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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.



October 21, 2020

Y4Y’s new course on supporting English learners provides 21st CCLC programs with a roadmap for helping students succeed when their first language isn’t English. That includes helping newcomers to this country adapt to their new environment while honoring the languages and cultures they’ve brought with them. Instructional strategies and family engagement challenges set this population apart, but with Y4Y’s design and implementation ideas, you’re sure to foster togetherness among all your students. Host Katarina will guide you through a rich, colorful experience at the CultureFest, where the celebration of togetherness is vivid.

Tip: You need to be logged in to the You for Youth (Y4Y) portal in order to save course progress and receive certificates of completion. You might see a pop-up reminding you to log in or sign up. If you want to explore the course without tracking your progress, select “cancel” to dismiss the reminder.

If you complete the course introduction, you’ll take away knowledge on the four types of English learners (ELs) you’re likely to encounter in your program, the history of supporting these students, the overall benefits to your program and ways to incorporate supportive instruction. The introduction also walks you through planning for an impactful experience. You’ll examine ways to assess ELs’ needs and strengths, identify steps for designing and implementing activities that meet diverse EL language levels among EL students and families, and describe the basics for creating safe and language-rich environments that value the diverse cultures and languages of your ELs. You’ll get a Basic Level certificate when you complete this section of the course.

Want to take a deeper dive and earn an Advanced Level certificate? Move ahead to the Implementation Strategies portion of the course, where you’ll develop strategies to

  • Build your EL foundation
  • Build your EL program design team
  • Conduct an EL needs assessment of your community
  • Develop EL SMART goals for your program
  • Map your EL program and community assets
  • Consider logistics around your EL implementation
  • Intentionally design activities that address your EL SMART goals
  • Intentionally recruit students, based on your EL needs assessment of your community
  • Recruit and train high-quality staff, with a particular focus on multilingual and multicultural appreciation and knowledge
  • Engage families who may have barriers to participation
  • Implement all these steps with fidelity
  • Celebrate your achievements in supporting ELs

Looking to provide professional development on supporting ELs? You can get a Leadership Level certificate by completing the Coaching My Staff portion of the course. Investigate how your program’s collective efforts in gathering data, incorporating the proven strategy for ELs of total physical response, and building vocabularies will build comfort and confidence in your students. Work with staff to create your professional learning plan, assess the needs of your ELs, create a safe learning environment, build their background knowledge and academic vocabulary, and review coaching/learning tips to ensuring success with supporting ELs.

As with every Y4Y course, you can download many helpful tools and customize them to meet the unique needs of your staff and students. These tools range from Marzano’s Six Steps for Vocabulary Instruction to a Home Language Survey to help you home in on the specific needs of your community to a Supporting English Learners Intentional Activity Design Planner. You can also download four separate Trainings To Go for your staff, starting with Creating a Safe Learning Environment for English Learners.

There is so much more that unites us than divides us. With help from Y4Y, your efforts to support English learners will unite students and staff in a new togetherness that honors differences while moving everyone toward a common goal: reaching our full potential.



October 1, 2020

A creative way to get students excited about literacy is to get them excited about words. A new word can be like a smooth rock you’ve found while walking along a stream: You turn it over in your hand, get to know its surface, and put it in your pocket where you keep coming back to it through the day, reminding yourself of its existence and thinking about what you might do with it. Bring literacy to light in your 21st CCLC program with these fun ideas to get students forming their own collection of words.

  • The “Hello Kitty” phenomenon drove home just how enchanted adults and children alike can be by small packages. Gift each student with a tiny notebook and pencil like you might find at any dollar store, and urge them to carry their “word treasury” in their pocket like they might that special stone.
  • Brainstorm together where and when students might hear a new word. You can make it a friendly contest to see if students can “find” a word that nobody in the program has heard before. No cheating! It has to be in the dictionary.
  • Speaking of the dictionary, Merriam-Webster has a new online feature called “Time Traveler” that allows users to enter a year and discover all the words that were first documented that year. Your students might not even realize that until 2007, “ginormous” wasn’t a word, but a combination of “gigantic” and “enormous” introduced in the beloved holiday film Elf. This feature alone could provide hours of fun!
  • Check out the Frayer chart in Y4Y’s literacy course to take your word mining to the next level. Students will get to know their new treasure word by learning its definition and characteristics and examples.
  • Remember that half the value is in the fun. So much about 21st CCLC programs is about forming new habits and perspectives that can last a lifetime. By instituting the practice of treating new words as gems, you’re building curious minds and lifelong readers. The more you concentrate on the game of it, the more buy-in you’ll get.

Be sure to check out Y4Y’s Literacy course for more tips on implementing literacy into your program, along with tools to help with activities and family events. Literacy is the key to so much in life. Bringing it to light opens endless opportunities for your students.



September 18, 2020

This timeless adage honors how crucial diversity is to group success. Even “diversity” is diverse! Differences may include culture, heritage, racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic status, geography, beliefs, personal preferences, and life experiences. Including diverse students (and staff) can strengthen individuals as well as your 21st CCLC program in general. In education, “inclusion” has a special meaning: It’s a term schools and 21st CCLC programs use to describe how they ensure that students with disabilities can meaningfully participate in activities.

Research heavily points to the benefits of inclusion, both for students with disabilities and for students who don’t have disabilities. Your program has many goals, and each of these documented benefits of inclusion are among them. Proper implementation of inclusion will

  • Build a sense of community.
  • Demonstrate to everyone that acceptance of differences is at the heart of your program culture.
  • Improve everyone’s academic outcomes.
  • Develop all students’ social and emotional wellness.
  • Be a celebration of individual strengths, not a focus on deficits.

Finally, inclusion in your 21st CCLC is the right thing to do, both ethically and legally. There are free tools you can use right now to help with inclusion in your program. Y4Y has a series of 10 short, topical implementation guides that are perfect as discussion starters or as handouts to bring new staff up to speed on key steps to a more inclusive program.

Bear in mind that students with disabilities are among those least served during long stretches of virtual learning. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the IRIS Center provides timely tips on helping students with disabilities in a virtual environment. You can also access a webinar, offered over the summer by the Office of Special Education Programs, that covers many more resources to help educators support these students during pandemic-related closures. These resources bring messaging back to the value of focusing on individual strengths. Celebrating what each student can contribute to your program will help everyone recognize it truly does take ALL kinds to make the world go ’round.