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September 18, 2020

This timeless adage honors how crucial diversity is to group success. Even “diversity” is diverse! Differences may include culture, heritage, racial and ethnic background, socioeconomic status, geography, beliefs, personal preferences, and life experiences. Including diverse students (and staff) can strengthen individuals as well as your 21st CCLC program in general. In education, “inclusion” has a special meaning: It’s a term schools and 21st CCLC programs use to describe how they ensure that students with disabilities can meaningfully participate in activities.

Research heavily points to the benefits of inclusion, both for students with disabilities and for students who don’t have disabilities. Your program has many goals, and each of these documented benefits of inclusion are among them. Proper implementation of inclusion will

  • Build a sense of community.
  • Demonstrate to everyone that acceptance of differences is at the heart of your program culture.
  • Improve everyone’s academic outcomes.
  • Develop all students’ social and emotional wellness.
  • Be a celebration of individual strengths, not a focus on deficits.

Finally, inclusion in your 21st CCLC is the right thing to do, both ethically and legally. There are free tools you can use right now to help with inclusion in your program. Y4Y has a series of 10 short, topical implementation guides that are perfect as discussion starters or as handouts to bring new staff up to speed on key steps to a more inclusive program.

Bear in mind that students with disabilities are among those least served during long stretches of virtual learning. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the IRIS Center provides timely tips on helping students with disabilities in a virtual environment. You can also access a webinar, offered over the summer by the Office of Special Education Programs, that covers many more resources to help educators support these students during pandemic-related closures. These resources bring messaging back to the value of focusing on individual strengths. Celebrating what each student can contribute to your program will help everyone recognize it truly does take ALL kinds to make the world go ’round.

 



September 18, 2020

Students are more likely to become engaged and stick around for more when you build variety into your program. In traditional settings, students, especially teens, vote with their feet. When programming is online, disengaging can be as easy as clicking the “leave meeting” button. Why not take the guesswork out of knowing what will capture students’ attention and imagination? You can adapt Y4Y’s Student Survey for use with returning students to get their take on what’s working. Use the Elementary Student Interest Survey/Inventory or Secondary Student Interest Survey/Inventory to get a strong sense of what interests them.

As you’re customizing these surveys to make the most of program activities, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Offer many options. Think about those conversations at home around what’s for dinner. Vetoing is easy! But coming up with ideas isn’t always so easy. If you haven’t had hamburgers in a while, you might have forgotten how much you love them, or that they exist. When you offer your students a wide variety of interest areas, you’ll have greater success at homing in on something that really tickles their fancy, as grandma used to say.
  • Everyone is so over screen time. There’s a strong possibility that even your most avid gamers have had enough of screen time and are looking for other ways to engage in your program. Get creative with several flavors of project-based learning activities (use the Y4Y Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning in STEM or the Service-Learning Toolbox). As an alternative to search engines, use your survey to gauge how students might feel about doing real-world research (like calling partners in your community on the phone to brainstorm how they might combat poverty or improve a nearby green space) and collaborating outdoors with peers. (Don’t have tables outside? Partner with a nearby hotel looking to replace/donate their outdoor event tables, or use simple oilcloth upside down to sit on the grass.)
  • Sneak in literacy. You can offer a host of interest areas on your survey that embed literacy opportunities in ways that aren’t obvious (or painful) for your students. A treasure hunt for words can be done at home or in your program space. How might students design and theme their own word hunt? Your survey can package it as a “design-your-own-science-word treasure hunt” or “design-your-own-pet-word treasure hunt.” You can also sneak literacy into activity suggestions like board games, create-your-own cartoon, or create-a-new-language options on your customized survey.
  • Give plenty of physical options. There’s not a team sport on the planet that’s going to capture every student’s attention, but keeping active is important for your students’ health and wellness. Be sure your survey options range from shooting hoops to dancing to push-up contests and everything in between.
  • Be a social media stalker. If you’re still not confident you can develop a comprehensive list of what kids might be interested in, remember that even very young students have become involved on social media, for better or worse. Following hot musicians, sports figures and vloggers online can help you tune into popular culture and create a customized inventory that piques student interest.
  • Reach out to families. Don’t forget the benefit of talking to families in your efforts to sniff out those student interests. Use the customizable Y4Y Family Survey to help you discover what you’ve done well and areas you can grow to meet the needs of your students.

