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March 18, 2020

It doesn’t take a microscope to find good summer STEM programming ideas at Y4Y. Perhaps you wanted to attend Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series in January but simply couldn’t fit it in your schedule. Well, don’t worry: Y4Y recorded the entire series with you in mind! It guides 21st CCLC program directors and practitioners through nine steps to plan ahead for a summer filled with enriching, engaging, real-life opportunities for students. Making sure young brains stay “turned on” during those “off months” while school’s out will help them retain what they’ve already learned — and provide new experiences for students to build on when school starts up again.

The webinar series has three objectives: (1) Engage in the steps for planning, designing, implementing and assessing a summer learning program; (2) Develop strategies to implement components of a successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program; and (3) Identify Y4Y resources that assist with STEM in summer learning.

Providing summer enrichment experiences is especially important to students from low-income families served by 21st CCLC programs. With each year of education, there’s a growing gap in learning between students from lower-income families, who often have limited access to enriching experiences, and their middle- and higher-income counterparts, who usually have more opportunities to visit libraries, museums and interesting vacation locales during out-of-school time. Those with more opportunities are less likely to experience a loss of academic skills and knowledge (sometimes called the “summer slide”). The impact is seen not only in students’ reading and math scores, but also in their future career interests and prospects. In fact, only 16% of graduating U.S. seniors are proficient in math and have an interest in a career in STEM.

In addition to closing learning gaps and reducing the summer slide, 21st CCLC summer STEM programming has the power to truly inspire excitement in STEM areas by offering hands-on, authentic learning opportunities free of the time constraints that classrooms operate under. Activities that are real, active and local will be most meaningful to students and carry the longest-lasting benefits.

Y4Y’s Summer STEM webinar series will stimulate your thinking about what’s possible and how to plan for it. For example, you’ll be asked to draw a simple figure to represent each of the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Webinar leaders explain that this activity mirrors how you can set students up for success by meeting them at the most elemental level of STEM understanding, and building from there.

The webinar walks you through nine crucial steps to intentional program development:

Step 1: Build a Program Team

Now is the time to think about how best to use the staff you currently have, and where you might consider making additions to your program for the summer. Keep communication the centerpiece of your staffing as you develop programming and clarify roles and expectations. What new partnerships can be forged to fill remaining or anticipated holes in optimal STEM activities? A great tool to use during this step is the Y4Y Program Team Communication Process Form.

Step 2: Assess Needs and Map Assets

A needs assessment will always bring you right to data’s doorstep. Remember the universal 21st CCLC data sources: school-level data, student-level data, and student voice and choice. Reflect not just on the data, but also on what could be behind it. For example, if school-level data show a considerable disparity in state assessment scores among ABC Elementary third-graders, does a break-out show that one classroom outperformed others? If so, that classroom teacher may be the perfect resource to help you develop summer STEM activities to close learning gaps. With student-level data, review the Next Generation Science Standards to gauge where your students are. Use this as your starting point to meet them with summer STEM activities. Finally, don’t forget those student voice surveys, available in Y4Y’s 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet. Knowing how to tailor projects to student interests is the best insurance policy for engagement.

Step 3: Set SMART Goals

Be sure to consult your school-day sources on the sorts of growth benchmarks they use so that your SMART goals are consistent with your data. To brush up on SMART goals (that is, goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound) see Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool. Summer offers a lot of latitude in planning activities, and you’ll be off to a great start when you align with students’ school-year STEM learning and build from there. Make the most of the elbow room and reach for the stars. Don’t forget the Y4Y 21st CCLC Data Tracking Packet to help you bring student voice and choice into your goal setting.

Step 4: Logistics: Map Your Resources

Bring all your assets to the table and think about what you can achieve. What does your schedule look like? What does your facility look like? What materials are at your disposal? What about current and potential partners? What does “STEM-expert staffing” look like, and what changes can or should be made now while you have the luxury of (a little) time? A good thing to keep in mind around resources is back-up planning. If you suddenly don’t have access to the usual space, is there somewhere else you can still carry on the day’s activity with just a few tweaks? Outdoors can be a great option in summer, depending on where you’re located. What about substitute materials? And is there good cross-team communication in case you have to make staffing substitutions? Take all of these factors into consideration as you do your logistics planning.

Step 5: Intentionally Design Activities

Time to get creative! First, you may want to give thought to the best framework for your STEM activities. Does a club structure make sense? Theme weeks? A party planning format? Next, remember those key elements of activity design: real, active and local. Many colorful resources are available to help connect students to STEM principles. For example, computational fairy tales relate familiar stories to computer science, which can whet students’ appetites for STEM learning. Check out the Learn More Library in the Y4Y STEM course, especially resources like Get the Math that draw a clear relationship between real-life activities and numbers. Y4Y’s STEM Activity Center Planner and STEM Program Goals are good tools to get you thinking about other activity structures and types.

