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.
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.
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!