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March 18, 2021

Every day brings more promise of a return to “normal” 21st CCLC programming. Rich lessons we’ve taken from a year of full or partial physical separation from students include these:

  • An understanding that connectedness is everything. A decade of social media might have suggested that you can trick the brain into believing those human connections can be replaced with virtual (“wireless”) ones, but a year of pandemic has blown that theory out of the water. Relationships matter.
  • Despite those charming articles and blog posts about how the pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate and reset their eating habits, 21st CCLC families are more likely to be food insecure and dependent on processed foods for basic sustenance.
  • “Self-care” has grown way beyond buzz words; professionals in many industries, but ESPECIALLY education, are keenly aware of an escalation in stress levels from the day-to-day demands of flexibility. The stakes of student outcomes make most education professionals eager to begin bridging the learning gap that has only widened for 21st CCLC students over the course of the last year.

As the school year winds down with anything but normal momentum, the hope of more in-person programming can at least offer your program the opportunity to be one with your students, set a footing for a summer of remediation and healing, and set new priorities and practices on well-being going forward.

There’s a certain irony in suggesting the need for more “heavy lifting” to arrive at your happy place, so consider all of the resources you can take advantage of passively. Grab a cup of tea, jump on your rowing machine, or even step out with your laptop onto your patio this weekend and check out these archived webinars and Click & Go mini-lessons and podcasts. Let the messages swirl around in the back of your mind to plan for summer and fall programming with the above goals in mind.

  • A new Y4Y Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, offers a mini-lesson with the basics, as well as four short podcasts: Planning Health and Wellness Activities, Connecting With School-Day Staff on Health and Wellness, Health and Wellness On the Go, and Caring for Your Staff.
  • An archived LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, offers strategies for promoting thoughtful positivity and awareness among staff and students.
  • A four-part webinar series, Social and Emotional Learning, steps through the process for delivering high-quality social and emotional learning activities: planning, designing, implementing and assessing your efforts.
  • Another four-part webinar series, An Artfully Formed Positive Environment, provides the tools you need to paint smiles on the faces and warmth in the hearts of staff, family, partners and, most of all, your students.
  • An archived Y4Y Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreational Opportunities, lives up to the promise in its name. It demonstrates successful implementation health and wellness initiatives in out-of-school time.
  • An archived four-part webinar series, Strategic Partnerships, helps you consider how partnerships can be an asset in helping to address food insecurity among your students.

We hear it everywhere today: “Give yourself grace.” These are simple words, representing a simple concept. Goodness knows that 21st CCLC professionals across the country have extended that grace to their students! Now it’s time to be one with your students in this exercise as you ease out of an unprecedented year and into one of unity, calm and productive energy.



February 17, 2021

In 2017, Admiral William H. McRaven wowed Americans with his viral commencement speech centered on his experience with elite Navy Seal training. His simple message, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed,” reduced all achievements, great and small, to simple goal setting and drawing inspiration from achieving those goals. More important, it drew attention to the fact that little things matter: We all have the power to end each day with a reminder that we started the day having achieved a goal.

Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, might seem a far-flung topic from Navy Seal training. After all, our wellness goals for our students hopefully don’t involve confronting sharks or sitting in freezing cold mud all night. But Admiral McRaven’s advice still resonates.

The mini-lesson in the new Y4Y Click & Go shows how valuable your 21st CCLC program can be in advancing the health and wellness of your students, beginning with the basic definition of health as “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Moreover, wellness is defined as “the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.” An actively sought goal: enter Admiral McRaven.

With tips from the Click & Go resources, your health and wellness initiative can bridge gaps in school-day offerings with activities centered on physical activity, social and emotional learning, and nutrition. As the admiral might say, you can inform, support and inspire students to set goals around making good choices in these areas. Then help them reach those goals. Research shows that improving wellness boosts the ability to focus attention, process information and build new skills and knowledge. This ultimately results in better grades and behavior, and a better outlook in life for your students. What’s more, the lessons gained through social and emotional learning itself builds self-awareness, self-regulation and positive coping skills. Before you know it, your students may very well have the fortitude of a team of Navy Seals!

Admiral McRaven’s words of wisdom emphasize the power of hope, and how profoundly one person can change the world by giving hope to others. This gets to the very spirit and mission of the 21st CCLC program, which is designed to pave the way for underserved students, show them the bright futures within their power to achieve, and provide tools to help them reach their goals. Their health and wellness lie at the beginning and end of that achievement, just as a neatly made bed lies at the beginning and end of a goal-driven day.



