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May 19, 2020

The ability read, write, speak and listen plays a vital role in helping us communicate and understand a full range of thoughts and emotions. Y4Y’s recent webinar series, “Literacy for Frontline Staff,” covers critical steps in arming your 21st CCLC program with strategies for improving students’ language and literacy skills. The three-part series can be viewed in the Y4Y archive. Guest speaker Meredith Fraysure shares her experience as an elementary teacher, literacy-based STEM curriculum developer and 21st CCLC program evaluator. Short on time? You’re in luck! Here’s a summary that hits the highlights.

Prepare for Liftoff

The afterschool environment has benefits and challenges in presenting literacy learning opportunities. Students may be mentally exhausted at the end of a school day, especially if they’re English learners, yet it’s the perfect environment for low-pressure, fun and engaging activities. Meeting students where they are and using a tailored, small-group setting is best.

Keep in mind that low-income students may have few books at home, and they may be exposed to a more limited spoken vocabulary than peers from more affluent families. Those who struggle with the basics of reading are less able to access academic content, and poor reading skills can also impact areas of living such as understanding basic health-related information. In fact, Ms. Fraysure says the greatest challenge for young readers is taking that step from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” These concerns drive initiatives to improve student literacy. Building their skills and confidence inspires students to explore areas of interest and even passion, producing competent and knowledgeable citizens. Fostering a positive relationship with books that interest students is a good place to start.

Reading, of course is only one element of literacy education. Here’s a description of all four elements:

Reading is the process of simultaneously extracting and interacting with written text, and involves phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.

Speaking is the communication of thoughts and ideas.

Writing addresses how we structure language.

Listening refers to how we actively filter information and respond appropriately. Owing to the brain’s ability to effectively create white noise, this can be a greater challenge for some brains than others.

Always Start With Data

Data are at the heart of all you do in 21st CCLC programming. You’ll look for quantitative data about literacy through statewide assessments and school-day assessments, including benchmarks, unit tests, reading assessments and progress monitoring tools. Without a doubt, your most successful activity designs will be well coordinated with the school day, especially around qualitative data about each student. Invite your students’ school-day teachers to share a list of student literacy needs and a “wish list” of supports your program might provide. To help you collect important needs assessment data, Y4Y offers tools such as a Literacy Focus Group tool, Comprehension Checklists and a Reader Questionnaire for Students.

To better understand the elements of literacy and reflect on what to assess, try these tools from the new Y4Y Literacy course: Developmental Stages of Reading, Literacy “I Can” Progression Ladders, Literacy Anchor Standards and Phonemic Awareness Continuum. You don’t need a background in literacy to use these tools or to help students improve their skills.

Let’s Get SMART

With your data at the ready, your 21st CCLC program will develop literacy SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable achievable, relevant and time bound. You’ll develop  goals that apply to the program on the whole, and a separate set of goals for the literacy activities that you’ll design. Use Y4Y’s Activity and Program SMART Goals tool to ensure that your goals are addressing the literacy needs of your students on the whole and day-to-day.

Keep these tips in mind as you design literacy activities based on your SMART goals:

  • Building “reading stamina” is an important goal for early readers. Be honest with students about why it’s important, especially as they switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that just 20 minutes of independent reading each day, of a student’s chosen material, makes a tremendous impact on academic achievement.
  • Your middle schoolers may already find themselves behind in reading, which means being behind in other subjects at school as well. Don’t ignore the social and emotional component of building reading skills. Now more than ever, it’s critical that students have a voice in what they’re reading. Fostering a love of books is one of the best things you can do for young people at this age!
  • Reading aloud to students at all grade levels has importance when it comes to literacy. Listening, after all, is one of the four building blocks of literacy, and hearing books means a different mode of appreciating the way language is structured.

Let Your Activities Soar

Your next step is to design and facilitate literacy activities aligned to student needs. Use strategies to increase the time students spend reading and writing after the school day.

