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March 21, 2019

People who are nervous about medical appointments can have higher blood pressure readings at their doctor’s office than at home. It’s so common that there’s a name for it: white coat syndrome. Likewise, some students feel stress at school whenever they take a test, and it can affect their test results. If you Google “test anxiety,” you’ll find it’s a common experience.

That means even if students have studied hard and know the material, their anxiety might keep them from doing their best when test time rolls around. The good news is, there are things you can do to help students manage their anxiety.

A recent study reported in ScienceNews showed that using simple stress-reduction strategies can improve student performance, especially for low-income students. In the study, the failure rate among 1,175 low-income students taking biology at a large public high school was cut in half after teachers prompted students to use one of three strategies before each biology exam:

  • Take a few minutes before the exam to write about your fears.
  • Read an explanation of how stress responses like sweaty palms or a quickened pulse are nature’s way of helping you focus.
  • Do a combination of the first two strategies.

All three strategies worked equally well, and each worked better than simply ignoring the anxiety. (In the study, that’s what the control group did, and their test results didn’t improve.) Researchers noted that higher-income students didn’t seem to benefit from the stress-reduction strategies, possibly because they were already using strategies to regulate their emotions.

As spring testing approaches, it’s a good time to talk with your students’ teachers about the testing schedule and possible ways to reduce test anxiety. Learning to regulate emotions is a skill students can use at school and in other settings. After all, life is full of tests!

Find additional ideas for reducing stress to improve student learning and performance in Raise Joy, Lower Stress, a post by Y4Y guest blogger Phillip A. Collazo. 

 



March 21, 2019

Designing activities that engage families and address their needs can improve your program’s performance. As you plan activities, be sure to look at your family needs assessment. If you haven’t checked needs recently, the Y4Y Family Engagement Survey can get you started. Find it and many other resources in the updated Family Engagement course.

Here are five activity types that can add horsepower to your program’s family engagement engine:

Skill-based activities: These activities help adult family members gain new knowledge and skills, serve as good role models, and support and nurture their children. Topics can include GED preparation, English as a second language, nutrition and healthy living, and understanding the school system. For some topics, you might want to partner with the school, the district or local agencies.

Enrichment activities: Engaging in enjoyable activities can help family members strengthen connections to program and school staff, build friendships with community members, and explore and expand their interests. Topics might include arts, crafts, exercise (such as Zumba or yoga) and attending cultural and sporting events.

Family and student shared activities: These activities pull family members into student learning while introducing ways they can support their children. Topics can include activities with a high fun factor, such as educational games, and future-focused activities like college and career planning.

Leadership activities: Family members can become “learning mechanics” for your program when you engage them in roles that involve making decisions, taking leadership or mentoring peers. When family members serve on your program planning team, lead special events or advocate for your program in the community, they take ownership and feel valued.

Resource-linking activities: You provide important support for families when you make them aware of community resources. Consider working with partners to design events that introduce employment services, food banks, literacy support and more. Your program might host a vision or dental health screening, or create a resource table where families can take discount coupons and information when they pick up their children. For more, see this Training to Go on Connecting Families to Resources.

Remember to communicate! The best family engagement events are the ones family members attend. So, make sure everyone knows what’s coming. You can send notices home with students, of course, but also use other ways to communicate. For tips on using social media, see our recent Y4Y post: Social Media: Where to Begin.

 



March 21, 2019

“I’ve yet to see a kid jump for joy when homework is mentioned,” says Zelda Spence, 21st CCLC program director in Plainfield, NJ. “But providing the right help at the right time can make a positive difference.” Here are some tips on becoming a good “homework mechanic” so studying runs smoothly.

Design a comfortable, supportive homework space. Spence says, “Our student-designed homework help space provides Chromebooks, bean bags, study center tables, carpet centers, manipulatives and supplies so that students feel comfortable, supported and engaged. They enjoy the stress-free environment, and most work in study groups, talk out loud, and solve problems together while eating a snack or meal.” Christen Peterson, Indiana’s 21st CCLC grant specialist, suggests, “You can create stations for specific subjects, like a math station with calculators and graph paper, or an English station with a dictionary and thesaurus. Make sure there’s a quiet work space available, especially for students who have sensory issues. We have one program that uses a pop-up tent and noise-canceling headphones.”

Consider grouping students during homework time. Possible groupings include assignment type, subject or grade level. Or you might use a “buddy system” so that students can use their strengths to help their peers.

Check students’ understanding of their homework assignments. If students misinterpret an assignment, or don’t understand what they’re supposed to do, they can waste time and effort — and become discouraged.

Check with individual students every few minutes. Some may need help staying on track. Others may want and need help but feel self-conscious about drawing attention to themselves. Consistent check-ins with all students make everyone feel more comfortable about seeking help. Peterson suggests designating staff as experts for certain topics if you don’t have certified teachers to help. “For example, if you have a college student who’s a biology major working or volunteering in your program, he or she could be the official science tutor during homework time.”

Teach and reinforce good study habits and organization skills. Teach students how to use outlining, note taking, memory tricks, and peer discussion to help them learn and remember new content. Teach them how to keep track of their progress on assignments. Raquel Gwynn, 21st CCLC education specialist in Oregon, says, “Having students track what’s due when, and prompting them to look at their homework binder, gets them thinking about planning ahead. As they master basic organizational skills, you can scaffold toward higher-level skills.”

Communicate with students’ school-day teachers. Spence says, “In Plainfield, we use a homework log, which we call a homework sharing tool. It’s updated weekly and placed in grade-level binders in the main office so school-day teachers can follow up on students’ afterschool homework patterns. This practice has enhanced communications between the 21st CCLC afterschool program and the school day.”

Looking for more homework tune-up tips? See the Homework section of the Afterschool Training Toolkit.

 



February 14, 2019

You might have heard that Earth’s magnetic north (where compass needles point) is shifting at a faster rate than usual. Unlike “true north,” which doesn’t change, magnetic north is affected by changing currents in Earth’s magnetic fields.

Similarly, your students’ academic needs can shift over time as new topics and circumstances arise. Maybe Jayden and Lisa were doing fine in math until fractions came along. Sarah, who won the poetry slam, might struggle to develop cohesive paragraphs in English. Noah may have fallen behind in several classes after weeks in the hospital due to a serious accident.

Even if your program is on a good path, pausing now and then for a compass check can keep things headed in a good direction. Have you noticed students struggling with certain concepts or behaviors during program activities? Have you asked the school-day staff lately about specific academic skills or content where your students could use extra support or enrichment?

It’s possible that tweaks to your planned activities could address your students’ shifting needs. Or you might decide a new or different kind of activity could target an area where multiple students need help. The Y4Y Activity Planner can help you organize your thoughts and work through the activity design process. See the Y4Y Continuous Education course for other tools and ideas for connecting program activities to school-day learning.

Remember, even if needs and circumstances shift, the “true north” of student growth and success doesn’t change. Checking your compass and adjusting course as needed keeps your students and your program on track.

 



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.