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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.



November 16, 2020

The “Jolabokaflod” described in Creative Program Ideas is one culture’s clear celebration of literacy and the sheer enjoyment that reading books can bring young and old people alike. While settling in with a good book may seem an impossible time luxury for some 21st CCLC families, helping students make reading a habit for life can be achieved in small, manageable bits. Explore these ideas for sharing the gift of reading with students, and maybe even instilling a holiday association with books.

Be together in literacy — even if you’re completely virtual right now — by conducting a virtual literacy focus group. School-day staff, families and older students can and should give voice to the kinds of literacy activities that will be most engaging. Remember that you can customize this tool and offer different types of activities that are screen-friendly, such as reading aloud favorite stories, or perhaps presenting a virtual play. Don’t let those Halloween costumes collect dust! Students can rummage around at home for something unique to wear on-screen to “dress up” your activities. See Y4Y’s tools for Interactive Read Alouds and Reader’s Theater for more tips.

With or without regular access to a literacy expert, it’s good to arm staff with some basic tools to help students select reading material. Remember that age doesn’t necessarily define where a student is in his or her reading development. Check out Y4Y’s Developmental Stages of Reading tool, and be sure to share it with frontline staff. Does your program have a library of donated books? Consider partnering with a school in a privileged district or a local library to beef up your collection. Then, be sure to group books by reading level. These groupings should be a guide but not a fast rule for students when they are choosing a book. Some students will be motivated by a “reach read” and others might be discouraged, so offer selection support accordingly. Check out Y4Y’s More Literacy Activities tool for additional ideas, including the five finger model to finding a “just right” book.

Kick it old school with Literacy Book Clubs, whether virtual or in person. Right on down to your youngest students, it doesn’t get more together than reading the same book and sharing thoughts and views. Throw in some silly questions among the serious ones to really engage your club members, like, “What do you suppose that puzzle piece Curious George swallowed tasted like? Is THAT why he ate it?” If you have a full group of students who celebrate Christmas, by all means, capitalize on the season. You can surely reach every reader with titles like Construction Site on Christmas Night, The Christmasaurus, or Dear Santa, I Know it Looks Bad But It Wasn’t My Fault. Ask students from other faith backgrounds to share their traditional holiday books.

Finally, as your district offers professional development days around this time of year, be sure to make the most of the time with colleagues. Y4Y’s literacy course offers nine different training tools, starting with the Four Components of Literacy Training to Go, up to the Engaging Families in Literacy Activities Training to Go. Remember, these PowerPoint presentations are downloadable, customizable, and lend themselves well to online platforms for virtual training.

Reading is one of those rare treasures in life that can be shaped however we’d like. While it is the perfect activity for a student who likes to escape into a private world of fantasy, it’s just as well suited to those of us who would rather be together in literacy.



September 28, 2020

This election season marks 100 years of the vote for women. What actions did Susan B. Anthony and her contemporaries take to achieve this goal, and how can 21st CCLC students continue that legacy of working toward equality, whether for themselves or others? Drawing on basic lessons and tools in the Civic Learning and Engagement Course, discover how your students can take up the torch of civic action today and work toward equity for all.

Consider these eight strategies set forth in Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement Implementation Checklist, and how remarkably they track with the suffrage movement!

Strategy 1: Identify and Engage Stakeholders

As early as 1850, the suffrage movement had a strong alliance with the abolitionist movement.

Whatever priorities you settle on for your civic learning and engagement activities, there will be partners in your community that share your common goals. These may be educators in your school district or at your local university. What about nonprofit organizations in your area dedicated to ensuring equity? These potential partners are probably just as eager to form partnerships as your 21st CCLC program is. Sit your program team down to discuss who those potential partners could be. Don’t be afraid to involve families in this search — they may already have community connections you haven’t established. Y4Y’s Involving Community Partners Checklist can guide these efforts.

Strategy 2: Define Needs, Goals and Assets

In 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. “The Declaration of Sentiments,” written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, set a long-term agenda for suffragists.

There will be many elements that factor into your needs and goals. Is your civic learning and engagement primarily intended to meet the social and emotional needs of your students? To support learning in their school day? The Y4Y tool for Brainstorming Civic Engagement Topics can help you systematically weigh the needs of your students and your community to direct you toward worthy initiatives.

Strategy 3: Prepare for Civic Learning and Engagement Activities

From 1866-68, when members were able to refocus after the Civil War, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the American Equal Rights Association (AERA) and began publication of a weekly newspaper, The Revolution, to re-formalize their structure and message.

Just as team-building and leadership were crucial in the suffrage movement, so, too, do you need to foster these in your program to succeed in civic engagement. A good place to start is the Y4Y tool on Team-Building Activities.

Strategy 4: Set the Foundation for Civic Learning and Engagement Activities

In 1869, national suffrage was divided on logistics: The National Women’s Suffrage Association replaced the AERA and continued to press for a constitutional amendment, while the American Woman Suffrage Association worked on a smaller scale to affect state constitutions.

