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August 23, 2021

For generations now, educators have invited parents into the classroom to speak about their work in hopes of both engaging families and sparking professional inspiration. Meanwhile, virtual learning has opened many creative avenues. Consider how you might investigate virtual opportunities to bring a physician or researcher or entrepreneur who looks like your students into your program virtually, and make a surprising impact on your students’ lives.

Start by Asset Mapping

You always want to start with your own community when it comes to guest speakers, though we’ll move on to expanding that thinking in a moment. Guest speakers are nothing more than a new type of partner, and Y4Y’s course on Strategic Partnerships, and specifically, tools for identifying partners, community asset mapping, (and then mapping community assets to partners) can help. Reach out for guest speakers in your own geographic community if your goals include

  • Highlighting professionals who have walked in the same shoes as your students.
  • Featuring adults with an intimate understanding of your community.
  • Establishing a longer-term relationship that might lead to field trips or internships.
  • Providing a resource to families.

Reach out and Touch Someone

The quest for a guest speaker doesn’t have to be limited by geography. What goals of your program might demand expanding your horizons and reaching out to touch professionals outside your community?

  • A desire to connect students to a highly specific profession such as astronomer or neurosurgeon.
  • Inspiring students with a minor celebrity such as a lesser-known children’s book author or minor league athlete.
  • Offering a vision of life beyond your community.
  • Connecting with any professional areas that you can’t tap into in your own area, such as an active military member, farmer, marine biologist or TV producer.

Where Should I Start?

Follow these tips to empower your program and bring exciting guest speakers to your program.

  • Think big. The worst thing that happens is that your emails go unanswered or told no. It hurts nothing to ask.
  • Do your research. If a public figure, local or otherwise, is inclined to work with youth groups, you’re bound to find traces of that on their social media. If not, you can always note that you might be asking them to reach outside their comfort zone, and will keep their visit out of social media yourselves.
  • Reverse-engineer it. Build buzz about a lesser-known author or professional by introducing students to their books or work, then approaching the author or scientist (or athlete, etc.) with tales of the students’ enthusiasm over their contributions.
  • Make no promises. Speak in general terms with the students about the kinds of guest speakers they’d like to have in your program so you’re sure to include their voice, but don’t let them in on specifics until you have firm commitments.
  • Have an elevator email. Remember the 1-minute elevator speech you’ve been advised to carry around on the tip of your tongue? Modify it to a 1-minute email. Be dynamic! Be funny! Be shameless! But be professional. Guilt trips are never a way to go. Instead, keep it light and positive, focusing on how inspiring it might be for them to meet your students. Don’t forget to include a catchy, informative subject line – you’re a marketer now! Something like, “Our urban students love your book, Ms. Love,” or “Please take our rural students to the Phoenix Cluster, Prof. M!”
  • Be prepared. Once you have a commitment, make sure students have questions prepared. Offer them areas of wonders they could draw from, such as the guest’s own childhood, education or training, inspirations and even guilty pleasures.
  • Follow it up. If you’re lucky enough to get an exciting virtual guest for your program, be sure every student sends an old-school thank you note. “Package” the experience with a digital scrapbook to use for future guest and student recruitment. Most important, have a meaningful reflection project for your students.

Something to bear in mind as education shifts into recovery mode is that we have many areas of strength and resilience to draw from after the pandemic. One power of virtual learning is the ability to bring every corner of the world right into your program space. Prospective guests are sure to respect your focus on the positive. And why not show your students there’s a lesson to learn in every setback?



July 8, 2021

Some educators suggest we should resist the idea that “learning loss” is the only thing that happened to students during the pandemic. Why? They want everyone, including students, to recognize what they’ve gained over the past 18 months. For example, some gained technology skills; developed a greater appreciation for family, friends and the great outdoors; and discovered resilience they didn’t know they had. Yes, there were losses, but there were gains as well. What does this mean in your 21st CCLC program?

Focus on the Positives

If policymakers were to build from scratch a new program to support learning recovery today, it might look a lot like a 21st CCLC program. Summer and afterschool learning. Tutoring. Family engagement. Student voice and choice. Attention to social and emotional learning and positive learning environments. Increased support for underserved students in the communities hit hardest by the pandemic. These are priorities that have been emerging in all recovery plans, so existing 21st CCLC programs are ahead of the game! With that in mind, let’s set aside those negatives that are getting plenty of airtime and focus on the positives.

  • Funding. The American Rescue Plan for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER III) is disbursing funds through states and school districts. Whether you’re in a school-based or a community-based program partnering with a school district, you’re sure to be already collaborating on how your program can beef up tutoring, especially to meet shared student goals. If you missed Y4Y’s webinar on ARP ESSER III addressing how 21st CCLC programs can make the most of funding, check it out today!
  • Lessons learned. The world of education is ever-evolving. Challenging periods can provide important lessons, if we pay attention. Your program professionals have likely discovered how to be resourceful about everything from seeking out education resources to strengthening human connections — with peers and students — when faced with obstacles. Your students’ families have learned how to advocate for their children on a whole new level. And students are walking away with skill sets nobody would have imagined at such young ages.

Name and “Own” Your New Strengths

Which of these new strengths have you, your staff or students developed during the pandemic?