The Third Dimension

When intentionally designing literacy activities in an afterschool setting, consider three dimensions:

Logistics: Think about what your students’ needs and goals are. Then consider how to use available resources, time and space to address those needs and goals.  

Literacy elements: Decide which element of literacy – speaking, reading, writing or speaking – you’ll focus on during each activity. Most activities will involve one or more of these elements, and that’s a good thing!

Explicit or embedded instruction: Now we’re really cooking! Is your activity an academic intervention (meant to help students catch up) or an academic enrichment (where you have the luxury of helping your student get ahead)? Generally, intervention activities include explicit instruction, whereas enrichment activities tend to use embedded instruction. Let’s dive a little deeper into intervention vs. enrichment activities.

Intervention Activities

Let’s say your program has discovered that you need to help students meet individual academic goals. Your activities are going to be explicit, or in other words, designed specifically to target needs and teach the elements of literacy. For example, if you have students who struggle with decoding words and reading fluently, an intervention might be to set up four literacy centers that focus on high-need reading skills. These centers might include an online learning program, a small-group literacy game, an independent practice activity and a small-group instruction center. Students could rotate through these centers in very small groups, doing activities at each center that are designed explicitly to build a single literacy skill.

The keys to intervention activities? Explicit design and small groups.

Enrichment Activities

When your 21st CCLC program is poised to enrich the academic achievement of students, you are more likely looking for activities with embedded literacy learning. This can often be done by adding one or more literacy elements to an activity you’re already doing.

Some examples of enrichment activities might be asking students to interview each other during snack time or allowing students to follow through on their voiced preference to start a newsletter that involves research, writing, and using an online platform to tell about your program.

It’s much easier to embed literacy components into large-group activities than it is to modify small-group activities. If your program is more geared toward enrichment, you likely focus your attention on large-group activities already. If your program logistics don’t always align perfectly with students’ literacy needs, don’t lose sight of the fact that even small gains matter in the lives of the students who need them the most. Check out Y4Y’s Embedding Literacy in Enrichment Activities Training To Go for ideas and guidance on training staff.

Do I Have to Read the WHOLE Book?

Ms. Fraysure shared some of her favorite large-group, embedded learning activities around single chapters of favorite children’s books. This best practice entices students to finish books on their own after they’ve had a taste of a story — especially when they’ve become invested through the chance to do something fun. One example is to have students read Chapter 19 of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Ms. Fraysure asks students to visualize the elaborate machinery described when the characters first enter the candy-making room, then build their own “Rube Goldberg” machine. We’ve all seen a Rube Goldberg machine: they’re those multi-step contraptions that use a complicated process to perform a simple function. Using only items found in the room, students can employ concepts of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as they work collaboratively and dive into all four elements of literacy with this fun activity.

On a smaller scale, younger students might look at Dr. Seuss’s “Sneetches” and present their ideas on how the machine might be applying stars to the bellies of these memorable characters. To illustrate how creatively children can think, Ms. Fraysure shared that one of her students proposed that the machine, in fact, is uncovering existing stars!

BDA

The before-during-after (BDA) framework is a great tool to keep in mind as you intentionally design reading activities. Check out Y4Y’s BDA Lesson Planner for practical steps to meet the objectives of making predictions, learning new vocabulary, demonstrating comprehension, participating in discussion, responding to text in a meaningful way, and developing work skills through collaboration and listening to others.

More Ideas for Literacy Activities

  • Check out Y4Y’s Guided Oral Reading Tool to improve students’ fluency.
  • Stage a readers theater. Speaking is an often-overlooked literacy skill, especially in younger students.
  • Use fun repeated reading exercises such as trying out different voices.
  • Arrange a writers workshop to hone skills in prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, and publishing and production.
  • Journal! Let students start out with pictures that help them develop the practice of communicating their thoughts and feelings, then work their way up to a broader use of language.
  • Use rich language to describe a painting or a piece of music with no lyrics.
  • Write a reflection on a science experiment.
  • Have students talk about how they used math in their everyday lives the previous day.
  • Do you have a mix of native English speakers and English learners? Build confidence through hands-on activities that help level the playing field, allowing them to pair with each other if they’d like so that they can better communicate in a team project.