January 21, 2021

It might be poetic to say social and emotional learning (SEL) just feels right. But where are the data? Consider highlights from Early Lessons From School and Out-of-School Time Programs Implementing Social and Emotional Learning. The scope of the data collection used by the RAND Corporation in the publication of these findings leaves little doubt about the impact social and emotional learning can have, especially when early lessons from implementation are shared. In response to these clearly defined lessons that are most closely linked to successful efforts, you can consult corresponding tools from Y4Y’s Social and Emotional Learning course to thaw a data-driven path to connecting with students on nonacademic areas of growth and development.

Be sure to check out all the course tools as your program implements its own SEL initiative, and remember that each tool is customizable to your specific needs. 



December 14, 2020

As the weather turns cold and the country heads into a second cycle of COVID-19 closures, the idea of cabin fever — a phenomenon that already plagued educators in colder climates especially — may have new implications. Drawing from Y4Y's resources, you can arm yourself and your staff for an unprecedented season of cabin fever and serve your students in new and important ways.

You can begin by thinking about the signs of cabin fever, such as impatience, restlessness, general irritability, trouble concentrating, lack of motivation and fatigue. Remember, these look different in students than adults, but we’re all equally prone to them. Here are a few ideas on how to combat each.

Impatience. Right now, life feels like one big waiting game, so it’s only natural that we’re becoming impatient with waiting for a file to download, for class to be over, or for Mom to bring us a juice box. But what if you filled those times with something special so it doesn’t feel like waiting? Here’s an idea: Identify times when your students have to wait, and use transition strategies to help everyone stay focused and engaged. See Y4Y’s Transition Strategies tool for inspiration.

Restlessness. The solution to restlessness is staring every educator right in the face: MOVE. How can you incorporate more movement into your program? Just before the initial pandemic shutdown, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreation Opportunities, which was also summarized in a blog post. A key takeaway that applies even in a virtual environment is the need to incorporate movement wherever you can. For example, have students jump up and down whenever another student offers a correct response to a question. Be inclusive of your students with disabilities when thinking about these goals. Consider these tips from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) for home workouts.

General irritability. Combat negativity with positivity! You can start with Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment and other tools from the course. Thanksgiving is still in your rearview mirror. Practice gratitude with students by having them take turns expressing what they’re grateful for, and why. When the holidays are over and life feels especially dull, liven things up with a joke-of-the day assignment or a dance party to raise spirits.

Trouble concentrating. This is an issue that 21st CCLC programs have always faced after students have put in a long school day. That “brain break” of some social time before jumping into any academics is always key, but cabin fever might bring on the kind of concentration barriers that seem insurmountable. This month’s LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, is a tremendous resource for how and why meditative practices are key for adults and children in achieving a clean mental slate and state. If you missed the real-time webinar, you can catch it in the archive in the new year.

Lack of motivation. Believe it or not, routines can be good for you, and even a path out of the doldrums. After all, a routine is a small set of goals you set for you or your students each day. In Y4Y’s webinar series on approaches to learning, specifically in Webinar #1: Building Trust With Students in the Whole Environment, the U.S. Department of Education's Y4Y Technical Assistance Team discusses the sorts of structures that offer predictability and comfort in the face of the uncertainty everyone is facing right now.

Fatigue. This may be the trickiest symptom of cabin fever to combat. Some students may be suffering from the kind of fatigue that comes from too little sleep. This is pretty easy to recognize in most students. Occasionally, fatigue can result from too much sleep, which isn’t always as easy to recognize. Be sure your program gives students the opportunity to complete all homework, to take that task off their plate. Revisit Y4Y’s Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go to help you recognize and address signs of trauma in your students. Finally, don’t forget the importance of supporting and engaging families if student fatigue persists.

We see signs around the country that many adults aren’t coping well with restrictions that mean their lives have to change — in some cases quite dramatically — for an indefinite period of time to keep everyone safe. Let the lessons of social and emotional learning be your guide to appreciating the resilience and maturity students stand to gain from this period of their lives. While cabin fever might not have a tried-and-true cure, your 21st CCLC program may be the chicken noodle soup that gets your students through the worst of it.



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.