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April 20, 2018

One of the many benefits of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) projects is the opportunity for students to decide how and what they’ll learn. Here are some of the choices STEM projects can offer: 
  • Which project to do, either individually or with a group.
  • What role to take in a collaborative group.
  • How to design a product for a specific purpose.
  • How to structure the work in to make sure the project is done on time and within budget.
  • How to share the product or results with others.
 
These options for incorporating student voice and choice are “cooked into the stew” of project ideas offered through the U.S. Department of Education STEM initiatives. Through this work, the U.S. Department of Education partners with other federal agencies to offer STEM projects that engage 21st CCLC students in thinking and acting like real scientists and engineers.
 
In NASA’s engineering design challenges, for example, students might work in groups to design miniature space exploration equipment, such as a parachute for a Mars landing or a crew exploration vehicle. Given the goal of, say, safely transporting two (Lego) astronauts and a tank of fuel in a vehicle of a given size and weight, students choose how to solve the challenge. How will they keep the astronauts in their seats? How will they design the hatch so it opens when needed but not when the vehicle lands? Students also can choose their roles on the project team: design engineer, technical engineer, operations engineer, technical writer or videographer.
 
The Institute of Museum and Library Services offers six progressively more complex Making projects. Each project takes 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Though every child will make the same project — such as a light-up name tag, wearable electronics or a scribble bot — the design possibilities are endless. Students can indulge their creativity to personalize their products.
 
NASA and the National Park Service also offer opportunities for students to engage in authentic citizen science. The data students collect will be compiled with the findings of other citizen scientists to shed light on climate change and other issues that affect us all. 
 
The STEM initiative activities provide instructions for all these project ideas and more. Your 21st CCLC program can download them from the Y4Y website for free and start using them right away. On the website, you’ll also find ideas from the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for designing your own STEM projects that offer students meaningful choices in their learning. If your budding scientists have experience in project-based learning, they might even be ready design their own experiments and challenges — the ultimate in student voice!


April 20, 2018

As more people use mobile devices to stay connected, texting seems like a natural way to inform and engage families. If your 21st CCLC program is considering it, here are some things to keep in mind:
 
Have a plan. Meet with your program team to discuss whether texting might be a good tool for your communications toolbox. Discuss possible pros and cons. Who will be in charge of setting it up, creating and sending messages, and responding if a family member sends a message in return? 
 
Select a texting platform. A texting platform, also called a short message service or SMS, lets you send messages to multiple subscribers at once. With most platforms, you can import contact information from a spreadsheet, which makes messaging easy and quick. Some platforms let you store messages to be sent automatically. It’s smart to test the platform with team members to work out any kinks and to make sure everyone knows how to use it.
 
Get family members’ permission. On your program’s student enrollment form, where it asks for family members’ cell phone numbers, also ask for permission to send text messages from the program. Remind families about this option periodically in letters or newsletters, or in person.  
 
Use texting to remind about actions or deadlines. Texting works best for quick reminders like “We hope to see you Friday at 7 p.m. at the high school for the ABC Program’s student showcase!” Texting isn’t the best tool for explaining concepts like why it’s important for students to present their work to an audience.  
 
Keep it short. Messages that get to the point respect families’ time. Also, if your message is longer than 160 characters, some phone carriers will break it into two parts. Be specific, but not wordy. 
 
Limit the number of texts you send. If parents know you’ll send texts only to share important or useful messages, they are more likely to pay attention when you write. 
 
Personalize when possible. Some texting platforms enable you to personalize messages you send to a group. Also, sometimes, you might choose to send an individual message to just one or two families.   
 
Proofread before you send. Double-check times, dates, spelling and grammar. If you’re not sure about something, ask a colleague to take a look.  
 
Don’t over-rely on texting. Some families might not have a mobile device, and some might choose not to sign up for text messages from your program. So don’t make texting your only form of communication. Delivering a message multiple times in multiple formats is a good practice, no matter what you’re communicating. That’s why major companies often advertise their products in a variety of ways.       
 
Y4Y’s Family Engagement course points out the importance of making information available in a variety of formats and languages that families can understand. Texting is just one of many possible tools your staff can use to overcome common challenges in communicating with families. Also take a look at the recent Family Engagement Virtual Institute for a wealth of resources.
 
Does your 21st CCLC program use texting? What has the experience been like? What benefits and drawbacks have you seen? What other strategies have worked for you? Please share your ideas and strategies with peers on this Y4Y discussion board so that others may benefit from what you’ve learned!


March 22, 2018

You already know that questions are an important tool for learning. In the classroom, they can help improve students’ reading comprehension and drive project-based learning. But questioning is also a strategy you can use to support your program staff. Here are three ways you can use questions to become a better leader.
 
Ask Questions That Focus Attention and Stimulate Thinking 
Some questions you ask staff members are very basic, and are necessary to routine program activities: Are the art supplies ready for today’s activity? How many students will have their artwork ready for next week’s showing? Did you send the invitations to parents today? These questions ask for facts. They can usually be answered without much thought.
 
Questions that focus attention and stimulate thinking ask for ideas: How did you think today’s art activity went? What are your thoughts about ways we can make tomorrow’s activity less chaotic? They go beyond asking “What do you know about X?” to ask, “What do you think about X?”
 
Listen to Your Staff
If staff members wait a few seconds before responding to a question, that’s good! It means they’re thinking about what you said. Be quiet and give them time to process their thoughts. 
 
