Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers
  1. Contact Us
  2. Join
  3. Sign In

Navigation

August 7, 2020

Every day, your students make choices that affect their future. You want them to understand that their choices matter — and enlarge their view of what’s possible. Here’s some valuable information you can use to make sure they consider career options that involve science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Let students know that

New opportunities are opening up. Cultural shifts and initiatives to offer equal opportunities in STEM careers mean greater gender and ethnic diversity than in the past. “Increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM” is a goal in America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Outdated ideas like “girls aren’t good at math” and “science isn’t for everyone” have been exposed as myths. Increasingly, STEM fields are attracting more people like Shuri, the fearless young woman who’s the chief science and technology officer of the high-tech nation Wakanda in the movie Black Panther.

STEM is opening up. You might have a student with the potential to create a new tool or product that will benefit humanity. But if no one in his family has gone to college, he doesn’t know any scientists or engineers, and he’s struggling in math class, he might think a STEM career is beyond his reach. Leaders in STEM education, however, say STEM is much more than the sum of its parts. Modern STEM education also incorporates the arts and design as well as skills like problem solving and behaviors like perseverance and cooperation. Students can tap into their strengths and interests to create their entry point. In his book Curious, for example, Ian Leslie says Apple founder Steve Jobs was “a merely competent technician” but it was his broad range of interests (including music), combined with a drive to succeed, that led his company to launch the first successful MP3 player.

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place for students to explore STEM because you can

  • Introduce interesting STEM experiences in a low-stress, high-support environment.
  • Tap into student voice and choice and give young people time to play or “tinker” with STEM ideas and materials.
  • Use project-based learning to help students connect STEM topics they’re learning in school with real-life problem-solving opportunities.
  • Engage local organizations and people with STEM connections so that students see that STEM is all around them — and is a possible career pathway for people like them.  

Y4Y is your “go-to” for STEM because it has resources like

These days, STEM is at the forefront as the world looks to research scientists for a vaccine that will end the coronavirus pandemic. Take advantage of this moment to gather students (virtually, if need be) around the idea of STEM as something that’s relevant to their lives — and a career path filled with as much potential as they are.



April 20, 2020

On March 12, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar to spark ideas around the ways 21st CCLC programs can advocate for student wellness. This idea has all-new meaning in light of the pandemic currently gripping the nation. The webinar synopsis below will get you thinking about wellness when your program reopens. It also includes resources you can share with families to support exercise and wellness right now, even though you’re not meeting in person.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Y4Y Technical Assistance team was joined by the following specialists in this field:

Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Carri Russell, Social and Emotional Wellness, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley

Jordana Lorenzo, LMSW, Program Manager for Healthy Schools and Community Programs, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Heather Erwin, Ph.D., Department Chair and Professor, University of Kentucky, Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion

Showcase Goals

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Y4Y recognizes that promoting well-being and success in life demands a “whole child” approach. An important way afterschool programs can help students meet academic standards is by increasing engagement in physical health. Studies demonstrate that maximizing physical activity, not just in designated gym or recess times, but also throughout classroom time, improves academic performance. What can your 21st CCLC programs do?

  • Promote exercise and healthy food choices in ways that are fun and engaging.

  • Build quality health and recreation activities specific to your students’ needs.

  • Integrate movement into your current program without sacrificing academic goals.

To facilitate these goals, the webinar

  • Identifies resources for national standards on healthy eating and physical activity.

  • Shares best practices for effective activity facilitation.

  • Discusses how to promote healthy behaviors through your program schedule.

Let’s Dive In

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation offers a health index and an assessment tool specifically designed for afterschool programs. This is the place to start thinking about what your students need, which might be very different from a program in another region. Here’s a great opportunity for student choice! Y4Y’s Elementary and Secondary Student Interest Surveys can be customized with a range of activities that will keep your students moving. Don’t assume all boys love basketball and all girls love to dance. Connect with the school-day gym and classroom teachers and counselors to play off what they already know works and doesn’t work to get your students moving.