Step 6: Motivate, Engage and Retain Students

Over time, your program will build a reputation, which will help you draw in more students each year, but getting a strong start can be challenging. For summer STEM programs, especially, keep in mind that attendance may not be mandatory, and student buy-in is crucial. Teacher referrals are a great place to start, but you can also ask current and prospective students to help recruit their friends. This way, they’ll feel a commitment to each other in attending. Expand on that principle by giving students voice and choice in your planning of activities to give them a sense of ownership, and offer them leadership roles throughout the summer. Finally, the foundation of any strong 21st CCLC program is a positive learning environment. Y4Y offers a brand-new course on how your organization can leverage all aspects of positivity to energize students and staff.

Step 7: Engage Families

A summer STEM program may be a unique opportunity to engage families in new and exciting ways. You know the challenges such as scheduling, transportation and language barriers that any 21st CCLC program may face. Y4Y’s Understanding and Overcoming Challenges to Family Engagement tool can walk you through solutions, with flexibility at the heart of your efforts. Moving into the realm of proactive engagement in summer STEM could include take-home experiment kits, having families upload photos of their in-home experimenting, or skill-based or enrichment group events that build on the whole family’s understanding and excitement about STEM, such as a STEM-focused game day. Solicit input and leadership from parents throughout the program to expand their sense of ownership. Guest speakers from any job or profession — whether they’re retail cashiers, restaurant managers, bricklayers, nurses, lawyers, electricians or sanitation workers — can provide firsthand examples to show how STEM basics impact every job and every profession.

Step 8: Celebrate and Reflect

Celebrations can and should be an ongoing part of any 21st CCLC program. You might highlight a learner of the week, month or summer. Naming a family of the week, month or summer could encourage family engagement and boost student excitement for their STEM learning. A culminating event allows any program to end on a high note, and a summer STEM event could be extra special. Offer students the chance to put on a science fair or tech expo, stage a good old-fashioned barbeque, or maybe some combination with STEM-focused, carnival-style games. Broaden the tent and get those partners involved!

Step 9: Assess and Continuously Improve

Good analysis is key to the continuous improvement cycle, so be sure to consult solid resources as you strive for the best in your program. Special education teachers excel at offering a myriad of growth metrics to determine student progress. Y4Y’s STEM Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist will help you focus on special staffing considerations for summer STEM initiatives, and Y4Y’s customizable Activity Observation Checklists will help you examine and fine-tune activities. Above all, collect as much feedback as you can from your participants and families because program improvement depends so much on shared ownership.



January 22, 2020

Fifty years ago, Mary Poppins advised that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and vitamin manufacturers took note. Before you knew it, kids were clamoring for their daily dose. Y4Y’s recently archived webinar, “College and Career Readiness (CCR): Elementary” explores benefits and practical ideas in introducing elementary students to planning for their futures. But the sugar and bright coloring in this arena is, quite simply, playtime!

You don’t need to think of CCR as something that demands dedicated time and resources. Rather, like a multivitamin, a CCR framework can be a tidy way of bringing together current program initiatives like literacy, STEM, social and emotional learning, and more. Here’s an overview of the kinds of structured thinking you can apply to your intentionally designed activities to start preparing young students for their future careers.

Stepping Stones: What’s the Connection?

Since elementary students love to imagine themselves in various adult roles, 21st CCLC programs are the perfect place to infuse the structure that will convert natural playtime into visible stepping stones to future careers. Y4Y offers a Career Station Planner, for example, to get those creative juices flowing. Studies show you’ll improve engagement when students can see how their learning builds on what they already know. Your job is not to push all seven-year-olds toward college, but to open their eyes to limitless career options, and to the types of skills and knowledge (stepping stones) they can gain along the way to make each option a reality.

Three goals should drive your intentional CCR activities for elementary and middle school students: connecting academic learning to higher education and careers, expanding student options and awareness of career options, and encouraging 21st century thinking skills. How do you think? What do you know or not know? What steps or actions are required? These are questions you can ask and explore with your students.

Employability Skills: Plays Well with Others?

The U.S. Department of Education has established nine critical skill areas for employment in any field. These skills are an important component of CCR. It’s never too early to be thinking about how growth in each of these can be woven into 21st CCLC activities.

Effective relationships:

  • Interpersonal skills: Give a less-than-natural leader a quiet leadership role, such as writing out rules for a new board game.
  • Personal qualities: Call out the value of honesty and propose that a specific student be named the banker in a game of “town.”

Workplace skills:

  • Technology use: Can the program’s computer be used for some new application?
  • Systems thinking: Empty your desk or cubby and reorganize!
  • Information use: Take five fun facts about dogs and suggest a new product.
  • Resource management (time, money, materials, people): Build a five-layer pyramid using all the clay in front of you. How much is needed for each level?
  • Communication skills: Charades!

