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
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.
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.