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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!



October 21, 2021

Charming football stories, like that of real-life Michael Oher (featured in the beloved book and film The Blind Side), remind us that each teammate has a role of equal importance to play. So why should all the glory go to one? Y4Y offers numerous tools within several courses — from Including Students With Disabilities to Student Voice and Choice and beyond — that will help to ensure equity in your program and that nobody’s hogging the ball.

The quarterback leads the team, calls the huddle and ultimately decides who has the ball. This is your 21st CCLC program director (PD). To work toward greater equity, a PD should

  • Gather stakeholders to be sure the program mission reflects your team’s dedication to equity. Consult tools like the Positive Learning Environment Implementation Checklist for guidance. Knowing families and cultures is another great place to start.
  • Train staff on creating an environment that amplifies student voice with the goals of explaining how group norms can support a program culture that values student voice, and defining and developing those group norms with students. Place emphasis on equal opportunities for all voices in that training.
  • Be sure to consult your state and local education agencies for standard resources around language and initiatives relevant to you, like Minnesota’s LeadMN.

The tight ends and fullbacks might do a little catching or running, but a lot of blocking. These are your site coordinators. Their role in supporting equity in your program is to make sure that a play that was called with the best of intentions can be translated into real yardage. Your site coordinators should

  • Begin by ensuring equitable student voice and choice in practice. Check out the Y4Y Student Voice and Choice Implementation Checklist.
  • Be sensitive about all program communications, like your program’s Family Handbook (you can download and adapt a Y4Y sample), and all program forms (see Y4Y’s Process for Developing Inclusive Forms tool).
  • Advance the work around positive group norms by using Y4Y’s Group Norms Agreement. This is the student-driven aspect of your program culture, so getting student buy-in on equity is key. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised on that score. And on that note…

The wide receivers and running backs are the little guys that really get you down the field. These are your students. Not only do they need your protection at the snap; you want to be sure that each one has a turn at possession. This makes for a much livelier game and offers your best chance for a win. Really demonstrate that your 21st CCLC program is the place for students from historically disenfranchised groups to get a leg up:

Finally, your safeties, or frontline staff, are your last line of defense. Legislation around 21st CCLC programs is specific about who your program serves. You can be sure you’re within the letter and the spirit of the law when staff members ensure opportunity for enrichment and advancement to the students who need it the most. Staff should

Back to Michael Oher and the critical role of the left tackle: When a team has a right-handed quarterback, which is most common, the left tackle makes sure that when the quarterback turns for a throw, his “blind side” is protected. When it comes to ensuring equity in your program, do your best not to have a blind side. But just in case, you might have an equity warrior in mind within your organization who can serve as your left tackle. Be sure that position carries with it all the weight and power it deserves.



October 21, 2021

Did you know that recent research suggests the best teams are made up of both optimists and pessimists? Are you strategic in placing students together for team projects? Using tools in Y4Y’s STEAM and Project-Based Learning courses, and a strengths-based approach, consider how you can be intentional in your team building for the best creative outcomes, and how these lessons can also inform staffing.

Let’s start by identifying the strengths of both optimists and pessimists.

What can “optimists” bring to the table?

  • Broader acceptance of information
  • Flexible thinking
  • Enthusiasm
  • Relationship building
  • Strategies for dealing with unnecessary negativity
  • Energy
  • A strength-based lens

What can “pessimists” bring to the table?

  • Persistent pursuit of details
  • Critical thinking
  • Caution and planning
  • Realism
  • Strategies for dealing with disappointment
  • Delight over small victories (even if it’s because they’re unexpected)
  • Stress management

If you’re a frontline worker or site coordinator, you might be thinking about students in each of these categories. If you’re a program director (and again, site coordinator), you might be thinking about staff. To begin with, don’t worry that you might have labeled someone in your head as a pessimist. Instead, celebrate the strengths of that person, like the ones listed above, and keep those strengths in mind as you’re team building.

Building Those Teams

The research cited above says that when you group only optimists together, you might get amazing, big ideas, with very little thought as to how those ideas might carry challenges. Even if some of your optimists envision challenges, they may not voice them in an effort to always be positive and supportive of their team. By the same token, a team made of up of only pessimists can stifle each other. They may be less likely to have big, imaginative ideas to begin with, but even when or if they have them, they’ll be less confident about voicing them, for fear that their fellow pessimists will only poke holes in them. This is the basis for the theory that with some big-thinking optimists, balanced with some challenge-minded pessimists, the best outcomes can result.

Depending on how deep you are in recovery mode, ambitious design thinking STEAM projects or months-long civic problem-based undertakings might not be on your radar. But that doesn’t mean you’re not finding ways to group students for cooperative activities in your catch-up efforts. Today and going forward, you can think about how to group students (and staff) to allow for the most balanced groups (or teams) and the best outcomes. Grab tips from Y4Y’s

  • Ice Breaker Activities list to better understand each student or staff member’s perspective on the world. A rousing game of “this or that” could do it!
  • Selecting Student Roles for Group Work tool to reflect on how different personalities work best in different roles that need fulfilling. Brainstorm about what those roles might be for any given project or activity, and adapt this tool accordingly.
  • Team-Building Activities list for ideas on how you can use a low-stakes environment to help a new grouping of students or staff find their collective rhythm.
  • Group Discussion Guidelines to ensure that these conflicting approaches keep conversations respectful.
  • Working With Groups Training Starter to train staff on navigating group dynamics.

Opposites attract. Yin and Yang. The good with the bad. Offense and defense. Language is rich with expressions that illustrate exactly what these researchers have discovered: We shouldn’t isolate ourselves from people who think differently from us if we’re to ensure balance and best outcomes. What a great message to send young people during an era of great division. After all, there is no “I” in TEAM.



