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December 11, 2018

As winter arrives, longer nights and cooler temperatures might have you and your 21st CCLC team wishing for summer already. Take advantage of “summer fever” to make sure your plan for summer programming is on track. Take five minutes right now to visit the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative page and do a quick gut check. Here’s how:

  • Get motivated. The Implementation Planner page gives four reasons to plan now instead of later. The Research page describes eight ways summer learning programs matter for student success, and what practices matter most. (Hint: Number 8 says good planning gets results!)
  • Get organized. The Plan a Program page lays out seven sequential steps for planning an effective summer program. You can see all seven at a glance and note steps that might need attention, like inviting a community member to join the program team or planning logistics for local field trips.
  • Get tools. Tools are listed for each planning step. All the lists are on one screen, so you can quickly see what’s available for the steps that need the attention in your program.
  • Get started. Bookmark the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative site now so you can benefit from the experiences of 40 Summer Learning Initiative grantees across seven states who received in-depth coaching and professional learning to build their summer programs.
  • Get others engaged. Forward the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative link to your team with a short personal message like this: “This cold weather has me thinking about summer. Here’s a good resource from the U.S. Department of Education. Let’s talk about this in our next meeting.”
An ounce of planning now can save a ton of last-minute problem solving next summer.


December 11, 2018

Dedicated 21st CCLC practitioners like you have three things on their wish list for the coming year:

✔ Activities that target student needs.

✔ Activities that advance program goals.

✔ Activities that students love.

Fortunately, a magic wand called “data” can help you make these wishes come true. You can use data to assess where you are versus where you want to be and make targeted changes. It doesn’t have to be painful or time consuming. Here’s a fun way to do it as the calendar year winds down:

Make a red wand:

  • Gather your program team around the fireplace and provide hot cocoa.
  • Pull out the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goals you set earlier for your program and for specific activities.
  • Review the goals and, together, rate your success in reaching them.
  • For each goal you didn’t reach, ask the team, “What’s one thing can we do differently in the coming year to reach this goal?” If you did reach a goal, decide whether to set a new one.
  • Write your red-hot ideas on red paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. You can use this “data wand” in future planning meetings.

Make a green wand:

  • Survey students and families on what they liked about the fall session and what they want in the future.
  • Review the responses with your team, and put results in categories like “student choice,” “outdoor activities” and “social skills.”
  • Write your green-for-growth ideas on green paper, and wrap the paper around a stick. Use this “data wand” along with the red one as you plan your spring activity schedule.

You can pull out your data wands in the coming months to remind the team of their findings and conclusions. This “data magic” can help them focus their talents and efforts on making a positive difference for students. Best wishes in making your 21st CCLC wish list reality in the coming year!

P.S. Consider setting a date in January for Y4Y’s Training to Go, Identifying and Addressing Program Strengths and Weaknesses. This customizable training can take your team deeper into program improvement.



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.”