One goal can have different pathways to achievement. When you establish your foundation for civic learning and engagement activities, you’re giving thought to the learning approach that best suits your students and to logistics such as budget, schedule and materials. Look to the Y4Y Committee and Club Planning Worksheet to ensure that your efforts are defined early.

Strategy 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Susan B. Anthony and many like her remained unmarried throughout their lives just to ensure their rights around property ownership and autonomy. To further their cause, many were arrested, tried and jailed for voting illegally.

Intentionality demands SMART goals. Y4Y’s Service Learning Toolbox and Intentional Activity Design: Mapping Needs to Activities tool can help you shape the best activities to achieve your civic learning and engagement goals. They’re unlikely to be as drastic as the activities of the suffragists, but tailored to impact the lives of your students and their community in a constructive way.

Strategy 6: Use Best Practices for Student Engagement

The Progressive Era played out from the 1890s through 1925. The increasingly public role of all women brought the suffrage movement to the front and center of American politics.

The women and men of the suffrage movement understood that engagement was key for their mission to maintain momentum through adversity. How will you keep your students engaged in their civic initiatives? You’ll map their knowledge and wonders on relevant topics, and capture and account for student voice and choice in all you do, especially as you foster student interest in promoting equity in the world around them.

Strategy 7: Implement With Fidelity

In 1915, Mabel Vernon and Sara Bard Field collected over half a million petition signatures around the country, but states like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania continued to reject women’s suffrage. In 1917, dedication to the movement even led to hunger strikes by jailed picketers.

Implementing with fidelity is doing what you said you’d do, and that’s exactly what leaders of the suffrage movement did. You have all your pieces in place to implement an engaging and impactful experience for your students to play an active role in shaping their community. Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide can help you ensure that your adherence, dosage, engagement and delivery are all on target.

Strategy 8: Celebrate and Sustain Your Initiatives

In 1919, the 19th Amendment was finally passed, and it was ratified on Aug. 26, 1920. Women legally cast their ballots across the country for the first time in the 1920 general election. But the fight for women’s rights had only just begun.

The success of the suffrage movement is a perfect illustration for your students to appreciate the slow rate of progress, but the importance of persevering. Your 21st CCLC initiatives in civic learning and engagement, on a smaller scale, should have successes to celebrate, but leave your students wanting more. More learning. More equity. More engagement. More success.



September 18, 2020

Students are more likely to become engaged and stick around for more when you build variety into your program. In traditional settings, students, especially teens, vote with their feet. When programming is online, disengaging can be as easy as clicking the “leave meeting” button. Why not take the guesswork out of knowing what will capture students’ attention and imagination? You can adapt Y4Y’s Student Survey for use with returning students to get their take on what’s working. Use the Elementary Student Interest Survey/Inventory or Secondary Student Interest Survey/Inventory to get a strong sense of what interests them.

As you’re customizing these surveys to make the most of program activities, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Offer many options. Think about those conversations at home around what’s for dinner. Vetoing is easy! But coming up with ideas isn’t always so easy. If you haven’t had hamburgers in a while, you might have forgotten how much you love them, or that they exist. When you offer your students a wide variety of interest areas, you’ll have greater success at homing in on something that really tickles their fancy, as grandma used to say.
  • Everyone is so over screen time. There’s a strong possibility that even your most avid gamers have had enough of screen time and are looking for other ways to engage in your program. Get creative with several flavors of project-based learning activities (use the Y4Y Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning in STEM or the Service-Learning Toolbox). As an alternative to search engines, use your survey to gauge how students might feel about doing real-world research (like calling partners in your community on the phone to brainstorm how they might combat poverty or improve a nearby green space) and collaborating outdoors with peers. (Don’t have tables outside? Partner with a nearby hotel looking to replace/donate their outdoor event tables, or use simple oilcloth upside down to sit on the grass.)
  • Sneak in literacy. You can offer a host of interest areas on your survey that embed literacy opportunities in ways that aren’t obvious (or painful) for your students. A treasure hunt for words can be done at home or in your program space. How might students design and theme their own word hunt? Your survey can package it as a “design-your-own-science-word treasure hunt” or “design-your-own-pet-word treasure hunt.” You can also sneak literacy into activity suggestions like board games, create-your-own cartoon, or create-a-new-language options on your customized survey.
  • Give plenty of physical options. There’s not a team sport on the planet that’s going to capture every student’s attention, but keeping active is important for your students’ health and wellness. Be sure your survey options range from shooting hoops to dancing to push-up contests and everything in between.
  • Be a social media stalker. If you’re still not confident you can develop a comprehensive list of what kids might be interested in, remember that even very young students have become involved on social media, for better or worse. Following hot musicians, sports figures and vloggers online can help you tune into popular culture and create a customized inventory that piques student interest.
  • Reach out to families. Don’t forget the benefit of talking to families in your efforts to sniff out those student interests. Use the customizable Y4Y Family Survey to help you discover what you’ve done well and areas you can grow to meet the needs of your students.

You know that “warm welcome” feeling of coming home to the smell of freshly baked cookies? You can create that much-needed feeling of comfort for your students this year. Start by discovering what matters to them. Then “follow your nose” to connect program offerings to student interests.