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December 6, 2021

Do you ever feel like you dove into your 21st CCLC program midstream? You could be a new frontline staff member joining midyear, a site coordinator hired with lots of “this is how we do it” rules, or a program director who’s handed a funded grant and asked to make it happen. It can feel like a game of catch-up, but the other side of that coin is: Coming in midway means some groundwork has already been laid for you! Whatever your program role, Y4Y’s updated Introduction to the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program course (Intro to 21st CCLCs) can help you from beginning to middle to the end, if that’s where you happen to be coming in! The new course breaks 21st CCLC programs down into three phases: planning, implementing and sustaining.

Beginning: Planning

Planning includes everything from deciding to apply for a grant to gathering stakeholders to reviewing legislation, performing a needs assessment, considering how to leverage your partnerships and assets, understanding your state’s application (or request for application — RFA) and applying or reapplying for a grant. Your role in this phase depends on your role in the organization.

A few things to know about planning if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • You should have an idea of the who, what, where, why, when and how of 21st CCLC programs. The introduction section of the new course is a great primer on the spirit of 21st CCLCs.
  • Ask your supervisors or peers what aspect of 21st CCLCs your program emphasizes (or plans to emphasize, if it’s a new grant). Examples include general academic enrichment, career exploration, STEM/STEAM projects, community engagement, or social and emotional learning (SEL). Remember: (1) there’s not a single “right” answer — your program is designed around the needs of your community; (2) your program might emphasize more than one area of need; and (3) your program’s priorities have probably shifted over time. Try to understand these shifts and when and how they might happen again. Embrace a flexible mindset about shifting priorities. These priorities can inform your interactions with your students.
  • As you become comfortable in your role, recognize that you’ll be a key player in data collection and setting priorities! If you’re providing academic support but discover half of your students aren’t able to focus on academics because of difficult situations or traumatic experiences in their personal lives, your frontline feedback will be critical in moving the needle toward more emphasis on SEL.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about planning if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • Whether a new grant or an existing one, get to know the elements of programming for the grant(s) you’re managing. What are the regulations around areas like staffing, expenditures and recruitment? Whether a pre-existing or new position, you might ask your program director to connect you with other programs in your area or state to speak with peers in the field about their own hard-learned do’s and don’ts. Remember to continue to crosswalk these discoveries with your program’s grant proposal and regulations.
  • Begin to think about the relationships that will be key for you to establish and maintain as a site coordinator. What will your role be in interacting with school or district administrators? With families? Within the organization?
  • Consider your role in training staff, and bearing that role in mind, acquaint yourself with the initiatives and priorities your stakeholders are calling for as they prepare the grant, or that have been documented in an existing grant.
  • Review the full Intro to 21st CCLCs course, especially the section on coaching my staff, to gain a better understanding of where to find the resources you need.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about planning if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • For a new grant, begin by bringing together serious stakeholders (folks who are ready to work!) from every aspect of programming — partners and parents from around the community and local education agency (LEA). Train together with the full Intro to 21st CCLCs course before moving forward with the grant planning strategies described there.
  • For grants that are funded but not yet implemented, forge an open line of communication with the team who contributed to its writing.
  • Your 21st CCLC state coordinator is your new best friend. Look to them with any questions you have along the way.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

Middle: Implementation

Phase 2 is implementation. Anyone joining a 21st CCLC program midstream is likely in this phase of the grant, which lasts for most of its lifespan. A new team member will have a “getting to know you” period, which hopefully leads to a “helping the program improve” period. Consider what’s been done for you versus what lies ahead, depending on your role.

