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December 14, 2020

Just as the COVID-19 virus itself is unlikely to be fully understood for many years to come, so too might the pandemic’s full impact on our youth. While unexpected upsides do exist in some communities, it has been speculated that in the country’s most impoverished communities, the disparity in access and opportunity has only grown. Some districts even report high percentages of families that have been completely unreachable since the pandemic began eight months ago. 21st CCLC programs need to expect to up their family engagement game across the board, and many Y4Y tools can help.

To begin with, programs should consider familiarizing themselves with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit. While you could simply share the link with families, wading through the resources could be a difficult task for them. Some families may be neglecting their children’s primary care medical needs like vaccinations, or oral care, out of fear of visiting a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Others could be facing dramatic financial insecurity. How can your program help to condense information about available resources, and be a support to your families most in need?

You can offer anonymous family surveys to discover areas of greatest need among your families. Consider customizing Y4Y’s Family Satisfaction Survey to include more questions about their basic needs. For example:

What community resources does your family need assistance connecting with?

  • Primary health care for children
  • Primary health care for adults
  • Food pantries
  • Employment assistance
  • Child care
  • Housing

Next, be sure to be on the same page with your school district regarding all your program’s efforts. School administrators are pursuing many of the same resources on behalf of families, but don’t have the manpower to adequately advocate for every family needing assistance. Use Y4Y’s Partnering With Schools Rubric to consider where your outreach and alignment is most needed. Explore other tools for continuous education, with particular focus on those nonacademic pieces that families need most, like the Responsibility Checklist for Principal and Program Director, bearing in mind that you can customize these tools to reflect the greatest needs of the day.

Finally, get serious about partnerships you might not have ever even envisioned. Some will be in concert with the school district, but your program might have smaller-scale partnership opportunities that aren’t accessible to the district, like with smaller grocery store chains or thrift shops. Customize Y4Y’s Community Asset Mapping tool to brainstorm with your program team about what businesses might actually be flourishing in the current circumstances. Also, begin relationship building with social services in your area, including those that don’t relate directly to children. You can use the Y4Y Collaborative Partner Request Letter to help get the ball rolling, but be sure to check out all the tools available for establishing strategic partnerships in your town.

A great reflection piece is Y4Y’s September Voices From the Field, in which subject matter expert Stacey Owens-Howard addresses the poverty mindset. “The poverty mindset can lead to the belief that it is the responsibility of others to take care of their basic needs.” By working with families, expect your engagement, alignment and partnership efforts to raise your families up throughout the pandemic and deliver them to a promising recovery on the other side.



December 14, 2020

Whether in your program or through previous experiences, every member of your staff is likely to have had the opportunity to know and work with a student with a disability. But one or two experiences, while they may provide some valuable perspective, don’t provide enough knowledge to help you establish a truly inclusive program culture. Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, can help your program lay the foundation for a welcoming environment for all.

The host, Gail, will take you around the “All-In” Playground, where there’s something for everyone. Each jungle gym or playing field presents a different learning opportunity to build your program’s inclusion efforts. You’ll learn about six implementation strategies:

  1. Embrace inclusion as a core value.
  2. Know federal laws and guidelines on inclusion.
  3. Build a foundation for including students with disabilities.
  4. Build relationships with families and students.
  5. Design an inclusive program.
  6. Implement with fidelity.

Watch for helpful features throughout the course, such as a glossary, help line, menu, resources, inclusion guides and tips.

For more advanced learning, complete the Coaching My Staff section of the new course. Discover the three fundamental reasons for professional development around inclusion and advance your knowledge of the mechanics of developing or improving your inclusion efforts.

Don’t forget to peruse the comprehensive tools that accompany the new course. Just a few highlights include

As with any Y4Y course, you’ll earn a certificate of completion for each section, but be sure you’re logged into your account to save your progress! Besides that piece of paper, you’ll come away with confidence in your ability to make all students feel welcome in your program, a better understanding of how and why that’s possible, and best of all, the warm feeling of doing right by each and every student in your program.



December 14, 2020

You may have immigrant families in your community who are slowly finding their way in their new environment. As a 21st CCLC professional, you can combine Y4Y’s resources on student voice and choice, family engagement, strategic partnerships and the new course on supporting English learners to be confident you’re capturing the student-level needs of your immigrant student population. Once you know what you don’t know, you’ll be better poised to support their academic needs. Your program can also be a bridge between their families and important resources in your community.

This program year opened to news that there would be greater flexibility in defining your 21st CCLC program, and many of you worked with your state education agency (SEA) to offer support during the school day. Whatever your support looks like this year, here are a few tools to help your program conduct a mid-year temperature check on what may be your most isolated students and families.

Armed with a few more data points after reflecting on these facets of planning, you can reshape some of your academic implementation.

