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August 7, 2020

Every day, your students make choices that affect their future. You want them to understand that their choices matter — and enlarge their view of what’s possible. Here’s some valuable information you can use to make sure they consider career options that involve science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Let students know that

New opportunities are opening up. Cultural shifts and initiatives to offer equal opportunities in STEM careers mean greater gender and ethnic diversity than in the past. “Increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM” is a goal in America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Outdated ideas like “girls aren’t good at math” and “science isn’t for everyone” have been exposed as myths. Increasingly, STEM fields are attracting more people like Shuri, the fearless young woman who’s the chief science and technology officer of the high-tech nation Wakanda in the movie Black Panther.

STEM is opening up. You might have a student with the potential to create a new tool or product that will benefit humanity. But if no one in his family has gone to college, he doesn’t know any scientists or engineers, and he’s struggling in math class, he might think a STEM career is beyond his reach. Leaders in STEM education, however, say STEM is much more than the sum of its parts. Modern STEM education also incorporates the arts and design as well as skills like problem solving and behaviors like perseverance and cooperation. Students can tap into their strengths and interests to create their entry point. In his book Curious, for example, Ian Leslie says Apple founder Steve Jobs was “a merely competent technician” but it was his broad range of interests (including music), combined with a drive to succeed, that led his company to launch the first successful MP3 player.

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place for students to explore STEM because you can

  • Introduce interesting STEM experiences in a low-stress, high-support environment.
  • Tap into student voice and choice and give young people time to play or “tinker” with STEM ideas and materials.
  • Use project-based learning to help students connect STEM topics they’re learning in school with real-life problem-solving opportunities.
  • Engage local organizations and people with STEM connections so that students see that STEM is all around them — and is a possible career pathway for people like them.  

Y4Y is your “go-to” for STEM because it has resources like

These days, STEM is at the forefront as the world looks to research scientists for a vaccine that will end the coronavirus pandemic. Take advantage of this moment to gather students (virtually, if need be) around the idea of STEM as something that’s relevant to their lives — and a career path filled with as much potential as they are.



March 18, 2020

It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.

The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.

Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.

In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.

Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.

The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:

Step 1: Build a Program Team

Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.

Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets

A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.

Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources

Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.

Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.

Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students

Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.

Step 7: Engage Families

A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.

Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect

Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!

Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve

Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.



December 12, 2019

The concept of mentoring has been infused into all levels of society, from elementary school buddy programs to Fortune 500 executive training. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Being mentored can be powerful.

According to research cited by The National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who were at risk for falling off track but had a mentor were 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions than their peers who were not mentored. Also 90% are, themselves, interested in becoming mentors. You’ve undoubtedly recognized the benefit to students of bringing mentors to your 21st CCLC program. Now it’s time to put together your elevator speech for adults in your community to educate them on what mentoring does for them on the two-way street called Mentor Way.

First, take a minute to reflect on the people in your life whom you consider mentors. Do you have a formal mentoring relationship? Probably not. For most people, our mentors are just people with more experience in some facet of living, even as fundamental as how to breathe (think swimming or Lamaze). The thing that made them special was, yes, their knowledge and wisdom, but equally important, their approachability and their desire to be useful to others. No doubt, there are people in your community with these characteristics. Finding them and connecting them with your program is one of the most valuable things you can do for your students, and for the “mentors in waiting” who respond to your call to serve.

Y4Y’s new course on strategic partnerships includes many tools that can help you map your community assets and link those assets to your program needs. For example, what if the greatest need in your program is support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities? Can you approach a local university to solicit student volunteers who might be wooed with the promise of a resume builder, improved communications skills, confidence boosting, networking opportunities and gratitude for their help? Factor these benefits for mentors into a targeted elevator speech for this potential partner.

What if your greatest need is literacy support? The retired teachers association in your area is a great resource for men and women who are hardwired to help and teach young people, and have the time and skills to do it. Your elevator speech for these potential volunteers might emphasize the liberty of leaving in the afternoon with no papers to grade, the emotional satisfaction of helping young people, the health benefits of contributing in a meaningful way, and the intellectual stimulation that comes from keeping up with their profession.

If strengthening social and emotional support for students is high on your list of program needs, check out community resources for mentors who can offer that extra adult guidance. These resources might run the gamut from veteran organizations to Big Brother/Sister programs to graduates of your program or programs like it. What does the other side of the street look like in this mentor-mentee relationship? This mentor has opportunities to reflect on the choices they’ve made in their own lives, to watch another life grow and change with their involvement, and to rest easy that they’ll be leaving the world a little better than they found it.



July 16, 2019

The featured link in this month’s Y4Y newsletter, Teaching and Learning STEM in 21st CCLC Programs, takes you to a thought-provoking webinar. The content helps out-of-school time educators think about the bright future they can open for students who have traditionally had little access to the broad spectrum of STEM-related careers. Let’s consider these gleaming rays of sunshine:

What Is My STEM Identity?