You know that “warm welcome” feeling of coming home to the smell of freshly baked cookies? You can create that much-needed feeling of comfort for your students this year. Start by discovering what matters to them. Then “follow your nose” to connect program offerings to student interests.

 



September 18, 2020

Comfort foods may be satisfying in substance, but sometimes we crave something different or exotic. The same can be said of program practices. How does your 21st CCLC program build on the basics of substance while experimenting with new flavor combinations to bake up the perfect recipe for your afterschool program?

Keep the Cupboard Stocked

Whether you’re a new grantee or you’ve been in this kitchen a while now, it’s important to remember your fundamentals throughout the program year — the elements of running your program that can ensure its longevity. You have reporting responsibilities, and they all come back to doing what you said you’d do in your grant, which was based on the needs in your area. Depending on your state practices, that grant might have been written before the pandemic struck, but you can still track and report your data faithfully. Y4Y’s Tool Starter Set is the butter, flour, eggs and sugar that every 21st CCLC program will need to ensure success. The Project/Program Planner brings you back to your goals in all you do. Keep lines of communication open with your state agency to understand how best to adapt and report on those goals. For this program year, that adapting may be the most important ingredient in your continuous improvement efforts.

Try Out New Flavors

Has your professional development this summer exposed you to new ideas you’d like to try in your program? Do you wonder if the time is really right to test something out? Without a doubt, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of multimodal learning, especially if you were limited to a single way of supporting your students’ learning throughout the exclusively virtual portions of your programming over the past six months. Hopefully you’ve now navigated how to support some in-person programming and can give thought to things like activities that include visual, audio and hands-on (tactile) opportunities, whether those activities are focused on STEM, literacy, health and wellness, or some other topic.

Don’t forget to fold in some new strategies for ensuring a positive learning environment. The program environment itself differs from in the past, so of course basic safety and interpersonal interactions have a new flavor. You can adapt the Y4Y Setting Up a Positive Learning Environment Training to Go to review the importance of this element of 21st CCLC programming, then brainstorm together on how you can foster the warm fuzzies that are needed more now than ever. If your program is virtual, how can you individualize your welcomes like you once did as students walked through the door? What can you carry over from the old days to keep things as consistent as possible?

Be a Test Kitchen

During Y4Y’s summer webinar series on Strategic Partnerships, in Session 3 on Implementing Partnerships, guest speaker Ms. Marcy Richardson, Manager/Director of the Anchorage School District 21st CCLC Program, shared her practice of partnering with the school district to explore innovative ideas and projects within their 10 program sites. Her background in business management and marketing prompted Ms. Richardson to use this unique approach to forming a strong, two-way collaboration. Her 900 highly diverse elementary students benefit from fresh ideas and resources that different district departments are considering for broad implementation, while the district gets a measurable “beta” test population before expanding to its 30,000 elementary student population. Examples of this kind of exploration range from new cafeteria menu items to robotics. It pays to bring those partners along on new flavor adventures!

Whatever your mix of staple ingredients and new mix-ins, being true to your audience of “taste testers” (primarily, your students) is vital to the success of your recipe for this program year. The best recipes nourish students’ bodies, minds and spirits. They satisfy students’ hunger for knowledge and connection, comfort them with routines that are familiar and safe, and introduce new “taste experiences” that challenge and delight.

Hats off to all of you 21st CCLC chefs who are working so hard to keep students engaged and well nourished, in every sense of the word!

P.S. Y4Y would love to collect and share your best recipes for 21st CCLC success. Sign into your Y4Y account and post your ideas, big and small, on the Y4Y “Recipes” discussion board.

 



September 8, 2020

Each year, a new variety of products shows up in stores, restaurants and TV commercials as marketers aim to capitalize on the pumpkin spice fad. But is enough enough already? Education has seen its own share of fads. New ideas present exciting possibilities, but there’s nothing wrong with “old ideas” that are working well. How can your 21st CCLC program keep pace with the latest school-day wisdom and separate true innovations from passing fads?

