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November 16, 2020

Last month, a newly published study came as a pleasant surprise to most Americans. It revealed that overall, the mental health of teens is better now than it was two years ago. Of note, the study is based on a national survey whose sampling “aimed to fill quotas for gender, race/ethnicity, urban/ rural location, and region of the country....” A couple of key takeaways included the value of more sleep and more family time for teens. It also noted an increase in video chatting with friends, despite all the time they’re spending on screens in school and afterschool programs like yours. However dim this glimmer of a silver lining may be, how can you arm your program with this good news and stay together in positivity heading into the winter months?

Y4Y’s course on Creating a Positive Learning Environment gives you direction on laying the groundwork, but more important, points out essential elements to use as your guiding philosophies to be sure the tone of your program is always a positive one. As noted in Y4Y’s July webinar: in a positive learning environment, everyone plays an equally important role in creating a place where everyone feels safe and respected. This environment increases engagement and productivity and enables students to thrive and grow. Remember these words: Equally Important. Safe and Respected. Engagement. Productivity. Thrive and Grow. This may be a bit more challenging when your environment extends to the kitchen tables of your students, but some great ideas were also shared in a June Y4Y Showcase, Creating a Positive Learning Environment at Home. Knowing there’s a chance that teens may actually be more well-adjusted now than their counterparts two years ago, you can make the most of these circumstances.

Equally Important

Why is “equity” such a hot topic today? Our youth are forward thinkers. They recognize the beauty of equity and equality where it’s found, and feel deep concern about places where it isn’t. Tools in Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course, such as the Incorporating Multiple Viewpoints Checklist and staff Training to Go on Incorporating the Democratic Process can arm you with the fundamentals of equity, and therefore positivity in your program.

Safe and Respected

When you use the word “safe” in your program, does it have multiple meanings? While the Y4Y Click & Go on Developing and Implementing a Safety Plan is a must-have to ensure you’re not overlooking physical safety, pairing “safe” with the word “respected” recognizes you also look out for your students’ emotional safety. Be on the lookout for signs of Trauma, and prepare to intervene as is appropriate to your program and host institution. Keep in mind how critical building relationships is to fostering respect and safety between students and with staff. A place to start is the Y4Y Building Student/Educator Relationships Questionnaire. Maintaining positivity in your program without these tenets would be impossible.

Engagement

You’ve all seen it. In fact, probably some of your best program memories are of activities where the students were all so invested, they were clamoring to have a turn, smiling, laughing and excited. Engagement equals positivity, plain and simple. Check out Y4Y tools for ensuring student engagement, such as a STEM course tool Student Engagement Tips for Grades K-12, and the secondary and elementary student interest surveys.

Productivity

Your 21st CCLC program doesn’t emphasize “achievement” in quite the same way the school day does. There are no grades, and activities and projects are paced and crafted around a gentler framework. But contributing to a demonstrable improvement in school performance is what sets 21st CCLC apart from many other afterschool programs. Under current circumstances, your homework help might be the most important way you’re helping your students be productive. Remember, that involves supporting families as well as students (as discussed in this month’s blog post, Together Online). But productivity is the end result of positivity, so if you sense that even this most essential role of your program is struggling, try revisiting these ideas to foster that positive learning environment.

Thrive and Grow

The five skill domains of social and emotional learning are a great gauge of how your students are developing as students and as people. Back to that silver lining around the dark cloud of the pandemic: students are building a resiliency and a resourcefulness that will universally make them conscientious leaders of tomorrow.

Finally: Families. Families. Families. When you think about the very roots and goals of 21st CCLC programs, you already knew the important role of families that the new study echoes. That doesn’t mean your family engagement efforts just got any easier. Y4Y tools like Reaching Out to Families, Supporting and Engaging Families, and Knowing Families and Their Cultures will be assets to your program as you make the most of these relationships. In light of the obstacles to family engagement efforts in non-English-speaking households, please also consider visiting the new Y4Y Supporting English Learners tools for resources such as the Family Goal-Setting Survey.

It’s easy to stay positive when data suggest that young people might be OK after all of this is over, and even in the midst of it. Let positivity be a core value, a driving priority and the glue that allows a new kind of togetherness.



May 19, 2020

This famous quote by Aesop demonstrates the role of gratitude in our mental wellness. The times we’re living in might leave many of us with a heightened sense of worry, yet others are discovering the inner gratitude they feel just for having their basic needs met. Modern-day research supports Aesop’s theory! Gratitude is good medicine for both mental and physical health. Discover how Y4Y’s new course on social and emotional learning can help you take students on a journey to this point of wisdom.