When staff members speak, listen for content and tone If someone says, “I think it would be good to put three students at each table instead of four during the art activity,” that person has identified overcrowding at each table as a possible cause for the chaos and offered a solution. If someone says, “I guess I could stay up the night before and plan things better,” that person might be feeling overworked, stressed or perhaps blamed for the problem. 
 
Respond with Respect 
To show that you heard what the person said, you might paraphrase the response (“So you’re suggesting fewer students per table”) or ask a probing question (“Do you think having three students share art supplies instead of four will be sufficient, or do we need to consider other strategies as well?”). Sometimes, it may be appropriate to acknowledge the underlying tone of a response (“It sounds like you found the situation stressful”) and provide support (“Let’s figure this out as a team. I don’t want any of us losing sleep over this!).
 
Try it!
Don’t overlook questioning as a tool for leading and coaching your staff. Effective questions can enhance everyday interactions — and professional development. What are some ways asking, listening and responding to your staff as described above might lead to tangible improvements in your program? What’s the first step you’ll take to make questioning part of your leadership strategy?


March 22, 2018

Education has its own language, one that includes lots of acronyms. You’ve probably heard school staff talk about AP (Advanced Placement), EL (English learner) and IEP (Individualized Education Program). In late 2015, federal education law added two new ones: CSI (comprehensive support and improvement) and TSI (targeted support and improvement). Here’s what these terms mean, and why you need to know.
 
What is a CSI school? If you hear someone say a school is a “CSI school,” it means your state education agency has identified it as one of the lowest-performing schools in the state. This is based mostly on students’ academic performance. Also, any high school with a graduation rate of 66 percent or less is a CSI school. 
 
What if your students attend a CSI school? If the students in your program attend a CSI school, they might need extra support in certain academic subjects. The next time you talk with the principal or teachers, ask about subjects where students need the most help, or skills they might need to develop. Chances are, the school will welcome you to the team — and you’ll gain valuable insights into ways to help all the students in your program succeed.
 
What is a TSI school? A TSI school is one where at least one subgroup of students is consistently underperforming in school. It could be English learners, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, migrant students or some other group, depending on which ones your state education agency includes in its accountability system.
 
What if your students attend a TSI school? If your students attend a TSI school, your program may serve students who belong to subgroups that aren’t doing as well, even if most students at the school are performing above average. Talk with the school principal or teachers about which groups of students might need extra help or support. They can share data about subgroup performance, and together you can discuss ways your program can enhance the school’s efforts to support students in low-performing subgroups.
 
Talk with school staff. If you find out your students attend a CSI or TSI school, and you’re hesitant to start a conversation with school staff, here’s something to keep in mind: Once you get past the “alphabet soup” of education acronyms, your program and the school are working toward the same goal — helping children and youth reach their full potential. You can support one another as you move toward your goal. It’s worth starting the conversation!
 
Use Y4Y resources to prepare program staff as they support the school’s efforts. Here are two ideas to get you started: 
  • Use Y4Y’s Trainings to Go to help program staff facilitate effective homework time and incorporate academic content. Why not invite school staff to help you customize and present the training?
  • Use Y4Y’s online courses to help program staff learn new strategies (like project-based learning) and increase their knowledge in academic subject areas such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and literacy


October 24, 2017

Whether your 21st CCLC program is new or well-established, new students, families and teachers arrive every year. Refresh your messaging often to catch attention. Every spring, summer and fall, reach out with a message that pops and bring in new students, families, volunteers and partners. 

Tip 1. Target messages to each audience. Each group has a different perspective, and wants you to address its concerns. Once you have identified the students who meet your admission criteria, create invitations and messages that will appeal to them and other stakeholders

- Students want to have fun while they learn outside of school. They want activities that respond to their interests and look different from the school day.

- Families want their children to continue learning, do their homework and enjoy social interactions.

- Teachers want their students to get targeted support and make connections between academics and everyday life.

- Community members want young people to engage with local activities and issues in productive ways. And, they want to know how they can support better educational outcomes.

Tip 2. Deliver your messages through multiple and appropriate channels. Do quick surveys of stakeholder groups to find out which method each prefers.

- Print media, such as newspaper stories and flyers, can help you reach families and the community. Use languages other than English, so you touch everyone.

- Broadcast media, such as television and radio, also reach community and family members. Be sure to invite foreign language outlets to learn about your program.

- Be active online. Keep your website up to date, and be smart about using Facebook, Twitter and other social media to promote program enrollment deadlines and special events. Remember to protect student privacy, and check with the school or district about getting release forms before posting photos or videos that show students.

- Get into the community. Set up information tables or displays at street fairs, and outside grocery stores or at farmers markets. Visit families in their homes or at gathering places such as churches and cultural festivals.

Tip 3. Live the messages every day. The positive environment you create will keep students coming and encourage family engagement!

- Offer professional learning events for staff and partners to help them support positive youth development adult-child relationship building, student voice and choice, and 21st century skill development.

- Welcome family and community members to your advisory board and program planning team, and hold special events that bring everyone to the program to celebrate student learning and accomplishments.

- Hold special celebrations that bring everyone to the program to witness student learning and accomplishments.

Resources

Remember, although everything here comes from the Summer Learning course, it also applies to school-year programs.

Creating Positive Environments for Summer Learning
Get research-based tips for supporting student engagement and positive youth development.

Youth Recruitment Planner
You and your colleagues can get into the nitty-gritty of intentional recruitment with this tool.

Facilitating Positive Youth Development Training to Go
This ready-to-use presentation can be customized to your needs for professional learning with staff and partners.

Developing 21st Century Skills Training Starter
Everyone can benefit from better skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. This training starter can help staff and partners learn to support skill development for students.