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May 13, 2022

Children playing with toy rocket and looking at the sky. Boy and girls make a wish by seeing a shooting star.At each stage of child development, there are new cognitive horizons to explore. Summer’s the perfect time to open young minds to different ways of thinking. With guidance from Y4Y’s course on stages of child and adolescent development, think about summer fun like going barefoot, stargazing, nature journaling, or hosting a lemonade stand to support healthy development in engaging ways.

The Little Guys

A recent study of academic pre-k programs in Tennessee revealed that early childhood settings with an academic emphasis may better prepare first graders for testing than their counterparts, but ultimately those students don’t perform as well and are more likely to display behavior issues. The importance of having the freedom to explore at young ages is promoted by a Y4Y Voices From the Field guest, Stacey Gummey, as the foundation of the Hickory Hill Nature School, a “Nature Kindergarten.” While 21st CCLC programs begin at the kindergarten level, these findings are a good reminder that “play” is a child’s work. Also, play nurtures creativity among people of all ages. That’s something to keep in mind as your team plans activities, especially during summer programming!

The Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix demonstrates that 4- to 6-year-old children are beginning to play cooperatively, are eager to show adults what they’ve learned or can do, are more attentive to details, and with an increased understanding of cause and effect, ask many questions. This summer, consider how your program can offer your youngest students the chance to explore new spaces as teams — whether indoors or out. Ask them the kinds of questions they might want to find answers for. Even if it’s a rainy day and the school cafeteria is the only space available for exploration, challenge them to see the space in a new way. What shapes can they find? How many tiles run along each wall? Are some surfaces more worn than other surfaces? Why might that be? Hopefully, you’ll have many new outside spaces to explore, with even richer discussions on tap.

You may be surprised at how much development can occur over a summer at this age! To ensure you’re meeting goals you’ve set for your summer program, download and customize Y4Y’s Individualized Observation Log for Early Childhood.

In the Middle

Returning to the Y4Y Child and Adolescent Development Matrix, you’ll see that students in middle childhood, ages 6-9, are transitioning from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” They’re becoming more interested in having special friends, can and should be tasked with more independence and responsibility, but still want to please adults and enjoy imaginative stories and play. While your summer programming will be a little more focused on academic recovery and reengagement for students in this age group, those academics can be imbedded in exciting play in your 21st CCLC environment.

What sort of continuing theme might you weave through your summer program to spark the imagination of your students in the lower grades? You could designate your 21st CCLC program as an old-fashioned newspaper office and put out a new issue each week with contributions from each student and their buddy on a topic of their choosing. (Be sure they research their subject!) Or maybe your program will become a space station or a candy factory. What roles need to be filled, and what are the responsibilities of each of those roles? Get serious about involving student voice with students in this age range. Y4Y offers student goal-setting tools for all grade levels (check out those for grades 2-3 and 4-6), and an activity choice form to get you started. And as with younger students, using the age-appropriate Individualized Observation Log to gauge student progress is essential.

What Summer Means to the Big Kids

Your summer program needs to be captivating to appeal to students in late childhood and adolescence. Through the end of elementary and on through middle school, students get better at planning. They usually experience a boost in self-esteem, though it quickly drops. They’re much more inclined to break into peer groups, and they have increasing awareness of linguistic and cultural nuances. Then on into high school, they struggle to gain more independence and develop greater anxiety about the future. High school students enjoy meaningful debates that demonstrate a greater awareness of the world around them. Most ultimately recover their self-esteem. They may even envision playing a crucial role in improving the world as they grasp complex problems.

Student voice is never more important than it is in your middle- and high school programs, so be sure to visit the tools that accompany the Y4Y course on student voice and choice and the Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students. For several years to come, your program will have to bear in mind that these are the students who missed some critical social and emotional development opportunities due to the pandemic. Despite the very great need for academic enrichment, evidence points to these students valuing the social aspects of your 21st CCLC program above all. Of course, when you’re active in capturing student voice, those social bonds might be forming over an interest in STEM, spikeball, or hip-hop dancing — or all of the above! Get them involved in new and interesting ways to imbed academics in these activities and take a leadership role in implementing them. Remember, the sky’s the limit in summer, so if students suggest writing research reports on the invention of spikeball, choreographing a hip-hop routine around principles in geometry, or developing a word cloud around cold fusion vocabulary, get comfortable with the words, “Sure, let’s put it to a vote!”



March 10, 2022

Recruitment is a full-time job of your 21st CCLC program. Reaching the students you need to reach and staffing your program with dedicated members of the community are tied for first as your top priorities. With tools from the Human Resources course and Recruiting and Retaining High School Students Click & Go, as well as other tips and tricks from Y4Y, those prized people up and down your organization will vote YES with their feet.

