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November 16, 2018

In 60 seconds or less, can you explain what your 21st CCLC program does and why it matters? To make sure you’ll always have the right words on the tip of your tongue, create an elevator pitch. That’s a ready-made speech short enough to give on an elevator ride. You can use it to persuade your veterinarian to take part in your program’s career exploration day, to get a youth counselor to join your planning team, or to tell Aunt Aggie about your work when she visits during the holidays.

Here’s an example of an elevator pitch for Y4Y:

The U.S. Department of Education created You for Youth to help people working in 21st Century Community Learning Centers programs deliver quality out-of-school time education and enrichment to more than 1.6 million students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. You for Youth provides free online professional learning resources on topics like program management and summer learning. We also collaborate with other federal agencies like NASA to expand staff and student learning opportunities. This work is important because research shows students who attend high-quality out-of-school time programs are more likely to do better in school and beyond.

Customize your pitch for different purposes. If you’re talking with parents, you might emphasize student benefits. If you’re recruiting community partners, you’ll want to mention “what’s in it for them.” If a reporter gives you the microphone for 10 seconds, you’ll have to strip things down to the basics: “The U.S. Department of Education’s You for Youth initiative provides professional learning experiences for 21st Century Community Learning Centers program staff to help young people succeed in school and beyond.” If you’re lucky enough to keep the microphone longer, cite data or tell a story to support your point.

Resist the urge to say too much, and practice your pitch on family and friends. When we tested our Y4Y elevator pitch, someone asked, “What’s a 21st CCLC program?” So we added “out-of-school time.” It gets the idea across without a lot of extra words.    

For tips on creating and using an elevator pitch, download Y4Y’s Creating a Program Elevator Pitch. This one-page tool makes it easy for you and your team to get the job done. Aunt Aggie will be impressed.


November 16, 2018

Excitement builds just before holiday break as students anticipate time off. You can tap into that energy by engaging students in a creative project they’ll enjoy, like producing a multifest that highlights the history, cultural traditions, music, and foods associated with seasonal celebrations and festivals like Boxing Day, Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Start by getting students to think about what they already know about seasonal celebrations and what they’d like to know. Y4Y’s Mapping Knowledge and Wonders tool will help you structure the discussion. 

Once you’ve primed the pump, let students take the lead in deciding on the multifest’s focus, format and activities. You can guide them through the process of exploring the possibilities, forming groups or committees to do certain tasks (like online research, event planning or food prep), and deciding when and where to hold the multifest and whom to invite.

Visit the Y4Y Project-Based Learning course for ready-to-use tools and guidance. With just a little planning, you can turn the week before holiday break into prime time for learning. 


October 24, 2018

Looking back on his childhood, nature writer Paul Gruchow lamented not knowing that his town’s leading banker wrote an important book about Minnesota’s native prairie. “I can only imagine now what it might have meant to me — a studious boy with a love of nature — to know that a great scholar of natural history had made a full and satisfying life in my town,” he wrote.

Too bad no one at Gruchow’s school (or afterschool program) invited the banker to share his passion for botany with local students. But chances are, they weren’t even aware of it!

Until you go looking, you may not realize how much knowledge and talent is around you. Maybe the district Title I coordinator is also a Master Gardener. The high school Spanish teacher could be a yoga instructor. Maybe your local insurance agent goes rock climbing on weekends, your son’s coach bakes special event cakes and the school secretary paints landscapes. Thrills and skills with student appeal may be just down the hall and around the corner. Here are tips on finding and recruiting local experts to enrich your program.

Three Places to Look

  • Institutions and organizations: Government agencies and universities often have outreach offices or participate in community service events. For example, agricultural extension offices offer programs and experts to interest young people in citizen science and develop skills they can use throughout their lives.
  • Social networks: What interests and hobbies do your friends mention in their profiles or posts? What local groups or clubs have an online presence? If your students are interested in astronomy, you or an online friend probably knows someone who knows someone who does star parties.
  • Everyday life: Every person you know or meet — at school, work, church, the gym, local businesses, community events, family reunions — is a potential contributor. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Two Ways to Recruit

  • Personal contact: If you learn the local banker is a botanist, why not make your pitch: “Hi! This is Ms. Talent Scout, and I work in our local 21st CCLC afterschool program. I just heard that you wrote a book about local plants. I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share your knowledge with our students. Could we talk sometime soon?”
  • Call for volunteers: Maybe you’re looking for expertise in a specific area, like photography or financial planning. Or maybe you could issue a general invitation for students’ family members and others in the school or community to share their knowledge, skills and interests. Either way, put out the word in newsletters, bulletin boards, social networks and word of mouth.

