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July 19, 2021

Many programs are concerned that creating a more inclusive program means having to give up some favorite activities, but this isn’t the case. Discover in your program how inclusion means addition, not subtraction.

Located in Boston, the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) developed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. The idea is to build enough flexibility into goals, assessments, methods and materials to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. By adopting UDL in your program, you can address your students’ diverse cultural and linguistic needs; disabilities; and differences in privilege — not with numerous, complicated initiatives, but a single overarching program design approach, summarized in this brief video. Greater equity is the result.

Consider the basics of the UDL guidelines, and what this design approach means in your 21st CCLC program for adding opportunities for inclusion of students with disabilities, without subtracting any opportunities from students without disabilities. In all you do, you should provide multiple means of the below elements.

Engagement — The “Why” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “why” choices by

Representation — The “What” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “what” choices by

  • Taking advantage of any existing documentation that can help you develop viable choices. Y4Y’s tool for interpreting common Individualized Education Program (IEP) sections can help.
  • Expanding activities with Y4Y’s tool that steps you through a sample opportunity to implement UDL.
  • Understanding a range of abilities from a neurological development standpoint, as addressed in Y4Y’s Developmental Stages of Reading Tool. The full Literacy Toolkit offers expert guidance that can help you apply UDL to literacy.
  • Remaining faithful to your needs assessments as established in your RFP and each program year. Y4Y’s Mapping Needs to Activities tool can guide you to address the academic subjects requiring your program’s focus, and the depth and breadth of that need. Just as a high rate of English learners in your program will drive fundamental literacy activities, a high rate of learning disabilities in your community impacts other types of academic supports.

Action & Expression — The “How” of Learning

In your program, you’ll be able to offer multiple “how” choices by

  • Considering universal accessibility to make program activities authentic and relevant to each student. Check out Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist to get you started.
  • Embracing group work that gives everyone an important role and plays to each student’s strengths. Y4Y’s Selecting Student Roles for Group Work can help.
  • Recognizing the value of project-based learning (PBL) as an instrument for student-driven achievement at many levels. Y4Y’s PBL Diagram and Classroom Facilitator Packet can set you on this path.
  • Adopting the design thinking process in your STEAM enrichment activities. This process expands on PBL by putting students behind the wheel of problem discovery. This accommodates more complete inclusion by promoting both agency and collaboration. Learn more about this approach with Y4Y’s Design Thinking Framework: Project Planning Template.

Horace Mann said, “Every addition to human knowledge is an addition to human power.” When you add inclusion by way of UDL, you’re adding to your program’s power. The only things you’re subtracting are feelings of exclusion and isolation.



July 19, 2021

Is your health and wellness the first thing you let go of in your personal life when things get hectic? Is it also the first thing to give way when you need a little more space or time in your 21st CCLC program? Look to Y4Y’s Click & Go resources so that by partnering with school-day professionals, you’re committing to everyone’s well-being.

Consider New Risk Factors

The long-term effects of the pandemic will take years to fully document, but here are some concerns you might already have about your students:

  • Possible infection by COVID-19, including unknown lifelong health risks
  • A more sedentary lifestyle for a full year
  • Food insecurity, which could mean hunger, unhealthy attitudes about food and/or even higher processed food consumption than before COVID-19
  • Neglect or trauma in the family, which adds to their Adverse Childhood Experiences score (ACES), also bringing with it lifelong health risks (see Y4Y’s Background on Trauma Research Brief or Mini-Lesson: An Introduction to Trauma-Informed Care).

In other words, the time is right to focus on student health as an important aspect of their overall recovery.

Exercise Is Important, But Not All Important

Naturally, a generous dose of good old-fashioned running around or playground time is a go-to in your 21st CCLC program. When weather permits, those outdoor activities that allow for student choice, teamwork and physical exercise are irreplaceable. But some obstacles to your “plan A” for student health and wellness might include limited time, a program space that is not conducive, weather that drives you indoors, and possibly student mask wearing, which some students might find troubling during physical exercise. For these reasons and many more surrounding their future wellness, you can look to weaving in mindfulness exercises for students to address many of the same health considerations that exercise does.