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • Review your program’s policies and procedures, including those around safety. It’s best to direct any questions to your site coordinator or program director to be sure you’re honoring the grant.
  • “Off book” advice from peers can also be helpful. Just be sure to understand official practices set forth because it’s always possible that other frontline staff don’t fully understand the guidelines or have fallen into bad habits. An example of this could be poor handling of student privacy or ways of addressing behavior management.
  • Be sure to understand all aspects of activity delivery. If you don’t fully understand why an activity was designed a certain way, don’t be afraid to ask. You’re a much more effective facilitator when you’re invested in the process.
  • Offer real-time feedback to peers and supervisors to ensure the most effective program delivery.
  • Remember that relationships are the foundation of your work with students. Regularly foster appropriately warm and engaging personal interactions with each young person in your group.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • You’re an important bridge between the program director, who has a high-level view of activities and budget, and the frontline staff who put activities in motion. Be sure your communication style and advocacy for appropriate allocation of time, space and resources makes sense up and down the organization.
  • Understanding how to intentionally design activities is an absolute must. Revisit the grant as often as needed to carry out this key role.
  • If you’re coming into a previously existing position, ask your program director and frontline staff what they liked about how your predecessor coordinated the work. What changes would they like to see?
  • Communication outside of the organization is just as important. Gauge where the program is with recruitment, family engagement efforts and data collection, and try to be consistent with your predecessor if you’re coming in midstream. After your stakeholders have gotten to know you is the time to make improvements to that system, unless they make you immediately aware of problems that existed before you entered the program. In that case, assure them of your commitment to the grant and the students it serves.
  • Staff training should be a priority. You may discover that staff training in your program is little more than being handed a policies and procedures guide. Explore the Y4Y courses and Click & Go’s, and determine which ones your staff can benefit from right away. Consider asking staff members to take different courses and share their takeaways during staff meetings.
  • Engage in Y4Y’s Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about implementing if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • Observation is going to be a top priority. Spend your nonprogram hours catching up on everything about planning that has been documented, and spend your program hours visiting sites.
  • Be sure that, in addition to the day-to-day aspects of your program’s implementation, you understand the components that went into its planning. This knowledge will help you remain true to the program goals and understand its “roots” so that you can revisit all aspects of planning as needed.
  • You might consider an informal survey of your stakeholders via email to assure them that you want to honor their voices as the program takes a little different shape under your leadership. Assure them that changes will be made only to benefit students or to ensure that the program follows the letter of the grant.
  • Continue or establish a culture of positivity and improvement. This includes encouraging sites to budget time and resources for staff to feel safe about giving honest feedback and for training.
  • Ensure that systems are in place for recruiting students and staff, choosing and designing appropriate activities, and collecting and managing data for the duration of the program. Be sure to look ahead to your reporting requirements so that there are no surprises at reporting time.
  • Engage in the Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course, and meet with site coordinators to understand existing delegation and to discuss any changes in responsibilities.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

End: Sustaining

Continuing and sustaining is the last phase of the 21st CCLC grant process, though there are elements of this phase throughout the life of the grant. The hallmarks of this phase include culminating events, final data collection and reporting, fiscal reconciliation and reporting, planning for continuous improvement of the program, and sustaining your initiatives beyond the period of grant funding. And yes, it’s possible to be a new frontline staff member, site coordinator or program director coming in at this phase. While you’ll have a flurry of catch-up to do no matter what your role, you can make the most of your circumstances by focusing on your assets — any and all groundwork that has been laid for you. Your investment in wrapping up loose ends will pay off in the role you’ll get to have planning for the next year or grant cycle.

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a frontline staff member who just came in:

  • Sharpen your skills of observation! The qualitative data you can provide about the growth of specific students and the success of activities will be important.
  • Don’t forget that culminating events are a wonderful opportunity to fully engage families. As your resources allow, budget the time, space and funds for something truly special.
  • Recognize your role in family and community partnerships. As your site coordinator or program director seeks to strengthen and leverage these partnerships, be sure that your interactions with families and community members are respectful and enthusiastic. You can inspire their support!
  • The same goes for student interactions. Program recruitment depends heavily on student word of mouth, especially in high school programs. You might be coming in at the end, but leave students with a great feeling about the future of your 21st CCLC program!
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a site coordinator who just came in:

  • Your program director will depend on you for end-of-cycle data collection. Quickly familiarizing yourself with related staff, budget and data needs will be key.
  • Reassure partners about the future of the program, even if leadership is undergoing shifts. Be future-oriented in your conversations, and don’t be shy with specific asks for upcoming cycles. Grant funding is limited, but creative solutions can lead to sustaining programs indefinitely.
  • Continuous improvement is essential at this stage. Give staff and students a safe opportunity to provide feedback, and collaborate with your program director on how to honor that feedback.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

A few things to know about sustaining if you’re a program director who just came in:

  • Accurate reporting will be your most important task if you’re joining a program at this phase. Relationships with SEAs, LEAs and site coordinators will be essential. Their investment in your program by this stage is significant, so don’t be shy about enlisting their help!
  • It’s never fun to jump in the moment decisions need to be made, but if you have to, be sure that in your continuous improvement of the program you’re bringing all stakeholders to the table. Some of your program’s initiatives, such as STEAM or including students with disabilities, may have dedicated program teams. If not, now might be the time to assemble those teams in order to have the voices you need to feel confident in your decisions about future years/cycles.
  • Ideas about sustaining your program (or at least some of the enrichment activities your program has offered) beyond your 21st CCLC grant may be one of the reasons you were hired at this phase. Don’t waste any time putting those ideas in motion, connecting with old partners and new, and thinking creatively about leveraging those partnerships.
  • Throughout this “end” phase of your grant year, keep in mind that all the information you’re collecting truly serves these multiple purposes. Bearing that in mind can help you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Check out these Y4Y tools:

Whatever your role in your 21st CCLC program, don’t let the game of catch-up get you down. There will always be folks who want to help, both up and down the organization and among your community partners. Taking a few beats to focus on what’s already been done for you will help you get your bearings, and it might even lift your spirits about the future of the program and your place in it! And, of course, Y4Y will be there right by your side with tools and resources. Before you know it, you’ll be the seasoned afterschool professional lending someone else a hand. Won’t that be the flip side of the coin!



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!