You don’t have to totally revamp your 21st CCLC program or become a certified English language arts teacher to be successful at improving students’ literacy skills. You can accomplish a lot if you’re willing to scaffold learning and support the school day. If you’re trying a new strategy, don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be simplified to be sure you’re implementing right.

Nail the Landing

To “nail the landing” in your literacy routines and activities, there are three things you can do: engage families in literacy, implement literacy activities with fidelity, and assess the impact of activities.

An Engagement in the Family!

You’re all too familiar with the barriers families face in engaging with your 21st CCLC program, yet we know how critical program engagement is to getting families’ support at home too. Parents and guardians might have limited access to transportation, multiple jobs, cultural or language barriers, younger children to care for, socioeconomic concerns or even their own scars and lack of confidence around literacy. To overcome such barriers, be consistent but accommodating and flexible in your expectations, and work to build trust with students’ adult family members. Don’t forget that adults like to have fun too!

One great family engagement idea is to host a grocery store scavenger hunt with sponsorship from a local merchant. Families get a clipboard with a list of inexpensive items that the store could donate as charity to your program. Maybe the items are presented in simple riddle form. Throw in some math, asking how much it would cost to buy three pounds. What would your total be at the end? The whole family activity takes less than an hour, but families come away with a better understanding of your role in their child’s life, quality time spent with their child, and maybe some free food. Some programs have developed partnerships with supermarkets willing to provide program snacks through the year.

How about a Living Wax Museum event? First, students research a public figure, past or present, and take notes so they can portray that figure in a Living Wax Museum. When the event starts, students “get into character” and take positions around the room. Families move from student to student, asking questions about the character each student portrays. It’s an opportunity for students to read, write, speak AND listen!

Themes are always winners. Camping, a picnic theme, or a cultural fair that celebrates the different backgrounds represented in your program all offer opportunities to have some fun and engage families.

Ms. Fraysure offered clever solutions to common barriers to successful family engagement. Are parents heading into second-shift jobs at pickup time? Try a before-school breakfast (with support from your grocery store partner). Another idea is to engage parents on their “home turf” by starting a lending library. Each week, a student takes home a different bag with a book and journal inside. Families are asked to read it together and jot down what their family discussed about the book. Or you could offer a “How It Works” seminar for families, perhaps given by a community college partner, to explain the literacy tools your program uses and how they can impact students’ lives.

Measure Your Success

The success of your family engagement efforts needs to be measured just like your in-program efforts. Walk around at events and get a sense of family response, directly and indirectly, by asking and observing. Do you see an increase in engagement at pickup after an event? Watch for signs, big and small, that you’ve earned families’ trust. Don’t forget: Y4Y offers customizable tools that can help, like the Family Engagement Follow-Up and Supervision Checklist and Family Satisfaction Survey.

Speaking of Measuring…

How will you know if you’re you implementing your literacy programming with fidelity? Keep those program and activity SMART goals close at hand throughout implementation. Be sure to “read the room” along the way, communicating consistently with your site coordinator or program director, especially when you’re trying something new. For the program to succeed, YOU need to believe in it too, which you will if you have a voice.

Fidelity has four measures:

  • Adherence – Did you follow the steps of the activity design plan?
  • Dosage – Did you spend as much time on the activity as was intended?
  • Engagement – Did the students fully participate and show interest?
  • Delivery – Did you engage students enthusiastically and guide them appropriately?

When you know going into an activity that these are the ways success is measured, you have a higher chance of implementing that activity with fidelity. Here are three additional strategies that will ensure that you successfully meet your program and activity SMART goals: (1) Create a decision-making process to guide your implementation. (2) Establish evaluation routines so that you’re making real-time observations and adjustments as needed. (3) Create guidelines for families’ progress — because 21st CCLC programming is a true success only when families play a big role in your outcomes.