  • Review the full complement of Y4Y tools developed to help English learners build on what they already understand about language to adapt to their new environment.
  • Of course, learning the language is only one aspect of these students’ education. You can seek out ways to support their STEM learning with resources like the STEM Everywhere tool for tips on the kind of versatility that might be demanded after you have taken a deeper dive into these students’ specific needs.
  • Subject areas like social studies can be another great divide. You may not know what you don’t know about the governments or civic structures your immigrant students studied in their home countries. Y4Y’s Civic Learning and Engagement course can offer academic supports that promote incorporating multiple points of view, for example, or bring learning down to a community level for ease of understanding with the Investigating Issues in Your Community tool.

If you discover that your students’ basic living needs are just as pressing as their academic needs, step outside your own comfort zone to get creative on behalf of these families:

Never let “what you don’t know” hinder your efforts on behalf of any students in your 21st CCLC program. Albert Einstein himself noted, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Coming to grips with “not knowing” is a sign of growth in your practice, and will be all the incentive you need to keep looking for answers.



December 14, 2020

As the weather turns cold and the country heads into a second cycle of COVID-19 closures, the idea of cabin fever — a phenomenon that already plagued educators in colder climates especially — may have new implications. Drawing from Y4Y's resources, you can arm yourself and your staff for an unprecedented season of cabin fever and serve your students in new and important ways.

You can begin by thinking about the signs of cabin fever, such as impatience, restlessness, general irritability, trouble concentrating, lack of motivation and fatigue. Remember, these look different in students than adults, but we’re all equally prone to them. Here are a few ideas on how to combat each.

Impatience. Right now, life feels like one big waiting game, so it’s only natural that we’re becoming impatient with waiting for a file to download, for class to be over, or for Mom to bring us a juice box. But what if you filled those times with something special so it doesn’t feel like waiting? Here’s an idea: Identify times when your students have to wait, and use transition strategies to help everyone stay focused and engaged. See Y4Y’s Transition Strategies tool for inspiration.

Restlessness. The solution to restlessness is staring every educator right in the face: MOVE. How can you incorporate more movement into your program? Just before the initial pandemic shutdown, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreation Opportunities, which was also summarized in a blog post. A key takeaway that applies even in a virtual environment is the need to incorporate movement wherever you can. For example, have students jump up and down whenever another student offers a correct response to a question. Be inclusive of your students with disabilities when thinking about these goals. Consider these tips from the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) for home workouts.

General irritability. Combat negativity with positivity! You can start with Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment and other tools from the course. Thanksgiving is still in your rearview mirror. Practice gratitude with students by having them take turns expressing what they’re grateful for, and why. When the holidays are over and life feels especially dull, liven things up with a joke-of-the day assignment or a dance party to raise spirits.

Trouble concentrating. This is an issue that 21st CCLC programs have always faced after students have put in a long school day. That “brain break” of some social time before jumping into any academics is always key, but cabin fever might bring on the kind of concentration barriers that seem insurmountable. This month’s LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, is a tremendous resource for how and why meditative practices are key for adults and children in achieving a clean mental slate and state. If you missed the real-time webinar, you can catch it in the archive in the new year.

Lack of motivation. Believe it or not, routines can be good for you, and even a path out of the doldrums. After all, a routine is a small set of goals you set for you or your students each day. In Y4Y’s webinar series on approaches to learning, specifically in Webinar #1: Building Trust With Students in the Whole Environment, the U.S. Department of Education's Y4Y Technical Assistance Team discusses the sorts of structures that offer predictability and comfort in the face of the uncertainty everyone is facing right now.

Fatigue. This may be the trickiest symptom of cabin fever to combat. Some students may be suffering from the kind of fatigue that comes from too little sleep. This is pretty easy to recognize in most students. Occasionally, fatigue can result from too much sleep, which isn’t always as easy to recognize. Be sure your program gives students the opportunity to complete all homework, to take that task off their plate. Revisit Y4Y’s Trauma-Informed Care Click & Go to help you recognize and address signs of trauma in your students. Finally, don’t forget the importance of supporting and engaging families if student fatigue persists.

We see signs around the country that many adults aren’t coping well with restrictions that mean their lives have to change — in some cases quite dramatically — for an indefinite period of time to keep everyone safe. Let the lessons of social and emotional learning be your guide to appreciating the resilience and maturity students stand to gain from this period of their lives. While cabin fever might not have a tried-and-true cure, your 21st CCLC program may be the chicken noodle soup that gets your students through the worst of it.



November 16, 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, it’s nearly impossible to reflect on how differently the year has gone compared to how we thought it might. One thing is clear: a pandemic must be combatted together, even as it forces us apart.

