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April 19, 2022

A picture of a city hall building.Citizens young and old are so focused on national politics, they often don’t realize that their neighborhood or town government officials make just as many decisions that impact daily life — or more! Taking tips from two Y4Y courses, Civic Learning and Engagement and Project-Based Learning, discover how even the youngest elementary students can meet their local representatives, learn about the problems impacting their community, and make a difference in the place where they live.

From the Rocks to the Politics

The significant role of local government is coming into sharper focus for communities around the country. From small-town courthouses to the governor’s office, what basic government functions can help students better understand their place? Sarah Johnson, an environmental educator and Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, colorfully describes “learning a place” as involving investigations, “from the rocks to the politics.” This illustrates that learning a place ranges from something as unchanging and objective as a rock to something as fluid and subjective as politics. That fluidity is a good place to start! Why are politics so fluid? Elections! To help students get to know about elections in your area:

  • Arrange to visit a polling place during school board, primary, or local elections. Have a polling official ready to answer student questions about what’s being voted on and what the different outcomes mean.
  • Invite elected officials to come and talk about what they did to be elected and why they decided it was important for them to serve. Start with your local school board members, who’ll likely tell your students it was to see them succeed!
  • Hold an election in your own program for a leadership position that carries some meaning. Even down to your youngest students, if you have a student role or responsibility that the students fight for, make it a monthly elected position and emphasize how important it is to change each month, and the value of having someone who’s an active participant in the program to serve in that role.

Beyond Politics: Governing!

Under that superficial layer of “politicians” — elected officials — lie many layers of government employees who work hard, often without recognition. Recognizing the essential role of these people is an important part of students’ civic learning and engagement. Y4Y developed the Civic Learning and Engagement course specifically to help your program involve students in local governing. Check out these Y4Y tools:

More broadly, you can tailor Y4Y Project-Based Learning course tools by working with partners such as state and local government, courthouse, urban planning, and law enforcement offices; organizations like the Bar Association and Women’s Council; and elected officials at all levels of government including school boards. Ask these professionals to help direct students to real work they can do to contribute as citizens. Check out Y4Y’s:

For additional ideas and guidance on directing students through place-based civics learning, check out Y4Y’s Voices From the Field podcast, The Smithsonian, Sustainable Communities, and Your 21st CCLC Program, with Heidi Gibson, a science curriculum developer. The Smithsonian community research guide for 8- to 17-year-old students, Sustainable Communities? How will we help our community thrive?, is a great, low-tech resource for helping your students gain a deep understanding of the place where they live. All of your students’ place-based learning — in the arts, literacy, human and natural history, STEM, and careers — will ideally culminate in their development as amazing, curious, and contributing citizens of the world. And maybe even more important: citizens of their own community.



April 19, 2022

New York City, USA - April 28, 2019: People study in the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library's main building on Fifth Avenue (Stephen A. Schwarzman Building).Where did the street names in your neighborhood come from? Or park names? Or the names of bodies of water? Diving into local human history might lead you down the path of the language spoken by your city’s first European settlers or the Native Americans who once inhabited it. You might also discover surprising connections to other places and cultures all over the world! Who are the artists and writers influencing the local atmosphere today, and how are they themselves influenced by that atmosphere? Learning about the people, both past and present, who shaped and continue to shape your local culture will connect your students to their community on a whole new level!

Past Is Prologue

These famous words by William Shakespeare tell us to understand and learn from history. Of course, engaging students with dusty old facts can be challenging. Storytelling, however, is appreciated by people of all ages, and oral histories have been a key way for many cultures to pass along important knowledge. Who are some potential program partners in state and local historical societies and libraries? Local tribal elders, organizations like Freemasons, Shriners, and Daughters of the American Revolution? These are people with a passion for local history, and many have a gift for sharing that history in colorful story form.

Be sure to access Y4Y’s course on Student Voice and Choice to drive your place-based historical inquiry. You might work with your partners to draft a questionnaire on what interests your students most, then use the results to drive your activities. Here are some potential questions to explore:

  • What Native peoples lived in the region 500 years ago?
  • What was their lifestyle like?
  • What became of them?
  • What Europeans or other non-Native peoples first settled here?
  • What was their motivation for coming? Did they come here by choice?
  • What were they looking to “create” with the farms/towns/cities they established?
  • Who developed our specific neighborhood or community?
  • How does it differ historically from other neighborhoods or communities around town?

Keeping the ever-changing tapestry of American cities in mind, you can shift your place-based human history to the present by partnering with regional educational and city government officials. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Who are our largest immigrant populations today?
  • What are their motivations for coming?
  • What are they seeking from and for our community?

Effective place-based learning activities around your community’s human history can also help your students to realize that they are creating new history in that community, and that they have the potential to make an even greater impact into adulthood. For example, young people across the country are digging deeper into some historical facts that might not carry much pride in the modern era, and are pressing for school name changes. Although this concept may not sit well with community traditionalists, your partnerships can help your community grow and progress more smoothly through collaboration and mutual understanding.