In It Together

The Alliance and many successful programs they serve take the approach of the “whole school, whole community, whole child” model, which ensures there’s an entire team behind your efforts. Ms. Lorenzo described a healthy afterschool initiative in South Florida made possible through a partnership between the City of Miami Gardens, a community organization called Concerned African Women, and afterschool programs. Currently 30 sites are participating, and there are plans to expand. The site faces the usual program challenges like staff turnover. But sustainability, wellness and solid training are built into the organization to handle these challenges seamlessly. With the goal of teaching kids to grow up healthy, sites each receive a budget of $3,000 for what they need most, whether that’s more nutritious food or space to move, for example.

Lucky for your 21st CCLC program, you don’t have to do a lot of guessing at what kind of goals are realistic around wellness. In 2011, the YMCA of the U.S.A., the National Institute of Healthy Out-of-School Time and the University of Massachusetts at Boston partnered to develop the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. The four content areas of these standards are quality, staff training, program support and environmental support. Guidance is offered on how to measure and improve your efforts.

Healthy living is a goal for the long haul, and staff can model that by not being daunted by setbacks or slow progress. Teach students that incremental goals are meaningful and that positive changes, however small, are a victory. Practitioners have been delighted to discover the huge impact that initiatives around lifelong wellness have had, not just on students, but also on staff and parents. Adults show they’re taking seriously the responsibility to support students’ learning and suggestions by making their own better choices.

An effective community framework is set up and maintained through a steady stream of positive messages at home. Keep that multigenerational goal in the forefront of your mind and your planning. You know your families best: What kind of simple recipes or activity ideas can you send home to reinforce your program goals? Establishing this consistent information stream will be all the more valuable during school closures. Don’t forget that social media platforms can be a great place to get families engaged and keep them engaged. You can centralize your communications and celebrate individual and group achievement. It’s also a good opportunity for your partners to watch your program shine! Those relationships may need leveraging from time to time, so a running advertisement of your success is a helpful tool.

In fact, partnerships are key when it comes to wellness initiatives. Mr. Hatcher mentioned a STEAM program in DC that’s hosted by a children’s hospital and implemented by local libraries. A program in Ohio partnered with a hunger alliance. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation developed a set of healthy out-of-school roadmaps aligned with national physical fitness standards, one of which focuses on building program and social supports in the community. Make local experts your friends, such as professionals at the health department. They probably need your program as much as you need them, and can get you in touch with even more great professional resources in your area. Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course offers even more ideas on identifying community partners and recruiting them into your program.

Experts Agree

Dr. Erwin researches and teaches the practice of maximizing physical activity in our youth. She advocates for all student programs, including school-day academics, to carve out time for students to play games or engage in some form of physical activity. The benefits are undeniable. A well-known study encouraging at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, with aerobic exercise three of those times each week, demonstrated participants had a reduction in diabetes and cancer, strengthened muscle and bone, and better overall mental health.

Studies have shown that intermittent physical activity also improves information retention and attention. Students who are coming to school healthier are in a better frame of mind to learn. A new initiative shows that walking while learning content has yielded positive results. And a benefit of free play is the development of social skills. These are all great arguments to keep kids moving.

But how can programs find the time in an already jam-packed day? Talk with school-day teachers about ways to incorporate physical activity into what they’re already doing. They might make content homework an active assignment. Even if not assigned that way, afterschool programs can have students do their homework actively. For example, they might use a standing desk, sit on a stability ball or take frequent activity breaks. Another possibility is to make interactive lessons require a physical response, like “jump up whenever the teacher mentions the name of a continent.” Students could stretch into geometry shapes with their bodies, or act out different learning about animals. Teachers and staff can be creative with transitions — for example, by taking a longer route or performing a crazy walk.

Physical activity is a must for marketing your program to your community. Not only are families eager for their children to get their wiggles out, but you may be in competition with sports or other programs that keep up with your students’ energy level. Don’t think of incorporating physical activity into your program as a barrier. Simply make it part of the culture. Soon, finding ways to effortlessly keep kids moving will be second nature in all your planning. Dr. Erwin urges professionals to work smarter, not harder.

