podcasts. Let the messages swirl around in the back of your mind to plan for summer and fall programming with the above goals in mind.

  • A new Y4Y Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, offers a mini-lesson with the basics, as well as four short podcasts: Planning Health and Wellness Activities, Connecting With School-Day Staff on Health and Wellness, Health and Wellness On the Go, and Caring for Your Staff.
  • An archived LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, offers strategies for promoting thoughtful positivity and awareness among staff and students.
  • A four-part webinar series, Social and Emotional Learning, steps through the process for delivering high-quality social and emotional learning activities: planning, designing, implementing and assessing your efforts.
  • Another four-part webinar series, An Artfully Formed Positive Environment, provides the tools you need to paint smiles on the faces and warmth in the hearts of staff, family, partners and, most of all, your students.
  • An archived Y4Y Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreational Opportunities, lives up to the promise in its name. It demonstrates successful implementation health and wellness initiatives in out-of-school time.
  • An archived four-part webinar series, Strategic Partnerships, helps you consider how partnerships can be an asset in helping to address food insecurity among your students.

We hear it everywhere today: “Give yourself grace.” These are simple words, representing a simple concept. Goodness knows that 21st CCLC professionals across the country have extended that grace to their students! Now it’s time to be one with your students in this exercise as you ease out of an unprecedented year and into one of unity, calm and productive energy.