Creative Influence

In an era of recorded music, audiobooks, online movie streaming, and mass production of art prints, how many adults, let alone young people, are tuned in to their local art and cultural scene? You don’t have to attend the philharmonic or exclusive art gallery openings to take an interest in your local creative culture and learn something about your community’s influencers, and neither do your students! Even more interesting, you can give students cultural and literacy experiences by discovering from local painters, potters, musicians, and authors how the community influences their work.

Start by again asking students what art forms appeal most to them. Then connect with your state and local art, music, and writers’ guilds; dedicated unions in any of these fields; privately operated performance companies such as local ballet, theater, and orchestra; and bookstores — especially independent stores — known to feature local authors:

  • Do any artisans have a studio in walking distance from your program? Why did they choose this neighborhood?
  • Perhaps a mural has been painted and you have an opportunity to connect with its creator to discuss how the piece came about.
  • Are the schools in your district aware of any alumni who have published? Would they be willing to work with you on a place-based literacy activity?
  • Summer street fairs are rich with local artisans of all forms. Maybe your summer program can connect with organizers to learn which artists are passionate about the region, and you can partner for a place-based art lesson.
  • Is there an accomplished local musician who can be found on the same corner of town on a regular basis, guitar in hand, their case open for contributions? Help students understand how accepting donations for performances (“busking”) differs from panhandling. Some may say street musicians or buskers enrich that neighborhood. What do nearby merchants and residents say about it?

Here are a few useful Y4Y tools to take on this place-based learning of human history and culture:

Author Paul Gruchow notes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “I read, in the course of 12 years of English instruction, many useful and stimulating books, but I never learned that someone who had won a National Book award for poetry… lived and worked on a farm 30 miles from my house…. I had not imagined, or been encouraged to imagine, that it was possible to live in the country, and to write books too…. I was left to unearth by my own devices, years later, the whole fine literature of my place.” Help your students to discover what rich human history and creative works have inspired and been inspired by the place in which they live.



April 19, 2022

A multi-ethnic group of elementary school children are outdoors on a sunny day. They are wearing casual clothing. They are learning about nature in science class. A girl is using a magnifying glass to look for bugs.Have students noticed new weeds growing in the schoolyard? Does a bridge across the street have support beams at an unusual angle? Is there an odd discoloration of a highway retaining wall where water seeps through? There are lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) all around us! Solving mysteries in their own backyards helps students discover how relevant science is to their own lives. It’s not just for college professors and lab techs in white coats — though you may put students on the path to becoming one through meaningful experiences!

The Future of Science Starts With History

Students might not realize how much science is about history — natural history. What are the past and present geological and biological features of your region? If there are radical differences among the natural environments around your state (like deserts, grasslands, mountains, lakes, and beaches), what’s the significance of those differences?  What’s their effect on your state’s social, political, and economic development? Learning about the natural history of your region can be exciting for students, and it can lead to rich exploration. You might have a museum of natural history in your area where students can see replicas of the ice caps that once covered your part of the country not so very long ago, or of wooly mammoths or even dinosaurs that once stood in the very place where they are standing. Also consider partnering with your local park services, private-practice environmental scientists, university extension offices, geological societies, and publicly and privately maintained hiking trails, waterways, campgrounds, and other outdoor venues. Each of these likely has professionals who are eager to share their knowledge of local natural history. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s course on strategic partnerships and related tools if forming new partnerships is uncharted territory for your program. A few of the most relevant tools are called out in a companion blog post this month: Place-Based Learning in Career Pathways.

Remember to communicate with school-day educators so your efforts are supporting their science curriculum. Here are just a few examples of natural history learning that can be supported with place-based exploration in your area:

  • Plant reproduction: Take a walk right outside your program door. Are weeds growing in unusual places, such as gutters or cracks in the sidewalk? If nowhere near a parent plant, how might the seeds have traveled to those locations? Are the plants native or invasive? Who decides if something’s a plant vs. a weed? What might students guess about how much water is available in the area, now and in the past? Considering the biological future of your region, how important is it for these species of plants that the same level of water be consistently available? Is anything threatening that?
  • Geology: Is there any new construction happening in your area? With appropriate permissions and safety precautions, can you visit a construction site where the earth has been dug away? What do the students notice about changes in color as the hole deepens, and what does that mean about the history of that place? Do you have hills or mountains in the area that can be seen on a short walk? Ask students to imagine what the ground beneath their feet might have looked like millions of years ago before the tectonic plates collided. Once they’ve gained that personal observation of the results of tectonic plate movement, what do they imagine the place will look like in another million years?
  • Climate change: Yes, climate change is as old as the earth itself. But is it possible that humans are speeding it up? What do your students notice about the air quality today? How about yesterday? Try taking a photo of the same spot on the horizon each day at the same time, and ask students to judge if it looks the same from day to day, week to week. They can also use the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s AirNow.gov website to check the daily Air Quality Index for their zip code.