The Role of Prized Partners

Reaching the students who need you most could range from small obstacles in getting the word out up to students “disappearing” at the beginning of the pandemic. Meanwhile, school-day teachers are beyond exhausted, and may not be your ideal “go-to” hires for out-of-school time. Like everything you do in your program, community partnerships can ease the way. Check out Y4Y’s Involving Community Partners Checklist to start thinking about fresh ways those partnerships can help you recruit students and staff. Some other tips include:

  • Reaching out to your school counselors. Share a bit about your program and leave them materials to distribute to families they feel might need you the most. Also ask them about services in the community they have been connecting families with, and whether you can share in those efforts — both to avoid duplication and to make new connections.
  • Connecting with faith-based organizations. Ask if they’d be willing to run a blurb about your program in their bulletin. For example, “The local grant-funded afterschool and summer program is inviting students of King Middle School to participate in a fun, academic-based enrichment environment. They’re also recruiting passionate community members to work with students directly, or to partner in new ways, according to you or your business’s strengths. Email the program’s director, Jane Doe, at [insert email address here] today. Thank you!”
  • Performing an internet search. Use key words and phrases like “social services for children and families,” “foundations supporting children and families,” and supports for children and families,” and add “near me.” You might be surprised at the resources you’ll discover, especially in urban centers. Rural communities can search “foundations/services/supports for students and families in my state.” There may be organizations in your nearest urban centers or university towns that are eager to partner with rural programs. Ask these new partners if they have a volunteer or donor base they can reach out to for your staff and volunteer recruitment efforts.

Upper Grade Challenges

Most elementary programs have little or no difficulty recruiting students. You may be among those many programs having to turn students away! Recruiting for upper grades, however, can be challenging. Some tips include:

  • Checking in regularly with your students to assess their ever-changing interests and to be sure your activities and program emphasis reflect those interests.
  • Viewing current students as your ambassadors; try offering incentives for a “bring a friend” day, such as entering a drawing to choose the theme for your culminating event. Related Y4Y tools include the Youth Ambassador Action Plan Template and Job Description Template.
  • Checking out Y4Y’s Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students, which offers further guidance and additional tools for reaching the older students that need you most.

Winning Recruitment of Prized Staff

Your program is in fierce competition to attract qualified and enthusiastic people. A few ideas include:

  • Reviewing the Y4Y Human Resources and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program courses, especially tools like the Human Resources Planning Checklist, to help choose your recruitment team and work together to identify candidates.
  • Starting with families. Many family members will jump at the chance to work around their child. They can also get the word out to trusted neighbors and friends, which offers a little instant confidence in those recommendations.
  • Setting up a job-sharing child care co-op or looking into whether one already exists in your community. If parents who are interested in joining the program have children at home too young to be in school or in your program, but have no means to pay child care, connect them with other parents in the same boat. You’ll also be amplifying their program buy-in!
  • Dialing up the college engagement. Look into setting up a table at your local college activities fair and sell the program! Bring sample activities and event photos, and post a list of majors that relate directly to the job, such as education, social services, ethnic and women’s studies, all things STEM, city/urban planning, and management and communications, just to name a few.

Even before the pandemic, the spirit of prizing people and relationships was at the center of your 21st CCLC program. Keeping that spirit alive for adults and students alike is more important today than it’s ever been. And when new people discover the value you place on community through that process of recruiting them to your program, they’ll be invested in helping you maintain that sense of community. Retaining those you recruit will be your ultimate prize.



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.



August 23, 2021

High school 21st CCLC programs differ from elementary and middle school programs, and not simply because students are older. The students you’re seeking to recruit and retain are those who are grappling for connections, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which isn’t necessarily the case in programs geared toward younger students. Consider how the greatest impact on the lives of your teens may be fundamental, human connections.

Look to Science

The recent work of neuroscientist, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang reveals that, “The quality of a person’s relationships and social interactions shapes their development and health, both of the body and of the brain.” The report also notes that adolescence is the most dramatic period of brain development after infancy. Finally, “Adolescents’ efficacy, agency, and sense of purpose thrive with safe, supported opportunities to explore possible social identities, tastes, interests, beliefs, and values; and to invest in tight relationships with family, peers, and trustworthy adults like teachers, mentors, spiritual leaders, and coaches.” You can read even more about her current research into the exact neurological pathways and connections being forged during this critical time that are indicators of future successes in school, relationships and life.

Put simply: teen brains are wired to reach out beyond their caregivers to make connections and begin to process the world around them in a whole new, sophisticated way. The more supportive their environment, the more effective their critical neural pathways for future success and relationship-building will become.

Enter your 21st CCLC program.

