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March 18, 2021

Every day brings more promise of a return to “normal” 21st CCLC programming. Rich lessons we’ve taken from a year of full or partial physical separation from students include these:

  • An understanding that connectedness is everything. A decade of social media might have suggested that you can trick the brain into believing those human connections can be replaced with virtual (“wireless”) ones, but a year of pandemic has blown that theory out of the water. Relationships matter.
  • Despite those charming articles and blog posts about how the pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate and reset their eating habits, 21st CCLC families are more likely to be food insecure and dependent on processed foods for basic sustenance.
  • “Self-care” has grown way beyond buzz words; professionals in many industries, but ESPECIALLY education, are keenly aware of an escalation in stress levels from the day-to-day demands of flexibility. The stakes of student outcomes make most education professionals eager to begin bridging the learning gap that has only widened for 21st CCLC students over the course of the last year.

As the school year winds down with anything but normal momentum, the hope of more in-person programming can at least offer your program the opportunity to be one with your students, set a footing for a summer of remediation and healing, and set new priorities and practices on well-being going forward.

There’s a certain irony in suggesting the need for more “heavy lifting” to arrive at your happy place, so consider all of the resources you can take advantage of passively. Grab a cup of tea, jump on your rowing machine, or even step out with your laptop onto your patio this weekend and check out these archived webinars and Click & Go mini-lessons and podcasts. Let the messages swirl around in the back of your mind to plan for summer and fall programming with the above goals in mind.

  • A new Y4Y Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, offers a mini-lesson with the basics, as well as four short podcasts: Planning Health and Wellness Activities, Connecting With School-Day Staff on Health and Wellness, Health and Wellness On the Go, and Caring for Your Staff.
  • An archived LIVE With Y4Y webinar, Bringing Mindfulness to Out-of-School Time, offers strategies for promoting thoughtful positivity and awareness among staff and students.
  • A four-part webinar series, Social and Emotional Learning, steps through the process for delivering high-quality social and emotional learning activities: planning, designing, implementing and assessing your efforts.
  • Another four-part webinar series, An Artfully Formed Positive Environment, provides the tools you need to paint smiles on the faces and warmth in the hearts of staff, family, partners and, most of all, your students.
  • An archived Y4Y Showcase webinar, Expanding Quality Health and Recreational Opportunities, lives up to the promise in its name. It demonstrates successful implementation health and wellness initiatives in out-of-school time.
  • An archived four-part webinar series, Strategic Partnerships, helps you consider how partnerships can be an asset in helping to address food insecurity among your students.

We hear it everywhere today: “Give yourself grace.” These are simple words, representing a simple concept. Goodness knows that 21st CCLC professionals across the country have extended that grace to their students! Now it’s time to be one with your students in this exercise as you ease out of an unprecedented year and into one of unity, calm and productive energy.



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.



October 1, 2020

Students with disabilities may face unique learning challenges during school closures or conversion to virtual programming. A recent webinar from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) shines a bright light on Resources and Practices to Support Back to School and Continuity of Learning for Children With Disabilities. While these resources are directed at school-day educators, 21st CCLC programs might find them useful — especially those on supporting families of students with disabilities. No time to watch the archived webinar? Y4Y has you covered! Here are some highlights:

Consider sharing with families the CEEDAR Center’s Virtual Toolkit and Family Guide to At-Home Learning, available in English and Spanish. The center recommends six strategies for helping students of all ages who struggle with at-home learning: model, provide clear directions, provide support, help the student stay on task, give specific feedback and use goal setting. The family guide has helpful tools and examples for each strategy.

The High-Leverage Practices in Special Education website shares best practices for addressing student behaviors in face-to-face, online and hybrid environments. High-leverage practices are those that are foundational to effective teaching and can be used regularly with students of all ages and abilities. These practices are intended to complement, not replace, data-driven interventions. The site includes unedited clips of teachers implementing “R.U. Asking” (a problem-solving strategy) and including checks for understanding and opportunities to respond throughout instructional time to keep students engaged.