More Success Stories

As Director of Social and Emotional Wellness at the Boys & Girls Club of Tennessee Valley, Ms. Russell presented her thoughts on what matters most when incorporating healthy practices into your 21st CCLC program environment. She said centers need to emphasize teamwork, persevere, put relationships first and model self-control to be successful. Some crisis management will always go into afterschool programs. Just remember to support kids every day, and the tough days won’t seem so tough.

How can sites support their staff members around building social and emotional skills in students? “Ready Set Action” through the Pear Institute is one example. This Harvard-designed program is offered in one-hour increments to make it easy for staff to help students design a healthy life for themselves. A typical session includes check-ins to gauge students’ highs and lows, maybe using simple physical action to express those highs and lows. Then, students engage in fast games where they incorporate teamwork and problem solving, all of which reinforce focus and self-control. Soccer for Success is another resource that offers great ideas, like Circle Up – an activity that emphasizes team-building opportunities. A cool-down might include shaking up a jar of glitter in water and watching it settle to the bottom — reinforcing the mind-body connection. Resources like these build in mindfulness and arm students with the coping skills they’ll need in school and in life.

The Boys & Girls Club has discovered that being active together and feeling good together nurtures relationships. Students can further build their confidence by taking a leadership role, however small, in their afterschool activities. The broader the approach to physical activities, the more likely programs are to give each student an opportunity to shine. Not everyone will view themselves as athletes, but with the right mix of activities, different and perhaps unexpected leaders can emerge.

Learn more about this program and the resources they use at the Boys & Girls Club website.

Support Your Staff and Students

Be sure staff members are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to run activities effectively. For example, do they know the rules of the sport they are supervising? Institute routines for consistency, such as rules about student help with cleanup. Offer activities that are fun for staff as well as students — enthusiasm is infectious! Consider providing staff with the modifications and adaptions in advance that will allow ALL students in your program to be successful. Try something new, even if it means modifying for one or all students, like having everyone do seated yoga or volleyball to accommodate a student with a disability. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is an invaluable resource if your program is looking for ways to be more inclusive. When offering student choice, bear in mind that a list of activities to choose from as opposed to open-ended suggestions means you can be thinking about possible modifications and have them at the ready. It also allows for variation in the physical fitness of your students. Around that central concern of childhood obesity and fitness, a real consideration may be students who are uncomfortable participating in physical activities. Remember to start small. Focus on wellness, not weight. Getting up and getting moving is task number one.

Staff retention is greatest when you set staff members up for success, and ensure positivity and enjoyment. Work with them to define healthy choices for themselves, and empower them to convey that message to students. Everyone’s load can be lightened when students are asked and expected to interact in a substantive way. Never assume students are too young to have responsibility or to be leaders. Rather, responsibility makes tasks more meaningful to them. The positive climate you’re building will carry over to family engagement.

Encourage and support self-care among your staff. You might ask them to take turns bringing ideas about self-care to the group, or hold staff meetings outdoors or have a walking meeting if weather and circumstances allow.

The Audience Speaks

Participants in the webinar were asked, “How are you incorporating healthy eating into your programming?” Popular ideas included planting gardens (which inspires students to participate in the process of growth and fosters an attraction to healthy, fresh food); partnering with local grocery stores, farm-to-table restaurants, or farms; food festivals with donated produce for students and families to sample; and cooking demonstrations and activities.

When asked “How has your program modified activities to increase student participation?,” webinar participants’ clever responses included having older students design an activity and then teach it to younger ones; offering different expertise levels for activities and letting students select the level at which they feel most comfortable participating. Hands down, the most common response was simply “Provide student voice and choice!” Check out Y4Y’s customizable Student Interest Survey to make sure student voice is heard loud and clear. 



January 22, 2020

The Y4Y team thanks Shannon Browning, 21st CCLC Program Director at Macomb Public School in Oklahoma, for her heartfelt answers to questions about food insecurity faced by so many Oklahoma students. Ms. Browning offers great ideas on how 21st CCLC programs in other states can also help.

Y4Y: Food insecurity is not an uncommon challenge among 21st CCLC students. Can you share how prevalent this is in your state, and what that insecurity looks like?