Y4Y’s Implementing With Fidelity Guide is the perfect resource for addressing the right questions as you implement literacy activities in your program. Also check out the Continuous Improvement Planner to stay true to your SMART goals. Finally, be sure to check out the Discussion Board created for Y4Y’s three-part virtual series on literacy, where many more links and resources are housed.



May 19, 2020

If you work in a 21st CCLC program, you give of yourself daily for the noble purpose of helping young people reach their full potential. With widespread school closures this spring due to COVID-19, you kept giving — calling and texting students to check in, creating activity kits for delivery with school lunches, hosting Family Fun Hours and virtual story times online — while trying new ideas and technologies to keep students engaged. Decades from now, many will have good memories of a difficult time because of your efforts.

But there’s one thing you might not be doing well: Taking care of yourself. Y4Y shared a few tips for self-care during an April 1 webinar on supporting staff and families during school closure when you’re working from home:

  • Stay active (mind and body).
  • Get dressed each day.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Connect with others.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • Be realistic.

At first glance, these ideas might seem pretty basic. They are! In fact, they’re the “infrastructure” of self-care. But just because something is basic doesn’t mean it happens on its own. The basics deserve your attention, and you deserve the basics.

If the idea of taking a day or an hour for yourself seems foreign, here’s something to keep in mind: Just because it’s called “self-care” doesn’t make it “selfish.” In fact, the opposite is true. If you allow yourself to become depleted, you won’t be able to support others.

Give yourself the gift of time. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Tip: Check the Y4Y Discussion Board for the April 1 webinar and click on “How to Practice Self-Care” for a graphic that will remind you to let go of the things you can’t control, like predicting what will happen or the amount of toilet paper at the store.



April 20, 2020

On March 12, Y4Y hosted a Showcase webinar to spark ideas around the ways 21st CCLC programs can advocate for student wellness. This idea has all-new meaning in light of the pandemic currently gripping the nation. The webinar synopsis below will get you thinking about wellness when your program reopens. It also includes resources you can share with families to support exercise and wellness right now, even though you’re not meeting in person.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Y4Y Technical Assistance team was joined by the following specialists in this field:

Daniel Hatcher, Director of Community Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Carri Russell, Social and Emotional Wellness, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley

Jordana Lorenzo, LMSW, Program Manager for Healthy Schools and Community Programs, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Heather Erwin, Ph.D., Department Chair and Professor, University of Kentucky, Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion

Showcase Goals

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Y4Y recognizes that promoting well-being and success in life demands a “whole child” approach. An important way afterschool programs can help students meet academic standards is by increasing engagement in physical health. Studies demonstrate that maximizing physical activity, not just in designated gym or recess times, but also throughout classroom time, improves academic performance. What can your 21st CCLC programs do?

  • Promote exercise and healthy food choices in ways that are fun and engaging.

  • Build quality health and recreation activities specific to your students’ needs.

  • Integrate movement into your current program without sacrificing academic goals.

To facilitate these goals, the webinar

  • Identifies resources for national standards on healthy eating and physical activity.

  • Shares best practices for effective activity facilitation.

  • Discusses how to promote healthy behaviors through your program schedule.

Let’s Dive In

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation offers a health index and an assessment tool specifically designed for afterschool programs. This is the place to start thinking about what your students need, which might be very different from a program in another region. Here’s a great opportunity for student choice! Y4Y’s Elementary and Secondary Student Interest Surveys can be customized with a range of activities that will keep your students moving. Don’t assume all boys love basketball and all girls love to dance. Connect with the school-day gym and classroom teachers and counselors to play off what they already know works and doesn’t work to get your students moving.