In the OSEP webinar, University of Northern Colorado professor Todd Sundeen addresses concerns affecting educators with limited access to educational technology in rural communities, which represent one in nine U.S. students. He tells about families taking extreme measures like sitting in their cars in school parking lots to access the building’s broadband internet for their children. He advocates collaborating with parents to ensure they’re included in all conversations, following up with students who aren’t participating virtually, providing parents with learning opportunities on how to best support their children’s learning, and making sure that funding structures provide full access to technology and adequate internet access.

The National Center on Improving Literacy offers evidence-based strategies for serving students with literacy-related disabilities, who are more likely than their peers without disabilities to regress during distance learning. The center advocates explicit and systematic instruction focused on the five “big ideas” of reading: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Recommendations include providing students with disabilities with additional intervention time, using small-group or one-to-one intervention three to five times a week, and following academic intervention charts from the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII). You can access implementation toolkits, ask-an-expert and other resources through the center’s website. Be sure to check out Kid Zone, a source of online literacy games and activities for students who need intensive literacy intervention.

Karen Erickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addresses remotely serving students who are medically vulnerable and/or have complex disabilities. Some of these students may be physically unable to interact with technology or have other barriers to engaging for necessary lengths of time. As a result, family engagement and support among each other has become essential in the virtual environment. Teaching assistants grew into new supportive roles, such as preparing students for their day with short recorded videos. Ms. Erickson says strategies at Project Core have been invaluable to families helping their children navigate new formats for learning. She also points to Tarheel Reader and Shared Reader as helpful resources for reading. Above all, she says, focus on routine. Be flexible and responsive, and share resources generously with families.

A new guide is available from the Center on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS). Returning to School During and After Crisis describes how a multi-tiered systems of support framework can support students, families and educators during transitions back to school. The center urges educators to focus on the basics — the smallest number of things you can do well to support student learning. Your connecting, screening, supporting, teaching and monitoring should work to creative a positive, predictable and safe learning environment that fosters students’ social, emotional, behavioral and academic growth. The segment of the webinar that discusses this guide features New Jersey’s PBIS implementation efforts.

The National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) presents a process of intensive intervention that’s based on experimental teaching. It integrates data-based decision making across academics and social behaviors. NCII focuses on explicit instruction (I do, we do, you do) sequencing, progress monitoring and collaboration. Visit the center’s website for videos and webinars from educators implementing these practices remotely.

Lynn Fuchs of Vanderbilt University reinforces the importance of explicit instruction for students with disabilities, offering an eight-step method for online teaching strategies. Packaged explicit instruction interventions are available at the Vanderbilt University website. Similar resources are also available at the NCII website to address the performance gaps that students with disabilities are likely to experience in a virtual environment.

The state of Michigan, in recognition of the avalanche of information and resources directed at educators attempting to navigate during the pandemic, offers a simple guiding philosophy: Focus on routines. Teaching and using routines, both social and academic, has been shown to foster a positive climate and increase student success. These routines become even more powerful in a climate of uncertainty such as now, as they provide a safe, predictable and supportive environment where students know what it takes to be successful and can develop the skills to be so. Michigan makes sure the resources shared with special educators reflect this spirit of simplicity. The resources for teams may have the greatest relevance to 21st CCLC programs.

Lise Fox of the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations offers insight into resources for early education professionals and families. You might want to share these resources with families who have preschool-age children. The center emphasizes social and emotional wellness for students, families and staff.

The OSEP webinar concludes with a panel discussion featuring three professionals who offer their experience and advice on implementing successful re-opening strategies for students with disabilities. The panelists reinforce the value of communicating with families. Nobody should have to stumble around in the dark, trying to find their way through such uncertain times, least of all students with disabilities. Feel free to forward this post to others who might find this information useful!



August 7, 2020

Your 21st CCLC program has much to offer students, especially those with fewer opportunities than their more-affluent peers. As you reflect on student needs, it’s unlikely that the question of program priorities has ever carried more weight than it does at this very moment in time. Chances are, helping students feel safe is at the top of your list. After all, how can students focus on learning if their minds are engaged in worry?