Just as pumpkin pie isn’t going away anytime soon but pumpkin spice shoe polish may be short-lived, consider these tips for recognizing which of your tried and true program elements are keepers, and which you can, and maybe should, bid farewell:

  • What’s the evidence base for the new idea, especially when it’s used in programs with student demographics like yours?
  • Reflect on all aspects of your student population. Does the fad/trend “fit” your students?
  • What are your resources and partners, and does the fad/trend make good use of these? Or, does it spread any of these too thin?
  • Is the new idea consistent with your mission, climate and culture?
  • Are you involving student and family voices in adopting new ideas? You can customize Y4Y tools to do so.
  • Make a good, old-fashioned pros and cons list!

Here are a few examples of current trends or fads in education with some points to consider.

Phasing Out Direct Instruction?

Sometimes it seems there’s a tug-of-war between advocates for the “guide on the side” approach and the “sage on the stage” instructional approach. To supplement and enrich the education efforts of the school day, your program might lean toward hands-on, self-guided learning experiences and the “guide on the side” approach.

Is there an argument to be made for keeping direct instruction in your program? Consider these benefits of direct instruction:

  • Sometimes direct instruction is the most efficient choice. Time is at a premium in your program. On less in-depth subjects, a few minutes of direct instruction, with opportunities for questions and discussion, can be the way to go.
  • Let the sage be a sage. You might have opportunities to bring in guest speakers like STEM professionals or business advisors with a wealth of content knowledge but no teaching experience. You wouldn’t want to miss opportunities to tap into their wisdom by overburdening them with instructional duties. But you can structure the experience to make it beneficial to the students and the sage. Y4Y’s College and Career Readiness course offers a tool for developing guiding questions for partnerships, which may be of use in this arena.
  • Different instructional strategies offer different opportunities. Small-group discussions and collaborative work, for example, call on students to use different skills than direct instruction. Using a variety of strategies can help you to learn more about students’ skill gaps and areas of strength.
  • Direct instruction gives students practice in exercising patience and attention. Self-management is one of five skill domains in social and emotional learning that’s addressed in the Y4Y course on the subject. The recent switch to virtual learning environments has been an eye-opener for most educators on the advantages of having students accustomed to focusing their attention on the leader, even if lessons have an interactive format.
  • Some students benefit from the clarity and structure that direct instruction provides. While the argument is made by some that direct instruction doesn’t accommodate different learning styles, eliminating it entirely could be a disservice to those students who benefit from its clarity and structure.

What arguments can be made for minimizing direct instruction in out-of-school time?

  • Other instructional strategies like project-based learning put 21st century skills in action. These are skills like critical thinking, initiative, self-direction, leadership, productivity, accountability, responsibility, communication and collaboration.
  • Direct instruction is difficult to individualize. It doesn’t accommodate all learning styles.
  • Student voice and choice are more difficult to incorporate into direct instruction. Approaches like project-based learning give students more options.
  • Variety engages students. Often when students arrive at your 21st CCLC program, they’ve spent their day receiving direct instruction. The less you rely on this method, the better your chance of keeping students engaged.

OUTCOME: Reducing (but not eliminating) direct instruction in your 21st CCLC program earns the pumpkin pie award: it’s a trend or “fad” that’s likely to become a tried and true practice. Many Y4Y courses give examples of appropriate use of direct (“explicit”) instruction alongside other approaches. Keep direct instruction as a spice in your drawer and use as needed.

BYOD?

BYOD, or bring your own device, is a trend toward encouraging students to bring their own devices to school and afterschool programs. If you search online, you’ll find long lists of advantages, ranging from cost savings to increasing interactivity to boosting student ownership of learning. But what about equity? In a best-case scenario, there’s some disparity in the socioeconomic levels of your students and the devices they own, IF they can afford devices at all. BYOD can draw attention to these disparities in a way that could make some students uncomfortable or put them at a disadvantage. Also, an array of different devices could lead to frontline staff spending more time as tech support than as activity leaders. A different stance could be adopted if your students are all loaned the same device from their school district, but in 21st CCLC programs, there are some rural districts where going to the expense of supplying devices is of limited use due to lack of internet access.

