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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.



September 18, 2020

Students are more likely to become engaged and stick around for more when you build variety into your program. In traditional settings, students, especially teens, vote with their feet. When programming is online, disengaging can be as easy as clicking the “leave meeting” button. Why not take the guesswork out of knowing what will capture students’ attention and imagination? You can adapt Y4Y’s Student Survey for use with returning students to get their take on what’s working. Use the Elementary Student Interest Survey/Inventory or Secondary Student Interest Survey/Inventory to get a strong sense of what interests them.

As you’re customizing these surveys to make the most of program activities, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Offer many options. Think about those conversations at home around what’s for dinner. Vetoing is easy! But coming up with ideas isn’t always so easy. If you haven’t had hamburgers in a while, you might have forgotten how much you love them, or that they exist. When you offer your students a wide variety of interest areas, you’ll have greater success at homing in on something that really tickles their fancy, as grandma used to say.
  • Everyone is so over screen time. There’s a strong possibility that even your most avid gamers have had enough of screen time and are looking for other ways to engage in your program. Get creative with several flavors of project-based learning activities (use the Y4Y Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning in STEM or the Service-Learning Toolbox). As an alternative to search engines, use your survey to gauge how students might feel about doing real-world research (like calling partners in your community on the phone to brainstorm how they might combat poverty or improve a nearby green space) and collaborating outdoors with peers. (Don’t have tables outside? Partner with a nearby hotel looking to replace/donate their outdoor event tables, or use simple oilcloth upside down to sit on the grass.)
  • Sneak in literacy. You can offer a host of interest areas on your survey that embed literacy opportunities in ways that aren’t obvious (or painful) for your students. A treasure hunt for words can be done at home or in your program space. How might students design and theme their own word hunt? Your survey can package it as a “design-your-own-science-word treasure hunt” or “design-your-own-pet-word treasure hunt.” You can also sneak literacy into activity suggestions like board games, create-your-own cartoon, or create-a-new-language options on your customized survey.
  • Give plenty of physical options. There’s not a team sport on the planet that’s going to capture every student’s attention, but keeping active is important for your students’ health and wellness. Be sure your survey options range from shooting hoops to dancing to push-up contests and everything in between.
  • Be a social media stalker. If you’re still not confident you can develop a comprehensive list of what kids might be interested in, remember that even very young students have become involved on social media, for better or worse. Following hot musicians, sports figures and vloggers online can help you tune into popular culture and create a customized inventory that piques student interest.
  • Reach out to families. Don’t forget the benefit of talking to families in your efforts to sniff out those student interests. Use the customizable Y4Y Family Survey to help you discover what you’ve done well and areas you can grow to meet the needs of your students.

You know that “warm welcome” feeling of coming home to the smell of freshly baked cookies? You can create that much-needed feeling of comfort for your students this year. Start by discovering what matters to them. Then “follow your nose” to connect program offerings to student interests.



September 18, 2020

Comfort foods may be satisfying in substance, but sometimes we crave something different or exotic. The same can be said of program practices. How does your 21st CCLC program build on the basics of substance while experimenting with new flavor combinations to bake up the perfect recipe for your afterschool program?

Keep the Cupboard Stocked

Whether you’re a new grantee or you’ve been in this kitchen a while now, it’s important to remember your fundamentals throughout the program year — the elements of running your program that can ensure its longevity. You have reporting responsibilities, and they all come back to doing what you said you’d do in your grant, which was based on the needs in your area. Depending on your state practices, that grant might have been written before the pandemic struck, but you can still track and report your data faithfully. Y4Y’s Tool Starter Set is the butter, flour, eggs and sugar that every 21st CCLC program will need to ensure success. The Project/Program Planner brings you back to your goals in all you do. Keep lines of communication open with your state agency to understand how best to adapt and report on those goals. For this program year, that adapting may be the most important ingredient in your continuous improvement efforts.