Safety can mean many things. Freedom from threats of physical danger or harm might be the first thing that comes to mind. But there’s also social and emotional safety — a feeling of acceptance and support that frees us to express ourselves and take the “good risks” that learning requires. In the current flurry of activity, as you prepare for a fall opening unlike any you’ve experienced as a 21st CCLC professional, you’ll feel more confident in every step, in every decision, if you and your colleagues jointly address two essential questions: (1) What can we do to make students, families and staff feel safe as they participate in program activities? and (2) How can our program culture and climate support “safety,” in all its forms, as a priority for all? Answering the second question will help you answer the first one!

You’re in luck because Y4Y’s Creating a Positive Learning Environment course is shaped around key strategies for addressing your program’s culture and climate. The Culture Climate and Perception Survey is a great tool to be sure you and your staff are starting off at the same place. Try doing the staff survey individually. Collectively, you can then reflect on who you are as a program and what you want to become. What do you value collectively? What are your priorities?

Someone might ask, “Is it OK to change our program priorities just because the world around us is changing?” It’s not only “OK” — it’s critical that your priorities and values reflect the immediate needs of your students. Accept that you may need to spend more time than usual on basic health and safety measures, knowing that one day soon you’ll have the luxury of arranging field trips and other community-based experiences. Revamping your activities to accommodate social distancing might not feel like “improvement.” That word implies “better than,” and maybe that’s not how you feel this year’s program is going to look. But “better than” can be “better suited to.” If your revamped activities are better suited to current conditions and student needs, your program is remaining faithful to continuous improvement. Even if those amazing STEM projects don’t look the way you imagined, and the simple “high-fives” in the hallway that have always motivated students and staff have to take the year off, you can offer fun, creative activities and positive feedback in other ways that are better suited to the circumstances.

Here's an idea: In June, Y4Y presented a four-part webinar series, An Artfully Formed Positive Environment, with sessions dedicated to sketching your organizational culture and ensuring a positive learning environment, appropriate safety measures, and social and emotional learning. Consider hosting a virtual watch party of these timely strategies, rich with voices from across the country, and discussing them with your staff in light of current circumstances. Give everyone a chance to express their ideas and concerns so that you can address them as a team. That way, you can head into the fall with a shared goal of paving a high road for your students, where the path is dry, the view is fine, and there’s room for all. That road can lead to success, to safety, to basic well-being — it’s up to YOU to determine what your students need most right now. Y4Y believes in you (air high five!).



July 22, 2020

Flexibility is at the heart of every 21st CCLC program. Organized chaos is the name of the game. You’ve always found your greatest successes by moving and grooving with the prevailing winds, rather than sticking like glue to a rigid plan. But 2020 has brought a new meaning to the idea of flexibility. If only you WERE on plan B – maybe you wouldn’t be quite so hot under the collar this summer! But if you’re like a lot of other programs, you’ve made several course corrections since March 15. Maybe you’ve hit your virtual stride for summer programming, but see more uncertainty on the horizon this fall. Take heart: Y4Y, too, has been adapting on the fly, shifting to more virtual offerings for your professional development opportunities. Consider these tips – from two Y4Y spring webinar series on intentional program design and literacy – as you continue to go with the flow.

Time Is On Your Side

With less time on site, you and your school-day partners have a little more cushion in your schedules to check in — and doing so has never been more important. Everything feels like it’s happening in a silo right now, but for students to get the most out of the educational experience everyone’s working so hard to pull together, you’ll need to keep all communication channels open. Ask administrators if you can attend their virtual staff meetings in planning for fall so your program is prepared to align and support. Circle back with classroom teachers for key student-level data. Considering all standardized tests may not have been administered this spring, some school-level data may be lacking. Put your heads together on the most important skills or content your summer program can help students with to minimize the summer slide.