In It Together

The Alliance and many successful programs they serve take the approach of the “whole school, whole community, whole child” model, which ensures there’s an entire team behind your efforts. Ms. Lorenzo described a healthy afterschool initiative in South Florida made possible through a partnership between the City of Miami Gardens, a community organization called Concerned African Women, and afterschool programs. Currently 30 sites are participating, and there are plans to expand. The site faces the usual program challenges like staff turnover. But sustainability, wellness and solid training are built into the organization to handle these challenges seamlessly. With the goal of teaching kids to grow up healthy, sites each receive a budget of $3,000 for what they need most, whether that’s more nutritious food or space to move, for example.

Lucky for your 21st CCLC program, you don’t have to do a lot of guessing at what kind of goals are realistic around wellness. In 2011, the YMCA of the U.S.A., the National Institute of Healthy Out-of-School Time and the University of Massachusetts at Boston partnered to develop the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards. The four content areas of these standards are quality, staff training, program support and environmental support. Guidance is offered on how to measure and improve your efforts.

Healthy living is a goal for the long haul, and staff can model that by not being daunted by setbacks or slow progress. Teach students that incremental goals are meaningful and that positive changes, however small, are a victory. Practitioners have been delighted to discover the huge impact that initiatives around lifelong wellness have had, not just on students, but also on staff and parents. Adults show they’re taking seriously the responsibility to support students’ learning and suggestions by making their own better choices.

An effective community framework is set up and maintained through a steady stream of positive messages at home. Keep that multigenerational goal in the forefront of your mind and your planning. You know your families best: What kind of simple recipes or activity ideas can you send home to reinforce your program goals? Establishing this consistent information stream will be all the more valuable during school closures. Don’t forget that social media platforms can be a great place to get families engaged and keep them engaged. You can centralize your communications and celebrate individual and group achievement. It’s also a good opportunity for your partners to watch your program shine! Those relationships may need leveraging from time to time, so a running advertisement of your success is a helpful tool.

In fact, partnerships are key when it comes to wellness initiatives. Mr. Hatcher mentioned a STEAM program in DC that’s hosted by a children’s hospital and implemented by local libraries. A program in Ohio partnered with a hunger alliance. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation developed a set of healthy out-of-school roadmaps aligned with national physical fitness standards, one of which focuses on building program and social supports in the community. Make local experts your friends, such as professionals at the health department. They probably need your program as much as you need them, and can get you in touch with even more great professional resources in your area. Y4Y’s Strategic Partnerships course offers even more ideas on identifying community partners and recruiting them into your program.

Experts Agree

Dr. Erwin researches and teaches the practice of maximizing physical activity in our youth. She advocates for all student programs, including school-day academics, to carve out time for students to play games or engage in some form of physical activity. The benefits are undeniable. A well-known study encouraging at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, with aerobic exercise three of those times each week, demonstrated participants had a reduction in diabetes and cancer, strengthened muscle and bone, and better overall mental health.

Studies have shown that intermittent physical activity also improves information retention and attention. Students who are coming to school healthier are in a better frame of mind to learn. A new initiative shows that walking while learning content has yielded positive results. And a benefit of free play is the development of social skills. These are all great arguments to keep kids moving.

But how can programs find the time in an already jam-packed day? Talk with school-day teachers about ways to incorporate physical activity into what they’re already doing. They might make content homework an active assignment. Even if not assigned that way, afterschool programs can have students do their homework actively. For example, they might use a standing desk, sit on a stability ball or take frequent activity breaks. Another possibility is to make interactive lessons require a physical response, like “jump up whenever the teacher mentions the name of a continent.” Students could stretch into geometry shapes with their bodies, or act out different learning about animals. Teachers and staff can be creative with transitions — for example, by taking a longer route or performing a crazy walk.

Physical activity is a must for marketing your program to your community. Not only are families eager for their children to get their wiggles out, but you may be in competition with sports or other programs that keep up with your students’ energy level. Don’t think of incorporating physical activity into your program as a barrier. Simply make it part of the culture. Soon, finding ways to effortlessly keep kids moving will be second nature in all your planning. Dr. Erwin urges professionals to work smarter, not harder.