Every student has a “STEM identity” — a term gaining traction in research and educational communities — which means the degree to which a student relates to science, technology, engineering and math, and how they see themselves as STEM learners. This will start at home, depending on the careers of family members and friends a student has been exposed to. But good news! It won’t end there. The sooner educators offer fun and exciting learning opportunities to students, the healthier their STEM identity will become.

What Are the Advantages of STEM Education in 21st CCLC Programs?

There is so much flexibility in STEM curriculum in 21st CCLC programs that school-day teachers can’t take advantage of. Use student voice to determine what your students are most interested in. If it seems like favorite topics are unrelated to STEM, get creative! Even fashion design, football and finance have traceable roots in STEM, and you can help students seek them out. When students can connect STEM experiences to their own lives, the lessons are more meaningful to them. Another great idea is to tie student interests to the STEM lessons of their school day. Out-of-school time programs often involve students from several grades; consider this an asset, not a liability. Projects can be scaffolded to give smaller tasks to smaller students and help them feel like they are a part of something bigger; meanwhile older students reap the intellectual and social rewards of teaching and helping. And while you might be measuring their progress, students know they don’t have a school-day grade hanging in the balance.

Where Is This Headed? Citizen Science Is the Wave of the Future!

Speaking of waves, did you know that centuries-old “tsunami stones” pepper the Japanese coastline to warn future generations about flood dangers if they build too close to the shoreline? The spirit of sharing scientific observation for the good of all has a rich history, and citizen science captures this practice by asking everyday citizens to report observations on water quality, bird migrations and everything between. Engaging students in citizen science is the fastest way to develop their STEM identity, partly because projects — whether local, national or international — provide a learning opportunity. These projects, many of which are found readily online, also provide students a contributing opportunity.

Pioneering Partners: Where Would Doc Brown Be Without Marty McFly?

Absurd science fiction or not, Doc Brown’s vision took a curious, adventurous Marty McFly to visit the future. So, don’t worry about “bothering” the local botanist at the university extension office, engineer at the power company, or chemist at a nearby manufacturer when you want someone to partner in an educational opportunity for your students. Remember three things: (1) an adult in every STEM professional’s student life helped build their STEM identity, and they’ll be gratified to do the same; (2) these are not careers one stumbles into, so STEM professionals tend to be passionate about and eager to share their work; and (3) real-world practitioners are your best source for ideas about hands-on learning projects and tying STEM subjects to career paths.

No One Knows the Future Like NASA!

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Y4Y wants to recognize one of the U.S. Department of Education’s partners in STEM education and the future, NASA. All 21st CCLC professionals are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the incredible real-world design challenges NASA has created. Are you running a summer program? Want to get involved with NASA? Click here to view creative ideas on how to get involved with the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon!

For more great tips on making the most of your STEM education programs, check out the Y4Y webinar series Unlocking Possibilities: Bringing STEM to Life, which includes an event dedicated to citizen science.



February 14, 2019

Author Marie Kondo is known for her advice on “tidying up” your space and getting rid of things that don’t “spark joy.” Regardless of whether you agree with her approach, the advice to keep it simple is nothing new. The KISS principle (“Keep It Simple, Stupid” or sometimes “Keep It Short and Simple”) has been around for years. 

Keeping things simple means clearing out the clutter so there’s more room for what you truly care about. Sometimes the clutter isn’t in your home or office. It’s in your brain. If worries and to-do lists take up too much of your mental space, you may find it hard to focus at work, enjoy your job and feel a sense of accomplishment. Sound familiar? One way to pare down brain clutter and self-imposed pressure is to reduce the day’s to-do list to one item:

  • Deliver something of value today.   

You get to define what the “something” is, and to whom it’s valuable (e.g., yourself, your colleagues or students, the world, or all of the above).  It could be working one-on-one with a student who has attention deficit disorder to show him how to organize his homework, or getting a community organization to partner with your program. At the end of the day, write down what you delivered, the people it affected and how it made you feel.  

You might think of this method as a stripped-down way to set a personal or professional SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goal. Simply put, it’s a way to work smarter and love it more.

Here are some Y4Y “work smart” resources:

Activity and Program SMART Goals

This tool has examples and guidance on developing goals that ensure common understandings and drive results.

Positive Youth Development Rubric

This tool will remind you of the five C’s of positive youth development and ways to help students — and staff — develop competence, confidence, connection, character and caring.

Project-Based Learning Research Brief

Summer Learning Research Brief

STEM Research Brief

Learn more about one of these learning approaches so you can help students get the most out of program activities and encourage parents and partners to become more involved.