At the heart of social and emotional learning are five skill domains that serve as a framework for developing positive, healthy habits throughout life. Let’s explore how gratitude plays a role in each.

Self-awareness is the skill of recognizing and being able to articulate your own feelings, strengths and limitations. Confidence and a growth mindset result from acquiring this skill. Only those with healthy self-awareness can gratefully measure their lives by its positive elements, viewing challenges as opportunities to grow.

Self-management is the ability to self-regulate your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. With successful self-management comes goal setting and the ability to work toward those goals. When that happens, even those gaps in success at feeling gratitude can be tackled head-on with mindfulness exercises that build a positive outlook.

Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, no matter how big or small their differences from you might be. At times it may be tempting to view the misfortunes of others through a lens of gratitude that we are not, ourselves, in their shoes, but this isn’t true empathy. You can help students and yourself discover true social awareness. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the misfortunes of others move you toward compassion, and you view their successes and triumphs as cause for celebration.

Responsible decision making is the ability to make constructive choices about your personal behavior. This is where Aesop really got it right! How many mistakes in our lives might have been avoided if we felt that what we had was enough? This has financial, educational, professional and relational meaning. Of course, setting goals for improving your life in any of these arenas is not a sign that you lack gratitude. Rather, gratitude can be the well from which you draw the strength to envision great things.

Relationship skills speak to the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding diverse relationships. Here, again, gratitude can be a crystal-clear reflection of how we really feel about the people in our lives. Some are there by choice, and some are not, but someone who has had a positive social and emotional education can learn to focus on the best in others. More important, their gratitude for others will nurture those relationships.

You’ll be well versed on how to thread social and emotional learning into your 21st CCLC program once you complete the new Y4Y course on the topic. Until then, you can review Y4Y resources like the Delivery Methods for Social and Emotional Learning, the Social and Emotional Learning Implementation Checklist and the Social and Emotional Learning Activity Intentional Design Planner tools. Your students will thank you.



August 7, 2018

Could you pass a basic test of financial literacy? According to the FINRA Foundation’s National Capability Study, in 2015, 63 percent of Americans couldn’t. Can you calculate the interest you would owe on a loan, do you know the difference between a 401K and an IRA, or do you know how to improve your credit score? Because so many adults struggle with these concepts, we need to do a better job of preparing students and closing the financial literacy gap.

Where are young people supposed to learn about money and their financial future? In 2018, according to a report from Next Gen Personal Finance, only 16.4 percent of students were required to take a personal finance course prior to graduation. Out-of-school time programs that connect activities to the real world are the perfect place for students, from elementary to high school, to enhance and apply financial literacy skills. The big question is where to begin, especially when many adults may not feel confident in financial literacy.

A number of groups, such as the Jump$tart Coalition and the Council for Economic Education, have done some thinking about what financial literacy should look like at different ages. At its most basic, financial literacy can be broken down into these categories:

  • Earning
  • Spending
  • Saving and Investing
  • Credit and Debt
  • Protecting and Insuring

So, how do you help students of all ages better understand those categories and give them opportunities to explore and practice related skills? Financial literacy shouldn’t be taught through boring slides that explain compound interest. Let students truly explore financial concepts in action!

  • Students can collaborate to create a business and sell a product, such as pet rocks. Give students a start-up budget that they must manage. Let them determine their expenses, price their product, and learn about profit and loss. Have them make proposals to other students for investment money. See this Edutopia blog for more ideas about introducing entrepreneurial activities.  
  • Middle and high school students can participate in the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game, which is specifically designed for out-of-school time programs.
  • Give students a taste of life after graduation. Many online resources offer game-of-life lessons, or you can try the Finance Authority of Maine’s online Claim Your Future game. Here, students can try out various education choices, careers and other financial decisions.

Teaching financial literacy also provides great opportunities for community partnerships and high-value connections to students’ family members. Many banks offer some form of community outreach programming. This could include a speaker who would visit your program, a volunteer who would teach a series of classes, or the opportunity for your site to offer banking days complete with student savings accounts. Invite parents and other family members to build financial literacy alongside their children, or schedule events at convenient times and locations for family members who work during program hours.

To explore more resources and ideas for incorporating financial literacy into your program, visit the Financial Literacy for All section of the Y4Y website and download the Quick Guide to Financial Literacy.