Putting the TEM in STEM

Science is just one quarter of STEM learning. Rural programs might have an edge over urban programs in terms of access to nature, but urban programs may be surrounded by wonders of human engineering! Potential partners for direct learning and activity ideas include engineering firms, your local government planning department, technology companies, technical schools, and a host of professional organizations. Here are just a few examples of place-based exploration and activity ideas you can consider in either rural or urban programs:

  • Follow the rainwater: Ask students if they’ve ever watched rainwater collect along the road and flow in what direction? Downhill, of course. (Hello gravity!) How far apart are grates placed? Do students think they might be more or less spaced out in the desert? In Seattle? Have they ever noticed that all roads are concave? All of that was engineered intentionally! What would happen if it hadn’t been?
  • Parking problems: Try measuring an unused section of your program parking lot and counting the parking spots. Are lines at right angles or at diagonals? Do students believe the designer could have gotten more or fewer spaces by laying it out the opposite way? Can you find a formula online for improving your parking lot? So much math! Check out Y4Y’s resources for project-based learning as you set out on this activity!
  • Green means go: Stand at your nearest traffic light and have a pair of students time and record the lights in opposing directions. Have other students count how many cars go through each light, and how many “get stuck.” Ask them to look closely at the lights to see if they can tell whether they might have sensors to help traffic flow in a logical way. Invite your city technology planners to explain the system and allow students to discuss their guesswork and offer their ideas on how to improve the system!

As you plan for place-based STEM learning in your program through these and even more ambitious ideas, be sure to access Y4Y’s STEAM course and course resources. The design thinking framework will have greater impact on students when they identify STEM-related problems and propose solutions for them in the very place where they live and learn.

As Paul Gruchow writes in Discovering the Universe of Home, “The great spectacles of nature, of fire and wind, of rain and ice, of heat and cold, of metamorphosis, of birth and death, of struggle and decay, of quiet and beauty visit alike the prairies of southwestern Minnesota and the boroughs of New York City…. What happens when you apply the imaginations of history to the events of any place, however small, is that its connections with all the rest of the universe then come into view.”



April 11, 2022

Career pathways exploration may involve those fantasy jobs like astronaut or deepwater diver that aren’t found on every corner of every town. But Y4Y’s course on career pathways can direct you toward activities you can plan to expand students’ awareness of education and career opportunities close to home. Some students in 21st CCLC programs may not see themselves ever straying far from the community they grew up in, while others may think leaving is their only option. Either way, early connections to career paths and possibilities right in their own backyard will give students more investment in the community today and better ensure their future success and contribution to the world around them, no matter where they end up.

Partnerships

When taking a place-based approach to exploring career pathways with students, you might start by asking yourself a question: How do local commerce and industry ­— whether historically based on plentiful natural resources or recently developed based on community needs like technology or healthcare ­— impact the community’s success and culture?

  1. Who can help you answer this question? Consider new partnerships with state and local commerce offices, employment and workforce guidance departments; labor unions; media outlets; military recruiters; and organizations like the Rotary Club. Tools like Y4Y’s Identifying Partners, Community Asset Mapping, and Mapping Needs to Partners can help you figure out the best place to start. Other tools in the Y4Y Strategic Partnerships course will be useful in reaching out, like Creating a Program Elevator Speech and Planning for Developing Program Champions.
  2. What will student research look like? You have many options to help students better understand the relationship between commerce/industry and community success and culture. Representatives from your new partnerships can come speak to students. They can recommend internet sites to explore. Or they can answer your staff members’ questions so they can share the information with students through engaging activities.
  3. Remember school partners. What school curriculum involves research on local or state commerce/industry? Where can your program support that learning, and where can you fill gaps?

An Age-Appropriate Approach

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect environment to introduce early career exploration! Y4Y’s new course on this topic offers a useful framework and many tools for designing age-appropriate activities. And centering those activities on your community will make them all the more relevant and meaningful to young minds.

  • Share Y4Y’s Tips for Families: Preparing Children and Youth for Success. This tool guides families through the kinds of everyday practices and day trips in their neighborhoods that can help ensure that their students start connecting early with the idea of a future profession in the place where they live. Examples include visiting nearby nature centers and attending cultural events — anything that’s offered in the neighborhood will do. Even young students can be brought to college and job fairs in the community; encourage families to ask lots of questions of the booth attendants. If you’ve ever staffed a booth, you know how nice it is to have people genuinely interested in what you’re there to talk about, no matter their age!
  • Work with community partners when reviewing results of the Y4Y Elementary Student Interest Inventory. For example, the Rotary Club president might have ideas on how students who love measuring and paper airplane designs could connect with a local architect for a “day at the office,” or how one who loves animals and gardening might spend time touring a nearby farm.
  • Y4Y’s Career Pathways Activity Design Guidebook offers many more ideas. Through the lens of place-based learning, make the most of suggestions like the guidebook’s Strategy 6: Use Coaching and Mentoring Opportunities. At all academic levels, find special adults in the community to cement those magical two-way relationships. This way, the community is making a personal, direct investment in its future through your students, and the students begin to see themselves as an integral part of the community.