SB: According to the Oklahoma Health Equity Campaign, one out of every four Oklahoma children lives with food insecurity. From the small, rural, high-poverty perspective, it feels even more prevalent. Our school offers breakfast and lunch to all of our students at no charge, and now we are able to provide a snack before and supper following our 21st CCLC afterschool program. What does this look like for us? We have several children that have approached me before 9 a.m. at school asking me what we would be serving for supper. One moment that will forever stand out in my mind is when I had a student in the first grade start crying one day when school was releasing early and we had to cancel afterschool programming because of a storm coming into our community. I walked into the elementary to make sure we had contacted all of the parents, and the student was sobbing in the hallway. I sat down with him and tried to comfort him, explaining that it was just a precaution and we would all be OK. He told me he was crying because he would not get to eat supper that night. The only meals this child ate were at our school. Food insecurity is a very real thing to these children.

Y4Y: Funding from 21st CCLC grants cannot be used for food, yet you have described food security as a priority in your programs. How have grantees worked creatively to address this concern?

SB: Our leadership team, led by our superintendent, Matt Riggs, placed food security as a top priority and focus of our program from the very first day. It was never an option to “not” provide this service. Our cafeteria manager is very actively involved in making sure we meet all the child nutrition guidelines for this service. We have an outstanding 21st CCLC Oklahoma State Department of Education team that connects us with the right resources. While the supper program is not a 21st CCLC-funded program, we work hand-in-hand to make sure that it works for all of our students who need it.

This past July, the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning and Representative Monroe Nichols from District 72 hosted a gathering of leaders in Oklahoma City. The conference was designed for leaders across the state to explore several topics facing Oklahoma students, with a focus on the role out-of-school time programming plays in supporting those students. Topics included Oklahoma’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, addressing food insecurity and healthy living, adverse childhood experiences and outlining a collective legislative agenda. The topic most heavily discussed was food insecurity.

Y4Y: Can you describe specific examples or anecdotes along your path to ensure that your students are well nourished that would be useful to other states facing the same concerns?

SB: We work together with several organizations to provide food and resources for the families in our community. We partner with the Avedis Foundation, Department of Human Services, Chickasaw Nation, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Absentee Shawnee tribe, local churches and community members to help find resources suited to each of our families’ needs. We had a student-led group that initiated providing boxes of food for students every Friday that would last them through the weekend. While this started out as a small initiative, it snowballed into an enormous resource for our community. At one point, we were sending home boxed meals for over 40 students. Because of space, two of our local churches took this over to better serve our community. This program is still running today, three years later.

Y4Y: Please share any additional benefits or surprising outcomes that resulted from your state placing a priority on food security for its students.

SB: One benefit was a wonderful response to our afterschool and summer programs. Our attendance is well above our targeted 65 students each day, usually ranging from 70 to 85 students daily, and continues to grow each year. Our community is supportive of what we are doing for the students. The Macomb community, like so many small rural communities in Oklahoma, had become very disjointed from the school and each other. This program has helped to restore a conversation between the school and community that had been deficient in past years. I think the community understands that the school and partners are working with the families rather than against them. Food insecurity is real not only with our children, but also with our adults. Placing emphasis on this need in their personal lives seems to help reinforce this common goal.

Y4Y: Did we miss any important points around this issue? If so, please share any other wisdom on the topic.

SB: Food insecurity and the results thereof are among several issues slowly degrading small communities in rural Oklahoma. If we can help even a small portion of this problem by addressing the food needs of the family and giving them a resource lifeline, we can make a difference in our community, our state, and our world.



December 12, 2019

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you will [always see the crack in its] reflection.” ―Lady Gaga

The special role of 21st CCLC professionals is to act as a center of gravity for the students you serve, bringing together the efforts of families, community partners and school-day educators in a positive and constructive way. Gimmicks, manipulation, and pretending to care don’t work in the long run, and you know that. You want to be the real deal.

Nothing could be more important than earning the authentic trust of your school, community and family partners, but life is full of people who are slow to trust.

Patience is essential to building trust. Trust can’t be rushed. Take the time you need to avoid serious missteps, which can be hard to correct, as Lady Gaga so poignantly observes. Even when time feels so preciously limited, it never hurts to take a beat before you speak or act.