Applied knowledge:

  • Applied academic skills: What did you learn in math today, and can you think of how you might use that lesson at the grocery store this weekend?
  • Critical thinking skills: Name some things a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor, a postal worker and a car salesperson have in common in their jobs.

Flavors of Activities: Grape, Cherry or Hands-on?

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the elements of possible 21st CCLC activities that could be structured to get young students thinking about future careers, consider to what degree the activity engages students. Time, student needs and abilities, and resources will demand that all of the following levels of engagement be incorporated into your program at different times:

  • Awareness: These activities are simple exposures to possible careers and educational paths. They help students connect academic learning to possible applications. This could be an introduction to various mentors and role models. For example, you could invite a local physician to be a guest speaker. You might ask her to talk about what it’s like to be a doctor, to share her experience with schooling, and to explain that there are many different specializations within the medical field. Check out Y4Y’s Awareness Activities tool for more ideas.
  • Preparation: These activities develop goals and outline steps to accomplish those goals, such as completing paperwork or practicing life skills. One example might be a show-and-tell career day that includes costumes. Students could be given a writing assignment that mimics the work, such as a scientist’s lab report or an attorney’s closing argument in the case of the missing jelly beans. Check out Y4Y’s Preparation Activities Planner to get started.
  • Exploration: These activities go beyond awareness and preparation activities to offer students more independence and a deeper exposure to careers in their areas of interest. More important, exploration activities start to connect student interests (such as sports, being outdoors or “becoming rich”) to a wealth of career options. One example might be touring a science lab and interviewing people in various job roles in that facility. For older students, be sure to consult Y4Y’s Exploration Toolkit (Grades 6-12).

Bring Those Partners Along

Families will play the crucial role in CCR activities that they always do in 21st CCLC programs. Offer families tips on exposing their young students to career options. Survey parents on their child’s interests, however unrelated to career options they might seem. Your parent base is always the best place to start for professional examples. Students’ family members may welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that skills and knowledge are needed in every job. Next, reach out to the community, bearing in mind that some of your students may not have access to professionals in STEM or finance careers, for example. Partners in institutions of higher learning, whether universities or trade schools, can help connect students’ favorite playtime activities to real careers.

Career Counselors à Gogo

Who knew when you signed up to work with elementary students in a 21st CCLC program that you’d be adding “career counselor” to your job description? Besides Ms. Poppins, be sure to get advice from Y4Y’s CCR Train Your Staff materials around building college and career readiness, engaging families and planning age-appropriate activities. You may not staff magical nannies, but as a well-trained team, you’re sure to create a happy head start for your students.



August 9, 2019

Summer is the season for veteran and new grantees alike to ascend to 30,000 feet and take a broad view of their programs. On the heels of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2019 21st CCLC Summer Symposium, where leaders from 50 states gathered to move this exciting profession forward, here are “big picture” questions for all grantees to address:

Does your program vision statement reflect the sharpening focus on social and emotional learning? Social and emotional learning and building positivity among youth are high-priority areas for many 21st CCLC programs. How might a subtle revisiting of your vision statement trickle down to other components of program management?

Is collaboration the heart and soul of your program? You value the voices of your community partners and stakeholders at the planning table, but does your program provide students with ample opportunities to practice collaboration? The ability to collaborate with others is increasingly regarded as a valuable tool for professional success. How can you accommodate this skill-building priority?

Are you an experienced grantee starting a new program? You know better than most that out-of-school time programming is growing and evolving as a professional field. Refresh yourself on managing a 21st CCLC program from the ground up, and catch up on the latest regulations and wisdom around successful programs by attending the New Leaders Virtual Academy described below.

Are you a new grantee who’s worried about the deafening silence at 30,000 feet? Y4Y has a wealth of resources to help you maintain radio contact with experienced peers. Beginning August 13,  the New Leaders Virtual Academy will offer a live series of five interactive webinars to walk you through the crucial steps of program development, breaking down each step into manageable tasks. A certificate of completion for the Academy will be offered to those who attend the series. More important, you’ll emerge with a road map of available resources, connections to veteran professionals in the field, answers to your burning questions, and, best of all, companionship with fellow newcomers on the “new grantee” journey.

Whether or not you participate in the Academy, you can begin orienting yourself with the basics anytime. Budget three to four hours to take the Y4Y Introduction to Managing Your 21st CCLC Program course and explore some of its tools, like the Project Management Graphic Organizer and Managing Your 21st CCLC Program Diagram. If you don’t have a management background, these resources will give you a foundation in standard project management processes and help you manage critical tasks relevant to 21st CCLC programs. You can also review the 2018 Y4Y Virtual Institute for New 21st CCLC Grantees. This series of archived webinars is a great primer. Rest assured that the 2019 Academy sessions will be archived on the Y4Y website this fall.