Y4Y’s Click & Go, Recruiting and Retaining High School Students offers tips and tools for finding those students who need you the most, and keeping them engaged in your program. Bear these governing principles in mind:

They’re not going to show up on your doorstep. There are those rare high school programs that thrive on word of mouth, such as the Schenectady City School District 21st CCLC teen program. Most work up to that level of enthusiasm through intentional recruitment efforts. Y4Y can help you chart your Recruitment and Retention Plan, starting with building the right team and goals.

Don’t let your program drive a wedge between students and their families. On the contrary, you should offer a space that demonstrates unity with both. Y4Y’s Multicultural Sensitivity Checklist will help you ensure that those recruitment efforts are only appreciated.

We all need a voice. A teen’s home environment may not be supportive of them developing their own thoughts and ideas. Or, maybe their natural disposition holds them back from expressing themselves or even reflecting on what their own goals for the future might be. Help students discover their own agency by surveying them about their own interests in a manner that is comfortable for them. Tools like Y4Y’s Online Survey, Student Goal Setting and Reflection, and Rubric for Assessing Social and Emotional Competencies can guide the process of discovering and capturing that student voice.

We all need purpose. Just as this month’s blog post, “Impact Through Purpose,” notes, a basic human need is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Check out the tools for growing and keeping student leaders in your program to offer students that opportunity to make a difference. (Youth Ambassador Action Plan Template, Youth Ambassador Job Description Template, Youth Leadership Roles).

Most educators didn’t need science to tell them that demonstrating genuine interest in their students — their thoughts, feelings and goals for the future — offers those students a great advantage for success. Chances are, you could ask any successful or otherwise well-adjusted adult about their favorite teacher and you would get a detailed response on that teacher and all they offered. Out-of-school time professionals have just as perfect an opportunity to make a surprising impact in the lives of young people through connections that students will take with them always. More than an educator, you can also be a friend, a mentor, a safe place and, as it turns out, a builder of neural pathways.



June 16, 2021

Early summer is the perfect time to get a jump on student recruitment for the fall. High school students are the trickiest of all, but we know how eager teens are to get back together. With tips from Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Recruiting and Retaining High School Students, and field notes from a California program that had great success with all-virtual programming, you can learn how to market your program and really show off all you have to offer.

  • Y4Y’s Recruitment and Retention Plan tool will give you a great idea of where you are and where you need to be going with your recruitment efforts, month by month. Now is exactly the time of year to get up and running for a successful fall program.
  • Happy days are here again! Returning to in-person programming hopefully means you can gain access to buildings during school hours. A great way of recruiting students is just talking with kids in the cafeteria at lunch, but if social distancing is still required, the Y4Y Idea Wall/Board Tool will help you create visuals of your program to more passively entice students to the exciting offerings of your program. If class is out for the summer, you can adopt many of the same creative ideas for your website. Drive students to your website by partnering with school administrators on their end-of-year communications.
  • Your students are your greatest asset! Many tools in this Click & Go offer guidance for building effective student leadership in your program. Your student ambassadors are the key to successful recruitment. Check out the Youth Ambassador Plan Template, the Youth Ambassador Job Description Template and the Youth Leadership Roles tool. If you don’t already have a strong student leadership plan in place, this is where you’ll get started to ensure next year’s recruitment efforts get a boost. Meanwhile, it will strongly reinforce your retention efforts by increasing student buy-in.

Speaking of student retention, participants in Y4Y’s winter listening session on virtual learning shed light on some critical steps in retaining teens in any environment:

  • Games are universally popular. But not all students enjoy the same kind of games. Be sure you can offer a combination of video games, board games and interactive computer games to engage every student. Remember that differences in academic levels are likely to be apparent during game play. The last thing you want to do is exclude anyone from something that is meant to be fun.
  • Nothing beats the great outdoors! Just as is highlighted in this month’s Voices From the Field on forest kindergartens, young people are often happiest outdoors. Teens are no exception. Being forced on screen so much has demonstrated that anything that can be taken outside should be taken outside!
  • Connection is at the root of all you do. Teens who find themselves in 21st CCLC programs are often the students that don’t quite fit with a sport or other afterschool activity but crave those human connections. It’s the job of your program to discover and accentuate the greatest common denominators. Soon, investment in each other will become that very thing!
  • Honor perseverance. Academic standards drive your students’ school-day sense of achievement more than ever as they become teens. You can provide them the opportunity to develop the feeling of success they deserve by celebrating effort and resilience as well.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted that youth comes but once in a lifetime. You have tremendous power in helping your teens make the most of it. Your 21st CCLC program is in a unique position this summer and fall as more teens are vaccinated and policies are opening up to offer a renewed sense of community at a time when they need it most. So don’t be shy: Get out there and show off that program!