Transparency is also key. Hiding “bad news” from partners has been debunked in personal as well as professional partnerships as ultimately damaging to building true trust. You demonstrate that you have faith in a partner when you honor that partner with the truth.

Remember that keeping your word, following through, and demonstrating that you value relationships are additional key elements to building trust. Y4Y’s Supporting and Engaging Families tool has ideas on when and how to achieve this with families. The Y4Y Partnering With Schools Rubric has insights on what a strong school relationship looks like, and the Partnership Evaluation Rubric in Y4Y’s new Strategic Partnerships course examines healthy elements with community partners. All of these tools can help you build trusting partnerships.

Also at the center of a trusting partnership is mutual understanding of goals. The Responsibility Checklist for Principal and Program Director is a helpful tool to maintaining a trusting partnership with your school-day counterparts. The Memorandum of Understanding Tool spells out considerations you’ll want to take into account at the beginning of a community partnership to maintain trust for the life of that relationship and beyond. Understanding Program Families and other Y4Y family engagement tools set the stage for open dialog on program expectations, illustrating that activity planning is a joint effort.

Finally, a critical practice in building trust is demonstrating that you appreciate the individuality of your partners — that they’re more than their roles. Here’s an example: When you take your child to Dr. Goodhealth, does the doctor call you by your name, or does she call you “mom” or “dad”? If Dr. Goodhealth refers to you only by your role, do you wonder if she leaves the room and refers to your child as “the GI bug in exam room three” instead of the one-and-only “Sarah”? Changing your practices with something as simple as calling students’ parents by their names and learning a little about them will demonstrate that you care about them for more than their role in your life or program, and thereby foster trust. Use the ideas in Y4Y’s Reaching Out to Families tool to help you connect. Also, be aware of the challenges your students’ families may be facing. Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement is a Y4Y tool that can broaden your awareness.

Just like that mirror, never forget that broken trust can and should be repaired.



December 12, 2019

The concept of mentoring has been infused into all levels of society, from elementary school buddy programs to Fortune 500 executive training. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Being mentored can be powerful.

According to research cited by The National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor were 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions than their peers who were not mentored. Also 90% are, themselves, interested in becoming mentors. You’ve undoubtedly recognized the benefit to students of bringing mentors to your 21st CCLC program. Now it’s time to put together your elevator speech for adults in your community to educate them on what mentoring does for them on the two-way street called Mentor Way.

First, take a minute to reflect on the people in your life whom you consider mentors. Do you have a formal mentoring relationship? Probably not. For most people, our mentors are just people with more experience in some facet of living, even as fundamental as how to breathe (think swimming or Lamaze). The thing that made them special was, yes, their knowledge and wisdom, but equally important, their approachability and their desire to be useful to others. No doubt, there are people in your community with these characteristics. Finding them and connecting them with your program is one of the most valuable things you can do for your students, and for the “mentors in waiting” who respond to your call to serve.

Y4Y’s new course on strategic partnerships includes many tools that can help you map your community assets and link those assets to your program needs. For example, what if the greatest need in your program is support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities? Can you approach a local university to solicit student volunteers who might be wooed with the promise of a resume builder, improved communications skills, confidence boosting, networking opportunities and gratitude for their help? Factor these benefits for mentors into a targeted elevator speech for this potential partner.

What if your greatest need is literacy support? The retired teachers association in your area is a great resource for men and women who are hardwired to help and teach young people, and have the time and skills to do it. Your elevator speech for these potential volunteers might emphasize the liberty of leaving in the afternoon with no papers to grade, the emotional satisfaction of helping young people, the health benefits of contributing in a meaningful way, and the intellectual stimulation that comes from keeping up with their profession.

If strengthening social and emotional support for students is high on your list of program needs, check out community resources for mentors who can offer that extra adult guidance. These resources might run the gamut from veteran organizations to Big Brother/Sister programs to graduates of your program or programs like it. What does the other side of the street look like in this mentor-mentee relationship? This mentor has opportunities to reflect on the choices they’ve made in their own lives, to watch another life grow and change with their involvement, and to rest easy that they’ll be leaving the world a little better than they found it.