July 19, 2021

There are many moving parts to your program. Here are some quick and easy ways to support your staff and keep a light but steady grip on your program and its success.

Your Best Resources Are Your Human Resources

The term “human resources” is so common that we don’t often stop to think about the meaning. If your program isn’t doing everything in its power to invest in staff, it’s guaranteed that you’re not getting the most you can out of your greatest asset. There are many ways you can invest in staff. Here are just a few:

  • Provide direct benefits. Many programs are revisiting their funding, budget and payroll structures with added funds from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER III). Passing some of that funding on to staff directly demonstrates that their nose-to-the-grindstone grit and perseverance throughout the pandemic hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated.
  • Support professional development. Making full use of free resources like Y4Y’s dozens of Trainings to Go and online courses means offering staff paid time to hone their knowledge and skills. Increased personal investment in your program and improved job performance are sure to result.
  • Create opportunities to recharge. Students aren’t the only ones in the process of recovery. As the old saying goes, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. Many 21st CCLC educators feel like root vegetables right now. A year of virtual programming has permanently blurred that line between home and work, making it all the more difficult to recharge at home. Now that programs are back in person, leadership needs to insist that staff give themselves the quiet or family time they deserve. As your program is able, you can even build on this effort by offering staff activities around socializing, mindfulness or whatever they express an interest in doing together as a team.
  • Delegate and empower. While the above offer ways to give something to your staff, don’t underestimate the ways your staff and your program can benefit from taking—with the right kind of framework. Take staff’s thoughts, ideas and advice about new policies or activities. And take their offers to show initiative on projects or committees. The good news is: This kind of taking also builds confidence, rapport, skills and passion in your greatest resources.

For more ideas on this important topic, be sure to check out Y4Y’s Employee Retention Training to Go.

That’s a Great-Looking Staff. Whatever Will You Do With Them?

Moving beyond your methods for valuing and keeping the staff you have, good 21st CCLC management also means having a program culture and policies in place that allow them to realize their full potential. How will you work as a cohesive team to achieve optimal outcomes?

  • Centralize. Has one member of your staff chased down access to online resources to align with the school day? Has she shared that access with her peers? Has another forged a partnership in the community for his high school students’ tech club but hasn’t had a chance to tell your sister sites about it? Are student files, program policies and schedules in SharePoint or a central, protected website so that any information that might be needed is appropriately accessible to everyone in your program? You can all work more efficiently and effectively by pooling your information and making access simple. Centralizing can also benefit your program fiscally. You might get bulk discounts from partners, or have materials you no longer need but another site can use.
  • Communicate. Many of the concerns around centralizing can be addressed when you implement adequate communication methods. Debriefs provide an excellent opportunity for in-the-moment “what worked, what didn’t” conversations, which are essential to continuous improvement. Weekly team meetings that share important and not-so-important updates and solicit contributions from every member will ensure no resource goes unused. An open-door policy by leadership and opportunity for anonymous feedback are critical. Not only will both parties benefit from an easy mode of exchange; the policy will reassure staff of their value.
  • Continuous improvement. Your program is bound to enjoy some degree of improvement with efforts to invest in staff, centralize information and resources, and communicate generously. But don’t skip those management steps and choices that tie continuous improvement into the fiber of your leadership. Follow up on those passions of staff to discover how you can support progress. Put structures in place that channel all feedback, even when roadblocks are encountered, into a “lessons learned” program bank. And, of course, offer everyone, including your top employees, constructive suggestions and opportunities to improve their practice. Maybe they’d like professional development in an area of need in the program or in a topic of interest to them. Check out the Y4Y Professional Learning Feedback Survey as just one example of a tool for using staff feedback for your continuous improvement.

Strong 21st CCLC management means loosening your grip enough to give staff the freedom to be effective while holding them fast to shared goals for your students. Now is a great time to brush up, or to bring along new leadership, on basic strategies with Y4Y’s Human Resources and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program courses.  



June 16, 2021

Getting back on track after two breakneck program years will take some truly intentional assessment and reflection. Programs have learned a lot from in-the-moment experimentation, making changes on the fly to meet students where they were. Now that the worst of the great storm has passed, you can use this summer to take full stock of your program. With tips from Y4Y tools designed to walk through every key aspect, you can be sure the new program year is beginning with the clean slate of comprehensive assessment and reflection, and begin anew with a solid grasp of your students’ needs, going forward.

  • Brush up on the basics. Y4Y’s Introduction to 21st CCLC is an important course to revisit whenever you’re looking to mentally step out of the daily grind of your program to give thought to its structures.
  • Take it to the next level. The Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course is a broader, deeper extension of the introduction, and is worth revisiting each summer. You’ll be amazed at how many 21st CCLC fundamentals may have slipped your mind while in crisis mode, and how much more you can get out of the course with another year of experience under your belt.
  • Get your ideas down while they’re fresh! You’ll be shifting into planning mode before you know it, and the Sample Annual Task Timeline is a handy tool for this. If you reflect on it now, you can make some smart customizations to the document based on your timely recollections of this past program year.
  • Now dive into all those layers. As you’ve discovered, each Y4Y course that adds new dimension to your program comes with “assess and reflect” tools. Here are some important ones to pull up now:

This month’s blog post on celebration notes lightheartedly that celebration is the “nth” step in 21st CCLC programs. Celebrations are so important to give your students and yourself that sense of accomplishment — which isn’t just a sense: You’ve accomplished SO MUCH this year. But as you sweep the proverbial confetti and clean out those cubbies, you’ll be thinking about that “nth plus one” step of continuous improvement. What are your takeaways? Your leave-behinds? May your summer reflections be rich with pride in an amazing year!