  • Flexibility. You had that going for you before the pandemic, but now you’re the Olympic gymnasts of education when it comes to flexibility.
  • Tech wizardry. Staff and students alike have gained amazing skill sets for navigating the virtual world. You’re making the most of a whole host of useful features on various platforms and eking out new kinds of experiences — like fascinating field trips around the world and in your own (literal) backyards — thanks to virtual learning.
  • Organization. The added workload called on staff to heighten their organizational skills. At the same time, students — even younger ones  — developed impressive skills at time, schedule and workload management.
  • Social and emotional development. The five skill domains of social and emotional learning (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationships skills) got a lot of “exercise” during virtual learning. Most educators have concerns that gaps in social-emotional development are as pronounced as academic gaps. Yet being on camera every day gave many students a boost in certain aspects of self-awareness and self-management. It also reinforced an appreciation of relationships, leaving students eager to participate and be fully present for in-person learning.
  • Resilience and a growth mindset. The oyster and the pearl are the ultimate symbol that an irritant can turn into something beautiful. The resilience that all staff and students have gained sets everyone up for great future achievements.

Apply What You’ve Gained

There are so many positives and new strengths to focus on! How is your 21st CCLC program moving forward to apply what you’ve learned and make “learning loss” an obsolete term? See how many of these things you’re already doing:

  • Trying new virtual platforms. You’re no longer afraid of the brave new virtual world. The more tricks you can find, the better! Check out Y4Y’s two archived webinar series on 21st CCLCs in a virtual world (part 1 for novices or part 2 for masters). You’ll learn about dozens of platforms and how you can use them virtually or in person.
  • Leaning into the power of resilience. Keep reminding students that as things get better, as things feel better, they’ll carry with them always the muscles built when they had to be resilient. Nothing hits a message home like a good story. Y4Y offers a Teaching Resilience Book List with suggestions for read-alouds at different grade levels.
  • Counting on partners. You may be increasing the number of paid and volunteer tutors in your program. Your retired teachers association is a great resource. Be sure to map other community assets as well. To learn the basics of partnership development, see the Implementation Strategies section in Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course.
  • Making time to connect. Developing relationships is the pinnacle of social and emotional development. So even as academic focus intensifies, you’ll want to make sure that human connections stay front and center in your program. Y4Y’s Building Relationships Training to Go is a great tool for brushing up if staff are looking for fresh ideas on how to connect with students. These basic ideas carry over into ever-important peer relationships as well.
  • Bringing students along in planning. In February’s Education Week, there’s a great quote from Neema Avashia, an eighth-grade civics teacher in Boston Public Schools (and Boston’s 2013 Educator of the Year). She notes, “One important lesson I’ve learned from my students is that everything I plan with them goes much better than anything I plan without them.” Build on the self-awareness they’ve developed and consult Y4Y’s Student Voice and Choice course or accompanying tools like Student Survey: How Do I Learn Best? if you’re looking for tips on how to effectively incorporate student voice in your program and activity planning.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, every human experience gives us a new opportunity to weigh our practices, our habits, and our ways of doing — and to weed out the things that don’t work. With that exercise comes the opportunity to view new experiences differently. Instead of focusing on “learning loss” in your 21st CCLC program, scrounge around for the unexpected opportunities brought about by the pandemic, and discover how you can build on those gems to ensure a bright future for all your students.



June 16, 2021

Early summer is the perfect time to get a jump on student recruitment for the fall. High school students are the trickiest of all, but we know how eager teens are to get back together. With tips from Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Recruiting and Retaining High School Students, and field notes from a California program that had great success with all-virtual programming, you can learn how to market your program and really show off all you have to offer.

  • Y4Y’s Recruitment and Retention Plan tool will give you a great idea of where you are and where you need to be going with your recruitment efforts, month by month. Now is exactly the time of year to get up and running for a successful fall program.
  • Happy days are here again! Returning to in-person programming hopefully means you can gain access to buildings during school hours. A great way of recruiting students is just talking with kids in the cafeteria at lunch, but if social distancing is still required, the Y4Y Idea Wall/Board Tool will help you create visuals of your program to more passively entice students to the exciting offerings of your program. If class is out for the summer, you can adopt many of the same creative ideas for your website. Drive students to your website by partnering with school administrators on their end-of-year communications.
  • Your students are your greatest asset! Many tools in this Click & Go offer guidance for building effective student leadership in your program. Your student ambassadors are the key to successful recruitment. Check out the Youth Ambassador Plan Template, the Youth Ambassador Job Description Template and the Youth Leadership Roles tool. If you don’t already have a strong student leadership plan in place, this is where you’ll get started to ensure next year’s recruitment efforts get a boost. Meanwhile, it will strongly reinforce your retention efforts by increasing student buy-in.

Speaking of student retention, participants in Y4Y’s winter listening session on virtual learning shed light on some critical steps in retaining teens in any environment:

  • Games are universally popular. But not all students enjoy the same kind of games. Be sure you can offer a combination of video games, board games and interactive computer games to engage every student. Remember that differences in academic levels are likely to be apparent during game play. The last thing you want to do is exclude anyone from something that is meant to be fun.
  • Nothing beats the great outdoors! Just as is highlighted in this month’s Voices From the Field on forest kindergartens, young people are often happiest outdoors. Teens are no exception. Being forced on screen so much has demonstrated that anything that can be taken outside should be taken outside!
  • Connection is at the root of all you do. Teens who find themselves in 21st CCLC programs are often the students that don’t quite fit with a sport or other afterschool activity but crave those human connections. It’s the job of your program to discover and accentuate the greatest common denominators. Soon, investment in each other will become that very thing!
  • Honor perseverance. Academic standards drive your students’ school-day sense of achievement more than ever as they become teens. You can provide them the opportunity to develop the feeling of success they deserve by celebrating effort and resilience as well.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow noted that youth comes but once in a lifetime. You have tremendous power in helping your teens make the most of it. Your 21st CCLC program is in a unique position this summer and fall as more teens are vaccinated and policies are opening up to offer a renewed sense of community at a time when they need it most. So don’t be shy: Get out there and show off that program!