Homework Support

Your virtual programming might actually be connecting you with families MORE, not less, than usual. You are, after all, coming right into their homes virtually. How can you fill a need for academic intervention and homework support, especially when classes resume? Some families may be willing and able to support their student in content areas, but could use a refresher on today’s teaching methods or the ABCs of virtual learning. Have them “hop on” for quick tutorials, vocabulary reviews or tips on finding easy-to-use resources. If content can’t be easily supported at home, consider breakout rooms for your virtual program. You can offer a math room, a science room, a reading room or whatever is needed from day to day.

In the Service of Others

Now is the perfect time to think about service-learning opportunities, and to give students more ownership of their projects. Have them think about the unique needs around them – whether in the school community, neighborhood or town – and reflect on what they can do to help. Remember that project-based learning and service learning go hand and hand. Many programs are electing to produce homemade masks. But what are the best materials? Where are they available? What simple sewing is involved, and how can that be learned online? How can they be packaged safely, and where’s the best place to donate? Another idea is partnering with your local senior residential facilities, where residents are feeling totally isolated. Arrange a letter-writing campaign or regular video chats. Many citizen science projects are thriving during the pandemic. Each of these ways to contribute and learn make tremendous impact on young lives.

Training Day

Proper training is essential to setting your staff up for success. Summer is always a great time to take advantage of courses and Trainings to Go from Y4Y — both of which can be done 100% virtually. Also think about content-specific skills, such as those needed to successfully implement literacy activities virtually. Consider holding virtual staff meetings with breakout sessions on how to facilitate virtual book clubs or how to implement reading comprehension strategies. Read-alouds are a great example. This age-old favorite can and should be so much more for students than just story time. An enriching read-aloud demands planning ahead, such as using sticky notes to remind yourself where in the book you’d like to have students learn a new vocabulary word, reflect on literary elements, or do some critical thinking. Instead of assuming all staff possess this skill, consider targeted training and peer practice sessions.

Read Read Read

Think outside the box when it comes to book clubs in your program. You might task students with reading the same book or the same short story, article, blog or poem. Another idea is to suggest they each find something to report to the group on a common topic, theme or genre. By posting questions ahead of time to your social media page or discussion board, you can conduct asynchronous learning and reduce student anxiety about the virtual spotlight, setting them up for success during your group literary meeting. Make the most of your shared screen time — students can give a commercial-style book review, or create a short video with family consent to share at the end of each unit.

The Best Advice

Friends of Y4Y shared some of their do’s and don’ts as your COVID-19 plan B, C, D through Z takes shape. Shannon Browning of Macomb, Oklahoma, shared a bit about their rural 21st CCLC summer program, which has been offering virtual activities in the arenas of cooking, story time, science experiments, and crafts, based on student interest inventories taken last September. They’ve made sure they’re staying in contact with school-day partners to build on what students took away from the school year. Since internet access is an issue among her students, Ms. Browning emphasized the importance of maintaining phone contact and delivering activity materials with clear directions and personal notes from staff. A key to engagement: have staff produce activity videos themselves; don’t just direct students to online resources. After all, 21st CCLC is very much about relationships, and even though some staff members had to learn how to use their phones to record videos, they got a kick out of it, and the students and families love staying connected this way.

Tim Zoyac of the Pathways 21st Century Program in Bridgeton Public Schools, New Jersey, noted how challenging programming has been when 30% of his students are without internet connections. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to meet students where they are. He suggests programs reach out to their parent organizations, professional partners and state agencies to learn where the gaps are, and be prepared to offer support in new and possibly very different ways. This will look different from community to community, and even from school building to school building.

Building on these themes, Johanna Friedel from Greenville, Texas, said their program has closely monitored virtual attendance as a data point to determine what engagement efforts are working and what are not. Their program continually monitors site-specific and overall problems, goals and needs. From the beginning, they saw the value in centrally locating resources and plans on a Facebook page. The program also created its own YouTube channel in response to the heavy need for video offerings. She advises programs to make sure they keep instructions for at-home learning activities simple and basic. Finally, recognizing the social and emotional needs unique to the current environment, Ms. Friedel spoke of student leader video interviews being shared out to inspire students to be open about their own feelings around everything from teachers and staff to quarantine in general. Kids didn’t sign up for plan B either, but we’re all in this together!