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May 20, 2021

Through the pandemic, 21st CCLC programs across the country learned just how valuable cooking lessons can be. Many plan to carry them on indefinitely. Discover point by point all of the skills and knowledge that you can build in your students with a good old-fashioned afternoon in the kitchen.

  • Build literacy skills. Reading a recipe expands your students’ vocabularies. Depending on the difficulty level of your selection, students might learn to distinguish between chop, mince, dice and cube. Putting these terms, and their differences, on their brain’s back burner can be an introduction to nuance. We know that extensive vocabulary building actually broadens thinking, self-expression and ultimately success. Check out the Y4Y Literacy Everywhere tool for more tips.
  • Exercise math skills. Cooking is a "textbook" lesson for working with fractions (e.g., “mix 1/2 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda”).
  • Learn about real-world science. Again, depending on the age of your students, there are concepts in chemistry and physics to explore in cooking. We’ve all heard the story about how the first chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be chocolate cookies but their baker misjudged how the chocolate would behave in the oven.
  • Collaborate. Too many chefs in the kitchen? No such thing in your 21st CCLC program! But each student needs to understand her or his role in each task, take turns and play to their strengths. The STEAM tool for Selecting Student Roles for Group Work is easily adapted to the kitchen.
  • Develop healthy eating habits. Preparing a simple soup in the kitchen instead of popping open a can means using fresh ingredients. You can also help students develop the habits of reading labels on packaged foods and making healthy choices. Does the recipe give the option of substituting whole milk for cream? How does the fat content compare? Every ingredient is a potential research project in healthfulness. Be sure to partner with school-day professionals for consistent messaging and to see what gaps they may be seeking to fill. For tips, see the Y4Y Click & Go on Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day.
  • Plan, budget and shop. Cooking is a great opportunity to exercise the planning process. Instead of starting your cooking lesson with a pile of ingredients and the needed equipment, start it with a recipe and a conversation around what you have and what you’ll need. Now that you can shop online together, go back to that cream soup and ask: how does the cost of cream compare to milk?
  • Honor history and cultures. Just as each ingredient is a research opportunity in healthfulness and cost, each recipe is a research opportunity in history and culture.

As your students increase their comfort in the kitchen, you can make recipe selection a group activity, honoring student voice and choice. Every parent of a picky eater knows that a dash of voice and thick slice of kitchen help can increase a child’s interest in the resulting product! Or, rather than seeking agreement for each recipe selection, if your program is small enough, you might assign each student a week to bring in their own favorite recipe from home. Beef up your family engagement and invite a family member to come in to help.

Afterschool educators across the country warmly invited students into their home kitchens (virtually) throughout school closures in a resourceful effort to keep them engaged. Just imagine how well loved those in-person cooking activities will be when students can take in those savory aromas from a delicious pot of soup simmering on the back burner while all their learning simmers in their bright young minds.



May 14, 2021

We’ve adopted the chemical principle of “osmosis” into our educational jargon, but the strict definition refers to something traveling from a space with higher concentration into one of lower concentration. Is your program saturated with equity? Have you developed a program culture and climate that’s oozing with so much equity that all students can’t help but absorb that energy? Check out tools from several Y4Y courses that will aid in your equity by osmosis.

  • Equity on arrival. The return to in-person programming is a gift you don’t want to squander. Check out Y4Y’s Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment for tips on setting the stage for a positive learning environment. How do you welcome students, for example? Are students who aren’t native English speakers more comfortable being greeted in their native language, or do they prefer not to stand out? Will a student in a wheelchair feel bad if you ask everyone to “jump up” or “stand tall” to give their “highest five”? The power of the greeting can never be overstated. The way you greet each student can impact other students in your program as well.
  • Voices in perfect harmony. Student voice is critical in your program, but those voices aren’t always in harmony. Don’t let discord amplify inequity. Y4Y offers a Guide to Socratic Seminars (and a Socratic Seminar Student Assessment) so that you can establish group norms and expectations for all opportunities around student voice.
  • Words matter. Y4Y’s tool for using Socially Responsible Language reminds staff and students alike that a disability or any other characteristic that might set a student apart demands language that demonstrates you don’t define the student by that single characteristic.
  • Know your audience. Your students may have life experiences or cultural heritage completely outside your own. Building cultural competence across your program is a critical step toward ensuring equity. Get up to speed with Y4Y tools such as the Background on Trauma Research Brief and publications like “Strategies for Building Cultural Competencies” (available through Y4Y’s Supporting English Learners “Learn More Library”).
  • Is equity your greatest social and emotional need? When you consider that the five skill domains of social and emotional learning (SEL) are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship skills, you may well determine that promoting equity more successfully is high on your list of SEL program priorities. Using Y4Y’s Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment and Assessing Social and Emotional Learning Organizational Readiness, you can be intentional in identifying this priority, as well as how best to implement SEL that emphasizes equity — a new concept known as transformative SEL.
  • Citizens all. Y4Y’s course on civic learning and engagement walks you through key strategies for turning your students into the kind of responsible citizens who know how to recognize inequity and effect change. Tools such as the Investigating Issues in Your Community checklist give them guidance on how to explore this and other pressing concerns in their world.