Be Prepared If a Local Expert Says Yes

  • Offer a variety of formats and time frames, ranging from a single event to a series of activities to one-on-one mentoring. Both you and the person you recruit might want to “start small” before committing to long-term involvement.
  • Be prepared to support local experts, once they get involved. Watch for ideas in an upcoming Y4Y blog post! 

Ready to get started?

Y4Y’s student interest inventories (one for elementary students and another for secondary students) can help you identify topics. But remember: Bringing in an outside expert is also a good way to introduce new ideas and spark students’ curiosity. As Paul Gruchow wrote, “Curiosity, imagination, inventiveness expand with use, like muscles, and atrophy with neglect.”


October 24, 2018

Some days, planning and running a 21st CCLC program can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything alone! Community partners can add resources and expertise to your tool box and provide diverse experiences for students, ranging from drug and alcohol prevention to dance lessons. It’s important to build partnerships thoughtfully, however, so they benefit everyone involved.

Map your community assets.

Start by listing your program needs and your current resources. Then expand your list by brainstorming additional community resources available through institutions, organizations, businesses and individuals. This process is called asset mapping. Be sure to involve others! Ask colleagues, parents, friends and youth for ideas. A staff member’s spouse might work at a local bank that provides financial literacy activities for all ages. A parent who works in the science department of your local university might know about resources for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities. Expand your search to the online community if you can’t find local assets related to a program need.

Identify and recruit potential partners.

Potential partners might include schools and universities, libraries, museums, businesses, nonprofit organizations, professional societies, government agencies, media outlets, clubs or special interest groups, family members and other individuals. Brainstorm all possibilities before prioritizing the list and recruiting partners who are willing and able to work with your program to address a specific topic or need.

Communicate and collaborate with partners.

Once you connect with a potential partner, you’ll want to create a compelling shared vision. How will students benefit? How will the partners benefit? How will the larger community benefit? At a kickoff meeting, discuss your shared vision for why the partnership matters, and define roles and responsibilities. After that, schedule weekly or monthly check-in meetings. Include partners in program events such as end-of-year celebrations, and publicly acknowledge their contributions.

Use free Y4Y resources to help you build and strengthen partnerships.

The Y4Y Strengthening Partnerships course will help you learn how to identify partners, develop an effective memorandum of understanding, establish a shared vision, and communicate roles and responsibilities. The Y4Y Mapping Community Assets tool from the Summer Learning Initiative webpage can help you think about what your community has to offer. 


October 24, 2018

With a new program year under way, and your activities up and running, it’s a good time to check on staff professional learning needs. If you’ve hired new staff or made big changes in activities or partnerships, ask, “What’s one thing you’d like to learn that would help you feel more comfortable or confident in your role?”

Staff needs and responses are likely to vary from one person to another. Encourage everyone to register on Y4Y and explore what’s there. Also, be ready to point to specific Y4Y resources that can help address their needs.

Meeting staff members’ individual short- and medium-range needs. If someone says, “I wish I could do more to support students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs),” you could point to Topic Guide 8 in the Y4Y series of implementation guides on inclusion. If several people say “I’d like to facilitate project-based learning more effectively,” you might suggest that they do the Y4Y Project-Based Learning course together. For staff who are new to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the Y4Y Introduction to 21st CCLC course could be helpful.

Aligning your program’s professional learning plan with staff needs. Consider staff responses to the “What do you need?” question as you review your upcoming professional learning events. For example, if you’ve scheduled an in-house literacy seminar for March, but staff identify it as a pressing need in September, you might want to hold the seminar earlier than planned.

Working toward long-term staff and program goals. You can inspire and motivate staff members to think about their individual long-term professional goals. Y4Y provides professionalization resources that can help 21st CCLC staff members develop a plan to help them reach those goals. Having a more skilled and qualified staff will, in turn, help your program reach its goals.

Enrolling in an online course or pursuing a formal certification program might take some staff members out of their comfort zone. Program leaders can offer coaching, support and reassurance that professional learning is the key to greater satisfaction and success.