OUTCOME: BYOD is a fad in education that earns the pumpkin spice shoe polish award: enough is enough! Although we’ve made close friends with technology under current circumstances, requiring students to bring their own device to your program may not be the most equitable or practical choice.

Maker Lab or Computer Lab?

In many educational settings, the idea of a computer lab where technology is a stand-alone subject is giving way to maker labs (makerspaces) or design labs where students might make use of technology to create things, but the technology itself isn’t the central focus.

Your 21st CCLC program likely doesn’t have its own computer lab, but you probably have access to some technology. There might be excellent reasons to focus on the basics of using a computer in your program, such as

  • Students can’t access technology in their homes to augment their classroom learning or do homework assignments, and they need extra time to learn and practice technology skills.
  • A lack of funding in your district means limited school-day access to technology.
  • The primary concern of your student population is learning English, so computer instruction might need to begin with very basic technology terms and concepts.

Even if these circumstances describe your program, you can be looking to a long-term shift toward your program serving as more of a maker/design space. The arguments for this trend/fad include

  • You’ll build learning opportunities on the premise of real-world problem solving.
  • You’re allowing for design thinking and problem solving by broadening materials and devices to include items like Legos, art supplies, robotics components, a sewing machine or even woodworking equipment like scrap blocks with a hammer and nails.
  • You can customize Y4Y’s Questions for Inquiry-Based Learning tool and incorporate technology as one of many resources — particularly for conducting research — in your real-world problem-solving activities. Just plan to take a beat for those students needing basic instruction in technology.

OUTCOME: Moving from a computer lab to a makerspace or design lab is a trend/fad that earns the pumpkin pie award! This transition is an expansion of your current offerings, and can grow with the budget, partnership, staff and student census fluctuations your program experiences. Nothing is lost; instruction on technology basics is always at your disposal. But moving with the times and adopting a richer, creative, hands-on approach to learning is a winning idea.

 



August 7, 2020

Every day, your students make choices that affect their future. You want them to understand that their choices matter — and enlarge their view of what’s possible. Here’s some valuable information you can use to make sure they consider career options that involve science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM).

Let students know that

New opportunities are opening up. Cultural shifts and initiatives to offer equal opportunities in STEM careers mean greater gender and ethnic diversity than in the past. “Increase diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM” is a goal in America’s Strategy for STEM Education. Outdated ideas like “girls aren’t good at math” and “science isn’t for everyone” have been exposed as myths. Increasingly, STEM fields are attracting more people like Shuri, the fearless young woman who’s the chief science and technology officer of the high-tech nation Wakanda in the movie Black Panther.

STEM is opening up. You might have a student with the potential to create a new tool or product that will benefit humanity. But if no one in his family has gone to college, he doesn’t know any scientists or engineers, and he’s struggling in math class, he might think a STEM career is beyond his reach. Leaders in STEM education, however, say STEM is much more than the sum of its parts. Modern STEM education also incorporates the arts and design as well as skills like problem solving and behaviors like perseverance and cooperation. Students can tap into their strengths and interests to create their entry point. In his book Curious, for example, Ian Leslie says Apple founder Steve Jobs was “a merely competent technician” but it was his broad range of interests (including music), combined with a drive to succeed, that led his company to launch the first successful MP3 player.

Your 21st CCLC program is the perfect place for students to explore STEM because you can

  • Introduce interesting STEM experiences in a low-stress, high-support environment.
  • Tap into student voice and choice and give young people time to play or “tinker” with STEM ideas and materials.
  • Use project-based learning to help students connect STEM topics they’re learning in school with real-life problem-solving opportunities.
  • Engage local organizations and people with STEM connections so that students see that STEM is all around them — and is a possible career pathway for people like them.  

Y4Y is your “go-to” for STEM because it has resources like

These days, STEM is at the forefront as the world looks to research scientists for a vaccine that will end the coronavirus pandemic. Take advantage of this moment to gather students (virtually, if need be) around the idea of STEM as something that’s relevant to their lives — and a career path filled with as much potential as they are.