Author Paul Gruchow, in his work Discovering the Universe of Home notes, “Nothing in my education prepared me to believe, or encouraged me to expect, that there was any reason to be interested in my own place. If I hoped to amount to anything, I understood, I had better take the first road east out of town as fast as I could. And, like so many of my classmates, I did.” Yes, you want your students to believe — to know — they can become astronauts or deepwater divers if it is their greatest dream. But you can and should begin at home with the wealth of career possibilities hiding in plain sight in your students’ very own place.



March 10, 2022

Recruitment is a full-time job of your 21st CCLC program. Reaching the students you need to reach and staffing your program with dedicated members of the community are tied for first as your top priorities. With tools from the Human Resources course and Recruiting and Retaining High School Students Click & Go, as well as other tips and tricks from Y4Y, those prized people up and down your organization will vote YES with their feet.

The Role of Prized Partners

Reaching the students who need you most could range from small obstacles in getting the word out up to students “disappearing” at the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, school-day teachers are beyond exhausted, and may not be your ideal “go-to” hires for out-of-school time. Like everything you do in your program, community partnerships can ease the way. Check out Y4Y’s Involving Community Partners Checklist to start thinking about fresh ways those partnerships can help you recruit students and staff. Some other tips include:

  • Reaching out to your school counselors. Share a bit about your program and leave them materials to distribute to families they feel might need you the most. Also ask them about services in the community they have been connecting families with, and whether you can share in those efforts — both to avoid duplication and to make new connections.
  • Connecting with faith-based organizations. Ask if they’d be willing to run a blurb about your program in their bulletin. For example, “The local grant-funded afterschool and summer program is inviting students of King Middle School to participate in a fun, academic-based enrichment environment. They’re also recruiting passionate community members to work with students directly, or to partner in new ways, according to you or your business’s strengths. Email the program’s director, Jane Doe, at [insert email address here] today. Thank you!”
  • Performing an internet search. Use key words and phrases like “social services for children and families,” “foundations supporting children and families,” and supports for children and families,” and add “near me.” You might be surprised at the resources you’ll discover, especially in urban centers. Rural communities can search “foundations/services/supports for students and families in my state.” There may be organizations in your nearest urban centers or university towns that are eager to partner with rural programs. Ask these new partners if they have a volunteer or donor base they can reach out to for your staff and volunteer recruitment efforts.

Upper Grade Challenges

Most elementary programs have little or no difficulty recruiting students. You may be among those many programs having to turn students away! Recruiting for upper grades, however, can be challenging. Some tips include:

  • Checking in regularly with your students to assess their ever-changing interests and to be sure your activities and program emphasis reflect those interests.
  • Viewing current students as your ambassadors; try offering incentives for a “bring a friend” day, such as entering a drawing to choose the theme for your culminating event. Related Y4Y tools include the Youth Ambassador Action Plan Template and Job Description Template.
  • Checking out Y4Y’s Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students, which offers further guidance and additional tools for reaching the older students that need you most.

Winning Recruitment of Prized Staff

Your program is in fierce competition to attract qualified and enthusiastic people. A few ideas include:

  • Reviewing the Y4Y Human Resources and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program courses, especially tools like the Human Resources Planning Checklist, to help choose your recruitment team and work together to identify candidates.
  • Starting with families. Many family members will jump at the chance to work around their child. They can also get the word out to trusted neighbors and friends, which offers a little instant confidence in those recommendations.
  • Setting up a job-sharing child care co-op or looking into whether one already exists in your community. If parents who are interested in joining the program have children at home too young to be in school or in your program, but have no means to pay child care, connect them with other parents in the same boat. You’ll also be amplifying their program buy-in!
  • Dialing up the college engagement. Look into setting up a table at your local college activities fair and sell the program! Bring sample activities and event photos, and post a list of majors that relate directly to the job, such as education, social services, ethnic and women’s studies, all things STEM, city/urban planning, and management and communications, just to name a few.

Even before the pandemic, the spirit of prizing people and relationships was at the center of your 21st CCLC program. Keeping that spirit alive for adults and students alike is more important today than it’s ever been. And when new people discover the value you place on community through that process of recruiting them to your program, they’ll be invested in helping you maintain that sense of community. Retaining those you recruit will be your ultimate prize.