As the midyear point approaches in a program cycle that was designed to be largely virtual, unlike last spring when all decisions were merely in reaction to the emergency, Y4Y offered valuable tips and lessons gained through the collective experiences of 21st CCLC programs in last month’s webinar series. Let’s get into a few key takeaways.

Structure and consistency have always been one benefit of your program, so give thought to adapting this priority virtually. Where simple emailed notifications of schedules or events might have once been fine, everyone is in digital overload. Consider using flashy emailed or possibly snail-mailed invitations to upcoming events or new activities to build enthusiasm. Make sure your program schedule is easy to find, whether posted on social media or partner school websites, and keep the schedule consistent. Traditions or rituals like greeting students every day by name, celebrating birthdays, creating digital name tents with “all about me” information, or holding daily reflections are more important than ever.

Reinvent homework time to help students switch gears from a day of virtual learning. Zoom will now allow students to self-select their breakout room, which you might find broadens your possible room themes or designations. As a large group or in those breakouts, give students the opportunity to socialize, play games, solve brainteasers as teams, journal or share a mindful moment to move into a headspace that eases the transition. (Speaking of “headspace,” visit the webinar discussion board for links to great online mindfulness resources.) Then, sorting homework breakout rooms by grade or by subject will allow for the small groups or individual attention that have always been essential. Be sure to offer an environment that includes parents, since the evolution of the field has left even highly educated parents struggling with the “right steps” for supporting their children’s homework.  

Building rapport continues to be critical to engaging and retaining students. You and staff can create meet-and-greet videos – maybe your students can work up to participating in this new tradition as well. Favorite games of “raise your hand if…,” “finish my sentence,” and show and tell translate well to virtual programming. In fact, suddenly pets in your “learning space” are acceptable with no allergies or discomfort to worry about! Creating opportunities for collaboration in small-group breakouts, in the chat box, or on shared websites like Padlet is critical. An exciting new trend is “gratitude bombs.” Have students brainstorm professionals or people in their circle who have gone above and beyond to ease school closures and have them write notes or record video messages of thanks. Flipgrid, with its Mixtape feature, is a great resource for compiling messages. You can still show students how proud you are of their hard work by displaying artwork facing outward in physical buildings, or posting on social media, newsletters or program websites.

Endless online resources are available for free on the internet. See part 1 of Y4Y’s webinar series on 21st CCLC Programs in a Virtual World, where the U.S. Department of Education's Y4Y Technical Assistance Team walks viewers through many online platforms that could serve different functions in your virtual programming. Be sure to catch the webinar for an overview of resources and ideas for use in your program; these include colorful or flexible academic interactivity, collecting feedback or knowledge checks to report on SMART goals, creating scavenger hunts, and socializing or other fun break opportunities. Or, do your own exploring by clicking through the links posted on the webinar discussion board for the first installment and this follow-up series. Besides handy tools, websites explored include information and activities around tolerance, stories as a tool to build global oneness and compassion, and virtual field trips.

Battle burnout with lots of physical movement in your virtual program! See all those smiling faces in gallery view in Zoom as much as possible to build a sense of community and keep an eye out for those slips in engagement. Take brain breaks, whether physically active, social or restful/mindful. Bear in mind that young people depend much more on in-person opportunities to get that social contact we humans need, so your program is critical for facilitating student-to-student engagement.

Virtual family engagement might have changed even more dramatically than your program itself, and there are some advantages to this year’s virtual efforts. Keep these strategies in mind:

  • Communicate often through multiple channels.
  • Strengthen your social media presence. Use lots of photos, and invite postings from families based on themes or activities done together (but be mindful of privacy policies).
  • Create family leaders. Every program has some parents who demonstrate a willingness to be involved. Include them in virtual planning, student activities, or even reaching out to other families.
  • Connect with other organizations for cross-support. This could be around food drives/pick-ups, flu shots, or entertainment events like drive-in movies.
  • Develop a sense of community. What kinds of virtual events can bring in the whole family? Quiz bowl? Paint night? Find a hook, but keep the structure loose to allow for socializing.

Families will feel more supported if you’ve covered some basic virtual program functions with them. Talk a little about setting up a home learning environment, walk them through some of the learning platforms you’re using, let them know they’re welcome in the homework help sessions if they’re looking for tips, and offer virtual office hours for whatever they need. Using tools like Google Voice, staff can put themselves at families’ disposal at set hours without compromising their own privacy. The “Remind” website offers many communication features, including analytics, document sharing and translating.

Right now it may seem hard to keep up with all the moving parts it will take to keep your students and families engaged, but we’re all looking for that opportunity for togetherness, granting one another the grace we need to muddle through. In those precious moments of reflection, remember that the new practices and wisdom gained this year will be invaluable for years to come, when we can truly be together again.