Make Y4Y your partner in learning!



June 18, 2019

Could a few minutes of forethought now prevent hours of stress later? When it comes to planning the start-up of a new program year, the answer is YES! These quick tips will help you prepare now for a smooth re-entry this fall.

To avoid the last-minute hiring scramble:

  • Prepare job descriptions. Have job descriptions ready in advance — especially if you’re looking for certain skills or expertise. Y4Y’s Sample Human Resources Packet has sample job descriptions and templates for inspiration.
  • Keep a list of potential candidates. Maybe you’ve encountered an enthusiastic summer intern from the local college, a community volunteer with a knack for teaching young children, or a retired grandparent with experience in youth development. Keep a list of names and contact information. You can also ask program staff, school personnel and others for recommendations.

To avoid the “oops-I-wish-I’d-planned-a-staff-training-on-that” syndrome:

  • Look back. What training topics would have benefitted staff last year? What topics should be repeated? Put those on the list for this year.
  • Look forward. Will you have several staff members who are new to the 21st CCLC program? Do you plan to use project-based learning or another strategy for the first time? Add essential topics to your list, then check on available training, resources, and expertise from the school and community, and from Y4Y. If you’re a new 21st CCLC grantee, take a look at Y4Y’s virtual professional development series for new grantees.

To avoid starting the fall without the partnerships you want and need:

  • Make new friends. Piggyback on community events to connect with potential partners who have the right kind of expertise, skills and resources to fill gaps or support new initiatives. Be ready to “make your ask” by clearly stating how partnering can benefit the partner as well as the students and families your program serves.
  • Keep old friends. Strengthen current partnerships by expressing appreciation, providing support, and refocusing time and effort as necessary to make sure all parties are satisfied with the partnership arrangement. See Y4Y’s Strengthening Partnerships course for ideas.

To avoid the letdown of targeted students not enrolling:

  • Include success stories in outreach materials. Name potential benefits to students and their families, and include real-life examples whenever possible. Feature recent activities and successes, with quotes and photos from students’ families (with their permission, of course). Let your program’s inclusive culture, areas of expertise and concern for individual growth shine through! See Y4Y’s recent Showcase webinar for ideas and tools for effective communications and outreach.
  • Team with the school to personalize invitations. If you know certain students would benefit from your program, enlist help from the school staff. Teachers and counselors who’ve established trust with students and their families can help recruit students and steer them in your direction.

Could a staff member or volunteer help with some of these tasks? Enlist their help right away. Taking time this summer to plan and prepare for fall can give your program (and your spirits) a rocket boost!



February 14, 2019

You already know that making your program meaningful, memorable and motivational can engage students and families. You can also use the “triple M” strategy to engage community members and partners. Their support can energize your program and ensure its success over time. Are you ready for the sustainability dare? Answer these questions to find out.

Is our program valued (meaningful) in the community?

If community members think your program creates value, they’re more likely to support your work. Pay attention to informal feedback from students, families, school staff, partners and community members. In conversation, listen for phrases like “I learned,” “I noticed” and “I appreciate.” Also watch for nonverbal feedback. Is participation high in your students’ winter coat drive? Do people in local organizations and businesses often say yes when invited to contribute their time, talents or expertise? Are student showcase events well attended? If you do a survey, what can you learn from the response rate and feedback?

Is our program visible (memorable) in the community?

It’s likely that more community members would value and support your program — if they knew more about it. What are you doing to make your program and its work visible in the community? Does your communications plan include outreach to local media so people learn about student projects and accomplishments? Do you conduct purposeful outreach to community leaders and social service providers? Do program activities like service learning, job shadowing and field trips connect students to local people and organizations? Do your solicitations for funds or donations include stories or statistics that show your program’s purpose and value?

Is our program attractive (motivational) to the community?

If people are knocking on your door to get involved with your 21st CCLC program, congratulations! You can motivate even more people by making a “call to action.” A general call to action might be an open invitation (e.g., a newspaper notice and flyers) to a student-organized Community Fitness Night. A personal call to action might be speaking to a local trainer: “Our students could really use your expertise to create a 15-minute Zumba routine for Community Fitness Night.”

As you consider meaningful, memorable and motivational (triple-M) ways to engage community members and partners, students can be powerful ambassadors. Emanuel Betz, 21st CCLC state coordinator in Vermont, says, “Have students share what participation in your 21st CCLC program means to them. Provide opportunities for them to speak and write about their experiences. I know of a program with a youth newspaper that has students interview community members. Sometimes students attend school board meetings and report on them. Activities like these build visibility in the community and demonstrate your program’s value in terms of youth leadership.”

Dare to think outside the “grant funding” box as you consider ways to sustain your program over time. For more ideas, see the Y4Y webinar It’s Never Too Soon to Think About Sustainability, or read the summary.