To distinguish equality from equity, The Interactive Institute for Social Change offers a free download of the above image by artist Angus Maguire, with attribution. Equality means everyone gets the same thing, represented by each child getting a single crate to stand on (making only some students able to watch the ballgame). But equity gives every child equal opportunity to see over the fence, even if smaller children receive more crates. This sort of imagery can be invaluable to the students in your program who might not understand why one student gets more proverbial crates than they do. Consider posting an image like this in your program space. Then remind students through your words and deeds that it’s your personal goal to make sure each of them has all the crates they need.



April 28, 2021

The “buddy system” has gained traction in classrooms, extracurricular activities and dedicated organizations through the last decade. As your 21st CCLC program begins, at last, to return to an in-person format, you may consider incorporating structures that range from casual buddy pairing to formal peer mentoring as a way to embrace full inclusion of students with disabilities. Borrowing from tools in Y4Y’s new course, Including Students With Disabilities, explore how the buddy system benefits all.

Who Makes a Good Buddy?

  • Student leaders in your program: that young lady the other girls watch and copy, or that young man who always seems to have a group of kids gathered around him. You recognize natural leadership a mile away, and that gift gives young people the confidence to be gracious toward a peer with a disability.
  • Anyone who demonstrates compassion: that student who notices and speaks up when anyone gets left out or left behind.
  • Young people who love teaching others: whether it’s because they like to “be the boss” or they just like to be helpful. You can help students positively channel those inclinations.
  • Academic superstars: your highest-achieving students may or may not be your most outgoing, but they’re always up for a challenge and understand that schoolwork isn’t easy for everyone.

What Is Peer Mentoring?

  • Fostering friendship. “Assigning” friends doesn’t have to feel as forced as you may believe. Just as icebreakers show us, people inherently want to be friendly toward one another. Often they just need some structured way to bridge any social awkwardness.
  • Offering support. Make your peer mentoring program what you need it to be. Will students support each other academically? Socially? Assess these needs with the Environmental Checklist from Y4Y’s Including Students With Disabilities course or use the Capturing Social and Emotional Learning Program Needs Assessment.

Where Do I Start?

  • Once you’ve established your program’s needs, bring in stakeholders like special education teachers and parents of students with disabilities to define your buddy program. Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool can help.
  • Offer student training. Being any kind of mentor demands training, even if it’s just to establish a strong understanding of responsibilities and boundaries. Refer to the Y4Y tool on Socially Responsible Language.
  • Align strengths. Are you seeking to pair a student with a disability whose primary goal in your program is to make friends? Place her with that natural leader. Does your student with memory deficits just need a little patience with instructions and reminders? Pair him with that old soul in your program who never gets ruffled.

Who Benefits?

  • EVERYONE! It isn’t just students with disabilities whose lives are enriched through the buddy system. Peer mentors develop skills in forming friendships, building compassion and preparing for leadership. Most of all, the climate and culture of your program will reflect the equity and celebration of individuality you want it to.

Looking for More Resources? Check these out:



April 22, 2021

Research demonstrates the importance of students having a say in what and how they’re learning for the most successful educational outcomes. But building the bridge between their opinions and impactful activities might require you to learn a new skill. Turn to Y4Y’s new course on student voice and choice for a quick study of this 21st CCLC best practice.

Where to Begin

Gathering student voice can be done on an individual or group basis. Each has its merits. Individual input offers students the comfort of anonymity, where a group approach fosters the kind of collaboration and idea sharing that can yield richer and more developed outcomes. Use these Y4Y tools to help you get everyone’s perspectives:

Making it Happen

Those All-Important Facilitator Skills

You can hone your staff’s role with the Using Facilitation Practices That Incorporate Student Voice and Choice Training to Go.

With the above tools and more at your disposal, staff can effectively build their skills to facilitate student-driven activities and keep these important principles at the forefront:

  • A “guide on the side” approach means students take center stage in their own learning. You’re there to provide guidance and support.
  • Adopting effective questioning techniques, and using words like “why” and “how,” leads to richer learning.
  • Brainstorming is your best friend.

The message you convey by tying student voice and choice to all you do is loud and clear: We hear you, we honor you and we believe in you.



April 22, 2021

Pablo Picasso was 12 years old when he sketched Plaster Male Torso with the technical skill few artists master in a lifetime. Yet he became best known for his cubist and surrealist works that challenged the boundaries of the art world and even set new ones. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educators can take a lesson from Picasso’s journey in recognizing that innovation is born of understanding the basics, then envisioning new horizons with an open mind to boundless creativity. When STEM education is combined with the creativity of the arts, you get the design thinking approach that underpins Y4Y’s newly updated STEAM course. In this overview of last month’s LIVE With Y4Y event, Learning Approaches to Science-Based Education, you’ll come to appreciate how art and STEM actually do make a fine pair.

This LIVE event was designed to

  • Define and demonstrate experiential learning approaches: the scientific method, design thinking and the engineering design process.
  • Connect experiential education to academic skill building, particularly in science and mathematics.
  • Provide examples of experiential learning in out-of-school time.