Follow the Evidence

Chances are, your school district is well aware of the proven health benefits of mindfulness. Dozens of controlled studies indicate that active, routine participation in mindfulness or meditation can do the following:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Slow cognitive decline in older people and improve mental clarity and focus at all ages
  • Reduce cell aging
  • Improve immune response
  • Help to counteract psychological pain

These strong arguments for introducing your students to routine mindfulness exercises are sure to sway your school-day partners if they don’t already have a formal initiative in place. Or, maybe a wellness initiative exists, but little or no emphasis is given to mindfulness. Your program’s efforts will have greater impact if you collaborate, so Y4Y developed a microlearning Click & Go with easy-to-follow guidance to either tap into existing efforts or start a new ball rolling. Important tools to get you started are the Quick Guide to Initiating a Partnership and the Conversations Starters tool. Like any other collaboration with the school-day, your program’s voice at the policy table will amplify results — in this case, boosting students’ health and wellness recovery.

Ready to Implement

Luckily, simple mindfulness exercises require little training for staff to lead. As an added bonus, when staff engage in these activities, they reap the short-term reward of being more patient, compassionate educators and the long-term health benefits noted above. But be sure to get staff on the same page at the outset. Y4Y’s Staff Health and Wellness Self-Assessment and Self-Assessment on Personal Views of Health and Wellness will help. Also see Y4Y’s Best Practices for Mindfulness tool.

Although practicing mindfulness can help you learn how to let things go — an argument, disappointment, anxiety or even grief — the practice itself is something your program should keep a tight grip on. And be sure you’re giving students the tools they’ll need to do likewise throughout their long, healthy lives.



July 8, 2021

Some educators suggest we should resist the idea that “learning loss” is the only thing that happened to students during the pandemic. Why? They want everyone, including students, to recognize what they’ve gained over the past 18 months. For example, some gained technology skills; developed a greater appreciation for family, friends and the great outdoors; and discovered resilience they didn’t know they had. Yes, there were losses, but there were gains as well. What does this mean in your 21st CCLC program?

Focus on the Positives

If policymakers were to build from scratch a new program to support learning recovery today, it might look a lot like a 21st CCLC program. Summer and afterschool learning. Tutoring. Family engagement. Student voice and choice. Attention to social and emotional learning and positive learning environments. Increased support for underserved students in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. These are priorities that have been emerging in all recovery plans, so existing 21st CCLC programs are ahead of the game! With that in mind, let’s set aside those negatives that are getting plenty of airtime and focus on the positives.

  • Funding. The American Rescue Plan for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER III) is disbursing funds through states and school districts. Whether you’re in a school-based or a community-based program partnering with a school district, you’re sure to be already collaborating on how your program can beef up tutoring, especially to meet shared student goals. If you missed Y4Y’s webinar on ARP ESSER III addressing how 21st CCLC programs can make the most of funding, check it out today!
  • Lessons learned. The world of education is ever-evolving. Challenging periods can provide important lessons, if we pay attention. Your program professionals have likely discovered how to be resourceful about everything from seeking out education resources to strengthening human connections — with peers and students — when faced with obstacles. Your students’ families have learned how to advocate for their children on a whole new level. And students are walking away with skill sets nobody would have imagined at such young ages.

Name and “Own” Your New Strengths

Which of these new strengths have you, your staff or students developed during the pandemic?

