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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.



August 9, 2019

Experts agree that heeding student voice can help out-of-school time programs engage students and help them grow academically, socially and emotionally. Sometimes, though, when the defining characteristic of your program seems to be noise, you might think you have more student voice than you can handle! How can you be sure you get it right? Here are some quick tips and Y4Y tools.

Engage Students in Program Decisions

Consider these questions. If you can’t answer “yes,” decide what actions you need to take:

  • Are students represented on your program planning team?
  • When your team starts to plan for the next program term, are all students included in a goal-setting activity or discussion?
  • When your team reflects on results at the end of a program term, are students included, too?

Also consider this:

  • Who thinks about program culture and climate, and sets norms for behavior — staff alone, or do students contribute?

Involving students in decisions helps give them a sense of ownership in program activities and supports engagement. Equally important, it equips young people with important skills like collaboration, communication, caring and reflection.

Do Formal and Informal Observations

The next time you’re surrounded by students in your program space, conduct an informal observation: Close your eyes and listen.

  • Maybe you’ll hear comments like this: Wow! I get it! Cool! Can we do that again? I want to try that, too.
  • Or, maybe you’ll hear this: Go away, I’m doing this. Get somebody else to hang with. Do I have to do that now?

This type of quick, informal check can tell you how things are going in the moment, so you can act immediately if students and colleagues need help to find their focus.

To capture information for designing an effective schedule and engaging activities, use a formal observation tool. Y4Y’s Observation Checklist will help you consider staff and student engagement, fidelity of implementation, and the status of the physical environment. The data you gather can help with intentional design of student activities and staff professional learning events.

Conduct Surveys and Use the Results

Want to know how students and families feel about your program, and how you can do things differently or better? Surveys offer a quick, anonymous way for audiences to tell you what they think. Here are some Y4Y survey tools you can use:

When you ask others to respond to a survey, be prepared to react in turn. You won’t get future feedback if you ignore what respondents tell you now. After you analyze the combined data, be sure to share the results. You can post charts on the wall, include numbers in the electronic newsletter, or announce results through social media. Present the data beside plans for future activities to demonstrate how audience input helps to shape your program.


July 16, 2019

Learn from the past to improve the future. How many times have you heard this saying from historians, politicians and even your mother? It’s good advice for 21st CCLC programs as well!

As you plan your fall program, look back at data you gathered in the spring to pinpoint learning needs for current students and staff members. Learn about students who haven’t been in your program but could use the extra support you provide. School-day teachers can help you identify new prospects, and tell you about academic areas where they see students struggling.

Here are some data types and Y4Y tools that can help you learn from the past:

Program Performance Data

Identifying and Addressing Program Strengths and Weaknesses Training to Go: This ready-to-use presentation can be customized or used “as is.” It offers strategies that help you analyze program performance and build on strengths to improve effectiveness.

Sample Evaluation Guide: This tool describes program-level evaluation, which uses some of the same data you’ll want for fall planning. Look near the end of the guide to find sample focus group questions for parents, students and staff. These questions can also be used in interviews or surveys to help you discover stakeholder reactions to and ideas about your program.

Observation Checklist: This tool helps site leaders understand important areas of student engagement, teacher/facilitator engagement and the physical environment. If you used the checklist during spring or summer program sessions, you already have data to analyze. If you haven’t used this tool, it can guide reflections and discussions when you plan your next session. Be sure to add it to your continuous improvement process tool kit.

Student Needs Data

Three Types of Data: This tool explains school-level, student-level and student voice data.

Survey of Student Needs: Use this tool to check with school-day teachers about student needs in subject areas and specific skills. It also helps with setting priority levels for student needs.

Staff Learning Needs

Intentional Activity Design: Mapping Needs to Activities: As the title suggests, this tool helps staff put data into action. If your staff hasn’t used SMART goals before, introduce this tool when you use the Setting SMART Activity Goals Training Starter. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.

The tools in this list come from three Y4Y courses: Continuous Education, Summer Learning and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program. To see more free learning resources, go to the Y4Y Learn Overview page and start exploring!



June 18, 2019

Do you feel like your 21st CCLC summer program is already in a good place, with funding secured, partners and stakeholders engaged, staff and students recruited, SMART goals set, activities planned, and logistics figured out? Congratulations!

Are you ready to take your program to the next level? Let’s talk data.

If you look at the Y4Y Continuous Improvement Process Diagram, you’ll see data collection plays a key role in helping you make improvements. As your summer program gets under way, think about data collection as a three-dimensional launch pad into the continuous improvement cosmos. Dimension one consists of qualitative and quantitative data, dimension two includes short- and long-term data, and dimension three includes formative and summative data.