Dr. David Coffey, Director of the Design Thinking Academy at Grand Valley State University, offered key takeaways, including these:

  • Making meaning of mathematics through experiential learning can offer reluctant students a new opportunity to understand material.
  • Reflection at the end of a problem-solving experience can counteract the “learned helplessness” many students have around math.
  • Educators need to shift traditional “I do” practices to “we do” and “I do” by guiding student learning rather than always directly instructing on concepts.
  • Facilitators don’t have to have perfect content knowledge as long as they’re willing to be a fellow explorer with their students and open to their own learning. This can also be referred to as radical collaboration.
  • The act of teaching, itself, reflects the scientific method, as teachers make revisions based on experimentation.
  • Think of “failure” as an acronym: “First Attempt In Learning Unless Reflection Exists.” In other words, reflecting on failure propels learning forward.
  • Design thinking is also called “human-centered design.” Staff facilitating these kinds of projects need to be curious about people, and convey that curiosity to students. Ask questions you don’t know the answer to. Remember: Curiosity is contagious.

Teaching the scientific method has been central to scientific education and practices. This process involves these steps:

  • Determine a question.
  • Research the question.
  • Develop a hypothesis.
  • Test a hypothesis through experimentation.
  • Collect data.
  • Draw conclusions based on the data collected.

Design thinking, an educational tool to solve real-world problems, is gaining traction in STEM education today. To employ design thinking, the student will chunk problem-solving into these steps:

  • Empathize with the community you’re seeking to serve.
  • Define and understand the problem or challenge.
  • Ideate potential solutions.
  • Create a prototype.
  • Test the effectiveness of the prototype.

Mr. Ariel Raz, head of Learning Collaborations at the Stanford d.school, shared his organization’s views and practices around design thinking:

  • Simply put: Design thinking is a creative pedagogy that means “make something that matters.”
  • The liberal arts and the sciences intersect through design thinking because empathy and understanding of user needs drive the scientifically based making.
  • Giving students a creative challenge is difficult to reconcile in a system that’s too heavily standardized. As educators and learners themselves, facilitators need to grow comfortable with failure.
  • A fundamental departure of design thinking teaching from problem-based teaching is having no preconceived problem or project in mind. This is the empathy step.
  • A backward-mapping skill is important to use in the design thinking process, like the “project zero thinking routine.” The thinker might examine and analyze a known tool and identify its parts, purposes and complexities. Commercial fabricating demands this kind of inquiry.
  • A Stanford study of average-achieving middle school students demonstrated that teaching them design thinking techniques allowed them to apply creative problem-solving strategies in new contexts.
  • A growth mindset is baked into design thinking; failure is necessary to success. Perseverance and grit go hand in hand with the philosophy of failing early and failing often to achieve the best outcomes using design thinking.

Ms. Deborah Parizek, Executive Director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), shared insights on STEM education:

  • HFLI is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning learning, teaching and leading to better impact the experiences that students, their families and educators have to the greater good of underserved communities.
  • Having a teacher who’s a partner in learning enriches a student’s experience.
  • Design thinking builds academic skills like collaboration, critical thinking, data collection and analysis, and communication. All of these skills will add to a student’s academic and professional success.
  • HFLI strives to help students become confident and independent learners, and describes learning to navigate obstacles as an orientation of innovation. This skill building fosters inner motivation for students to commit and contribute to the world around them.
  • Ms. Parizek shared project examples ranging from kindergartners proposing improved pet environment prototypes to college-bound students tasked with redesigning equity access to higher education opportunities for Hispanic youth. Each went through similar design thinking processes.
  • In out-of-school time intervention, 21st CCLC programs have the opportunity to help students identify their unique strengths to build confidence in their part of team collaboration, then use that confidence to challenge them in areas of need.

A final STEM approach discussed was the engineering design process. Partnerships between 21st CCLCs and national agencies use this vehicle to help students explore a myriad of STEM professions.

Ms. Jamie Lacktman, Robert K. Shafer 21st CCLC Program, Bensalem, Pennsylvania, described the engineering design process her program exposes students to in partnership with NASA:

  • Students should understand from the beginning that they are driving research and design decisions.
  • This initiative has led students to appreciate the layers of research that go into a design challenge; often understanding one concept demands researching numerous others.
  • Effective designing means ensuring that everything adds up — both budgetarily and physically.
  • Asking “why” is central to innovation.
  • The NASA design challenge has improved student perceptions around gender and ethnic diversity in STEM professions.
  • This year’s hybrid format lent itself to a friendly competition between two prototype teams that has amplified enthusiasm.
  • Although a rubric is available to measure the project success, there are many other measures — like students adapting, committing, rising to challenges and recognizing the long-term benefits — that are every bit as meaningful.

A common thread in all of these STEM education approaches is the role of students in their own learning. These principles can be applied in 21st CCLC programs to large-scale challenges as well as day-to-day problem-solving. Be sure to check out Y4Y’s newly updated course on STEAM to help you implement design thinking in your program today!