More Success Stories

As Director of Social and Emotional Wellness at the Boys & Girls Club of Tennessee Valley, Ms. Russell presented her thoughts on what matters most when incorporating healthy practices into your 21st CCLC program environment. She said centers need to emphasize teamwork, persevere, put relationships first and model self-control to be successful. Some crisis management will always go into afterschool programs. Just remember to support kids every day, and the tough days won’t seem so tough.

How can sites support their staff members around building social and emotional skills in students? “Ready Set Action” through the Pear Institute is one example. This Harvard-designed program is offered in one-hour increments to make it easy for staff to help students design a healthy life for themselves. A typical session includes check-ins to gauge students’ highs and lows, maybe using simple physical action to express those highs and lows. Then, students engage in fast games where they incorporate teamwork and problem solving, all of which reinforce focus and self-control. Soccer for Success is another resource that offers great ideas, like Circle Up – an activity that emphasizes team-building opportunities. A cool-down might include shaking up a jar of glitter in water and watching it settle to the bottom — reinforcing the mind-body connection. Resources like these build in mindfulness and arm students with the coping skills they’ll need in school and in life.

The Boys & Girls Club has discovered that being active together and feeling good together nurtures relationships. Students can further build their confidence by taking a leadership role, however small, in their afterschool activities. The broader the approach to physical activities, the more likely programs are to give each student an opportunity to shine. Not everyone will view themselves as athletes, but with the right mix of activities, different and perhaps unexpected leaders can emerge.

Learn more about this program and the resources they use at the Boys & Girls Club website.

Support Your Staff and Students

Be sure staff members are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to run activities effectively. For example, do they know the rules of the sport they are supervising? Institute routines for consistency, such as rules about student help with cleanup. Offer activities that are fun for staff as well as students — enthusiasm is infectious! Consider providing staff with the modifications and adaptions in advance that will allow ALL students in your program to be successful. Try something new, even if it means modifying for one or all students, like having everyone do seated yoga or volleyball to accommodate a student with a disability. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is an invaluable resource if your program is looking for ways to be more inclusive. When offering student choice, bear in mind that a list of activities to choose from as opposed to open-ended suggestions means you can be thinking about possible modifications and have them at the ready. It also allows for variation in the physical fitness of your students. Around that central concern of childhood obesity and fitness, a real consideration may be students who are uncomfortable participating in physical activities. Remember to start small. Focus on wellness, not weight. Getting up and getting moving is task number one.

Staff retention is greatest when you set staff members up for success, and ensure positivity and enjoyment. Work with them to define healthy choices for themselves, and empower them to convey that message to students. Everyone’s load can be lightened when students are asked and expected to interact in a substantive way. Never assume students are too young to have responsibility or to be leaders. Rather, responsibility makes tasks more meaningful to them. The positive climate you’re building will carry over to family engagement.

Encourage and support self-care among your staff. You might ask them to take turns bringing ideas about self-care to the group, or hold staff meetings outdoors or have a walking meeting if weather and circumstances allow.

The Audience Speaks

Participants in the webinar were asked, “How are you incorporating healthy eating into your programming?” Popular ideas included planting gardens (which inspires students to participate in the process of growth and fosters an attraction to healthy, fresh food); partnering with local grocery stores, farm-to-table restaurants, or farms; food festivals with donated produce for students and families to sample; and cooking demonstrations and activities.

When asked “How has your program modified activities to increase student participation?,” webinar participants’ clever responses included having older students design an activity and then teach it to younger ones; offering different expertise levels for activities and letting students select the level at which they feel most comfortable participating. Hands down, the most common response was simply “Provide student voice and choice!” Check out Y4Y’s customizable Student Interest Survey to make sure student voice is heard loud and clear. 



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.