Qualitative and Quantitative

Any good program design is going to look at quantitative data (“the numbers”) as well as qualitative data (important information that can’t be expressed in numbers). For example, your quantitative measure of attendance can tell you in concrete terms whether the program was successful in engaging the targeted number of students, but a parent survey question can help you understand why those students wanted to be there. Academic assessments can provide quantitative data on whether students are improving in a particular subject area, but student survey results can give you qualitative data on which methods or projects your students believe helped them improve. Be faithful about finalizing your end-of-program survey of staff and parents. Record your own recollections of projects or activities that seemed the most impactful. Use these data to help you make next year’s program even better!

Short and Long Term

Taking the program’s pulse at every opportunity is crucial to short-term improvements. Regular check-ins with parents at pick-up time give them a chance to share any concerns, and it’s also a way to solicit insights into their children’s interests, challenges and progress. You can use these insights to make adjustments where needed. Also, keep your finger on the pulse of everyday routines. Today’s observation that students left the room messy after an art activity might lead to tomorrow’s introduction of a new clean-up routine. A mid-program academic assessment might tell you that your students are ahead of the curve on math, but behind on reading comprehension. This discovery could prompt a change in your approach. Don’t scrap your ideas at the end of the summer — keeping notes on all successes and challenges, however small they may seem, will give you a head start in planning for the long term. “Future you” will be delighted with “past you” for providing such helpful information!

Formative and Summative   

You collected a lot of data to design your summer program: school-level data, student-level data, student voice data. These types of data are considered summative because they “summarize” students’ progress or results at the end of an extended period of instruction. The data you collect midway through your program, or at the end, are also summative. These data tell you whether your program is reaching its goals and help you decide if adjustments are needed. No doubt, your program design already incorporates opportunities to gather data to support program improvement (see the Y4Y Continuous Improvement Planner).

To make sure you and your students stay on course day-to-day or week-to-week, you’ll need to collect formative data. Formative data help you identify and understand problems as they occur so that you can “form” effective solutions. For example, let’s say when you designed a new summer math program, the students’ summative academic assessment results informed your program design, but a mid-summer check tells you that you’re not on target with your goals, and you’re not sure how to get back on track. You might decide to add a formative assessment tool, like journaling, where you ask students to show their work on a specific set of problems, reflect on their approach and raise questions. Even if journaling wasn’t part of your original design, using it to collect qualitative data can help you see where gaps in comprehension may be. This information can help you make adjustments that target the reasons behind students’ difficulties. That way, you can get your summer math program — and your students — back on track while there’s still time to make changes.

With data as your launch pad, the quality of your school year program as well as next summer’s will get a boost. It’s all part of the continuous improvement cycle.

For more ideas on continuous improvement, catch the replay of Y4Y’s Summer Learning Webinar installment, The Right Outcome: Ready for Summer. Also, visit the Continuous Improvement section of Y4Y’s Summer Learning Initiative page for survey and observation tools, sample focus group questions and more. 



May 22, 2019

With initial design of your summer learning program complete, you’re ready to recruit staff and partners, then cultivate skills and knowledge so your gardeners can deliver activities that help students grow and prevent summer learning loss. You may have a core team in place but probably need to fill some gaps. Where do you start? Here are some tools and tips from Y4Y resources.

Select the Right Gardeners

To nurture strong, successful students, plan staff and partner recruitment to identify candidates with qualities you need.

  • Recruit staff. Some will be school-day teachers, who understand academics and know how to support student learning. Others will be school-day paraprofessionals, college students and community volunteers. You want candidates who reflect your students’ diversity, can support social and emotional learning, and bring skills and knowledge that will enrich the learning environment. Create a recruitment structure by developing job descriptions and preparing for interviews. See the Y4Y Sample Human Resources Packet and the Identifying and Recruiting High-Quality Staff tools for help with those processes.
  • Recruit partners. Use Y4Y tools to put two things in place: a community asset map that identifies potential resources, and an elevator pitch that explains your 21st CCLC program and its goals for summer learning. These resources help you prepare the soil for successful collaborations.

Fertilize and Water Frequently

Start by including everyone — your staff and appropriate partner staff — in orientation training, so everyone knows the garden design. As the summer session progresses, follow up with group and individual coaching. To ensure that everyone thrives, use the Y4Y Observation Checklist and Summer Learning Training Planner tools to focus ongoing coaching and professional learning activities. For ideas from 21st CCLC colleagues, listen to the podcasts on recruiting staff and leading your organization in the Organizational Culture Click & Go.

A Little Weeding and a Lot of Joy

Your summer learning garden can produce glorious blooms — just be sure to use your continuous improvement process to weed out ineffective practices. See the Y4Y Continuous Improvement Planner and the Continuous Improvement Process Diagram for more information. At the end of the summer session, bring everyone together to celebrate your garden’s bounty!

Other Y4Y Resources

Summer Learning Initiative. Get inspiration, ideas and tools from this two-year Department project.

Summer Learning Course: Implementation Strategies. See Step 4: Logistics, Planning Professional Development.

Managing Your 21st CCLC Program Course. Find the information and tools every program director needs.