  • Flexibility. You had that going for you before the pandemic, but now you’re the Olympic gymnasts of education when it comes to flexibility.
  • Tech wizardry. Staff and students alike have gained amazing skill sets for navigating the virtual world. You’re making the most of a whole host of useful features on various platforms and eking out new kinds of experiences — like fascinating field trips around the world and in your own (literal) backyards — thanks to virtual learning.
  • Organization. The added workload called on staff to heighten their organizational skills. At the same time, students — even younger ones  — developed impressive skills at time, schedule and workload management.
  • Social and emotional development. The five skill domains of social and emotional learning (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationships skills) got a lot of “exercise” during virtual learning. Most educators have concerns that gaps in social-emotional development are as pronounced as academic gaps. Yet being on camera every day gave many students a boost in certain aspects of self-awareness and self-management. It also reinforced an appreciation of relationships, leaving students eager to participate and be fully present for in-person learning.
  • Resilience and a growth mindset. The oyster and the pearl are the ultimate symbol that an irritant can turn into something beautiful. The resilience that all staff and students have gained sets everyone up for great future achievements.

Apply What You’ve Gained

There are so many positives and new strengths to focus on! How is your 21st CCLC program moving forward to apply what you’ve learned and make “learning loss” an obsolete term? See how many of these things you’re already doing:

  • Trying new virtual platforms. You’re no longer afraid of the brave new virtual world. The more tricks you can find, the better! Check out Y4Y’s two archived webinar series on 21st CCLCs in a virtual world (part 1 for novices or part 2 for masters). You’ll learn about dozens of platforms and how you can use them virtually or in person.
  • Leaning into the power of resilience. Keep reminding students that as things get better, as things feel better, they’ll carry with them always the muscles built when they had to be resilient. Nothing hits a message home like a good story. Y4Y offers a Teaching Resilience Book List with suggestions for read-alouds at different grade levels.
  • Counting on partners. You may be increasing the number of paid and volunteer tutors in your program. Your retired teachers association is a great resource. Be sure to map other community assets as well. To learn the basics of partnership development, see the Implementation Strategies section in Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course.
  • Making time to connect. Developing relationships is the pinnacle of social and emotional development. So even as academic focus intensifies, you’ll want to make sure that human connections stay front and center in your program. Y4Y’s Building Relationships Training to Go is a great tool for brushing up if staff are looking for fresh ideas on how to connect with students. These basic ideas carry over into ever-important peer relationships as well.
  • Bringing students along in planning. In February’s Education Week, there’s a great quote from Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade civics teacher in Boston Public Schools (and Boston’s 2013 Educator of the Year). She notes, “One important lesson I’ve learned from my students is that everything I plan with them goes much better than anything I plan without them.” Build on the self-awareness they’ve developed and consult Y4Y’s Student Voice and Choice course or accompanying tools like Student Survey: How Do I Learn Best? if you’re looking for tips on how to effectively incorporate student voice in your program and activity planning.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, every human experience gives us a new opportunity to weigh our practices, our habits, and our ways of doing — and to weed out the things that don’t work. With that exercise comes the opportunity to view new experiences differently. Instead of focusing on “learning loss” in your 21st CCLC program, scrounge around for the unexpected opportunities brought about by the pandemic, and discover how you can build on those gems to ensure a bright future for all your students.



May 14, 2021

We’ve adopted the chemical principle of “osmosis” into our educational jargon, but the strict definition refers to something traveling from a space with higher concentration into one of lower concentration. Is your program saturated with equity? Have you developed a program culture and climate that’s oozing with so much equity that all students can’t help but absorb that energy? Check out tools from several Y4Y courses that will aid in your equity by osmosis.