Try Out New Flavors

Has your professional development this summer exposed you to new ideas you’d like to try in your program? Do you wonder if the time is really right to test something out? Without a doubt, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of multimodal learning, especially if you were limited to a single way of supporting your students’ learning throughout the exclusively virtual portions of your programming over the past six months. Hopefully you’ve now navigated how to support some in-person programming and can give thought to things like activities that include visual, audio and hands-on (tactile) opportunities, whether those activities are focused on STEM, literacy, health and wellness, or some other topic.

Don’t forget to fold in some new strategies for ensuring a positive learning environment. The program environment itself differs from in the past, so of course basic safety and interpersonal interactions have a new flavor. You can adapt the Y4Y Setting Up a Positive Learning Environment Training to Go to review the importance of this element of 21st CCLC programming, then brainstorm together on how you can foster the warm fuzzies that are needed more now than ever. If your program is virtual, how can you individualize your welcomes like you once did as students walked through the door? What can you carry over from the old days to keep things as consistent as possible?

Be a Test Kitchen

During Y4Y’s summer webinar series on Strategic Partnerships, in Session 3 on Implementing Partnerships, guest speaker Ms. Marcy Richardson, Manager/Director of the Anchorage School District 21st CCLC Program, shared her practice of partnering with the school district to explore innovative ideas and projects within their 10 program sites. Her background in business management and marketing prompted Ms. Richardson to use this unique approach to forming a strong, two-way collaboration. Her 900 highly diverse elementary students benefit from fresh ideas and resources that different district departments are considering for broad implementation, while the district gets a measurable “beta” test population before expanding to its 30,000 elementary student population. Examples of this kind of exploration range from new cafeteria menu items to robotics. It pays to bring those partners along on new flavor adventures!

Whatever your mix of staple ingredients and new mix-ins, being true to your audience of “taste testers” (primarily, your students) is vital to the success of your recipe for this program year. The best recipes nourish students’ bodies, minds and spirits. They satisfy students’ hunger for knowledge and connection, comfort them with routines that are familiar and safe, and introduce new “taste experiences” that challenge and delight.

Hats off to all of you 21st CCLC chefs who are working so hard to keep students engaged and well nourished, in every sense of the word!

P.S. Y4Y would love to collect and share your best recipes for 21st CCLC success. Sign into your Y4Y account and post your ideas, big and small, on the Y4Y “Recipes” discussion board.



March 21, 2019

People who are nervous about medical appointments can have higher blood pressure readings at their doctor’s office than at home. It’s so common that there’s a name for it: white coat syndrome. Likewise, some students feel stress at school whenever they take a test, and it can affect their test results. If you Google “test anxiety,” you’ll find it’s a common experience.

That means even if students have studied hard and know the material, their anxiety might keep them from doing their best when test time rolls around. The good news is, there are things you can do to help students manage their anxiety.

A recent study reported in ScienceNews showed that using simple stress-reduction strategies can improve student performance, especially for low-income students. In the study, the failure rate among 1,175 low-income students taking biology at a large public high school was cut in half after teachers prompted students to use one of three strategies before each biology exam:

  • Take a few minutes before the exam to write about your fears.
  • Read an explanation of how stress responses like sweaty palms or a quickened pulse are nature’s way of helping you focus.
  • Do a combination of the first two strategies.

All three strategies worked equally well, and each worked better than simply ignoring the anxiety. (In the study, that’s what the control group did, and their test results didn’t improve.) Researchers noted that higher-income students didn’t seem to benefit from the stress-reduction strategies, possibly because they were already using strategies to regulate their emotions.

As spring testing approaches, it’s a good time to talk with your students’ teachers about the testing schedule and possible ways to reduce test anxiety. Learning to regulate emotions is a skill students can use at school and in other settings. After all, life is full of tests!

Find additional ideas for reducing stress to improve student learning and performance in Raise Joy, Lower Stress, a post by Y4Y guest blogger Phillip A. Collazo. 



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.