  • Equity on arrival. The return to in-person programming is a gift you don’t want to squander. Check out Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment for tips on setting the stage for a positive learning environment. How do you welcome students, for example? Are students who aren’t native English speakers more comfortable being greeted in their native language, or do they prefer not to stand out? Will a student in a wheelchair feel bad if you ask everyone to “jump up” or “stand tall” to give their “highest five”? The power of the greeting can never be overstated. The way you greet each student can impact other students in your program as well.
  • Voices in perfect harmony. Student voice is critical in your program, but those voices aren’t always in harmony. Don’t let discord amplify inequity. Y4Y offers a Guide to Socratic Seminars (and a Socratic Seminar Student Assessment) so that you can establish group norms and expectations for all opportunities around student voice.
  • Words matter. Y4Y’s tool for using Socially Responsible Language reminds staff and students alike that a disability or any other characteristic that might set a student apart demands language that demonstrates you don’t define the student by that single characteristic.
  • Know your audience. Your students may have life experiences or cultural heritage completely outside your own. Building cultural competence across your program is a critical step toward ensuring equity. Get up to speed with Y4Y tools such as the Background on Trauma Research Brief and publications like “Strategies for Building Cultural Competencies” (available through Y4Y’s Supporting English Learners “Learn More Library”).
  • Is equity your greatest social and emotional need? When you consider that the five skill domains of social and emotional learning (SEL) are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills, you may well determine that promoting equity more successfully is high on your list of SEL program priorities. Using Y4Y’s Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment and Assessing Social and Emotional Learning Organizational Readiness, you can be intentional in identifying this priority, as well as how best to implement SEL that emphasizes equity — a new concept known as transformative SEL.
  • Citizens all. Y4Y’s course on civic learning and engagement walks you through key strategies for turning your students into the kind of responsible citizens who know how to recognize inequity and effect change. Tools such as the Investigating Issues in Your Community checklist give them guidance on how to explore this and other pressing concerns in their world.

To distinguish equality from equity, The Interactive Institute for Social Change offers a free download of the above image by artist Angus Maguire, with attribution. Equality means everyone gets the same thing, represented by each child getting a single crate to stand on (making only some students able to watch the ballgame). But equity gives every child equal opportunity to see over the fence, even if smaller children receive more crates. This sort of imagery can be invaluable to the students in your program who might not understand why one student gets more proverbial crates than they do. Consider posting an image like this in your program space. Then remind students through your words and deeds that it’s your personal goal to make sure each of them has all the crates they need.



April 28, 2021

The “buddy system” has gained traction in classrooms, extracurricular activities and dedicated organizations through the last decade. As your 21st CCLC program begins, at last, to return to an in-person format, you may consider incorporating structures that range from casual buddy pairing to formal peer mentoring as a way to embrace full inclusion of students with disabilities. Borrowing from tools in Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, explore how the buddy system benefits all.

Who Makes a Good Buddy?

  • Student leaders in your program: that young lady the other girls watch and copy, or that young man who always seems to have a group of kids gathered around him. You recognize natural leadership a mile away, and that gift gives young people the confidence to be gracious toward a peer with a disability.
  • Anyone who demonstrates compassion: that student who notices and speaks up when anyone gets left out or left behind.
  • Young people who love teaching others: whether it’s because they like to “be the boss” or they just like to be helpful. You can help students positively channel those inclinations.
  • Academic superstars: your highest-achieving students may or may not be your most outgoing, but they’re always up for a challenge and understand that schoolwork isn’t easy for everyone.

What Is Peer Mentoring?

  • Fostering friendship. “Assigning” friends doesn’t have to feel as forced as you may believe. Just as icebreakers show us, people inherently want to be friendly toward one another. Often they just need some structured way to bridge any social awkwardness.
  • Offering support. Make your peer mentoring program what you need it to be. Will students support each other academically? Socially? Assess these needs with the Environmental Checklist from Y4Y’s Including Students With Disabilities course or use the Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment.

Where Do I Start?

  • Once you’ve established your program’s needs, bring in stakeholders like special education teachers and parents of students with disabilities to define your buddy program. Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool can help.
  • Offer student training. Being any kind of mentor demands training, even if it’s just to establish a strong understanding of responsibilities and boundaries. Refer to the Y4Y tool on Socially Responsible Language.
  • Align strengths. Are you seeking to pair a student with a disability whose primary goal in your program is to make friends? Place her with that natural leader. Does your student with memory deficits just need a little patience with instructions and reminders? Pair him with that old soul in your program who never gets ruffled.

Who Benefits?

  • EVERYONE! It isn’t just students with disabilities whose lives are enriched through the buddy system. Peer mentors develop skills in forming friendships, building compassion and preparing for leadership. Most of all, the climate and culture of your program will reflect the equity and celebration of individuality you want it to.

Looking for More Resources? Check these out: