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21st Century Community Learning Centers

Inventive Program Ideas From Santa Fe 21st CCLC Practitioners

Santa Fe Public Schools operates 15 busy 21st Nita M. Lowey Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program sites. Y4Y recently spoke with their new program director, William “Bill” Rodriguez, who’s also a fifth-grade teacher at Francis X. Nava Elementary. He was joined by two site coordinators — Jeri Lyn Salazar from Nina Otero Community School (grades K-8) and Bryan Cruz from Ramirez Thomas Elementary. Each shared some tremendous successes throughout their program. [Podcast]

Y4Y: Mr. Rodriguez, can you tell us about the size and scope of the Santa Fe Public Schools 21st CCLC program?

WR: Thank you for having us on the podcast. Santa Fe Public Schools has a population of 12,125 students. The 21st CCLC in Santa Fe Public Schools serves approximately 1,000 students, spread out between 15 sites. These sites range from elementary, junior high, and middle schools. Districtwide, we have an English learner population of 31.5%. We have partnerships with local organizations such as Adelante, a housing program for homeless families, which prioritizes school sites closest to the housing, in this case, Nava Elementary. The students in the Adelante program are also prioritized in the 21st CCLC programs.

Y4Y: It’s wonderful to know that Santa Fe has such active 21st CCLC sites. Programwide, what successes have you achieved historically?

WR: As a former site coordinator at Nava, I’d say we really focused on providing opportunities that our students would otherwise not be exposed to in their daily lives. For our site, we focused on coding robotics. All students K-6 first learned to code on paper. Then they moved to Blockly language in which they coded Ozobot, Micro:bit, Sphero, Ollies, and Lego® EV3 robots. We had a robotics team that competed in RoboRAVE competitions. Eight of our 15 sites had access to some type of robotics coding platform. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and remote learning began. Students lost their coding skills because they did not have the hands-on ability to use the robots from home. This is true for many of our teachers as well. So, this year we are reteaching and rebuilding those skills. We hope to rejuvenate and expand our coding and robotics curriculum as we exit pandemic protocols.

Y4Y: I know that’s something you’ll revisit just as soon as your district can help you sort out the technology, based on so many other resourceful ways you’ve offered enrichment to your students. Let’s bring in Ms. Salazar to talk about her unique site. Jeri Lyn, talk to our listeners about bicycles!

JS: Nina Otero’s 21st Century program has an enrollment of 133 students in grades kindergarten through 8. Our students arrive directly after school and receive a healthy meal from Food Depot, our community partner. After their meal, they enjoy outdoor recreation time with friends on our playground and sports fields. We offer homework help and different enrichment activities, including science, technology, art, engineering, and biking!

Y4Y: What inspired the idea for adding bicycles to your program?

JS: I’m very passionate about biking and sharing that skill and lifelong sport with students. I distinctly remember teaching my siblings and cousins to mountain bike when I was a little girl. I have taught downhill mountain biking in Angel Fire, New Mexico, on lift-served terrain for the past 10 years. I love the idea of students learning to ride safely on bike trails and in designated bike lanes, learning to share space with other commuters, including those in cars, public transportation, and other types of vehicles. I began introducing “bike-to-school days” at EJ Martinez, and continued these events when I began teaching gifted education at Nina Otero. This year I will participate in my 11th Bike to School event. Currently, we are riding weekly in an event we call Bike Train Tuesdays, where staff and students meet at Swan Park and ride to Nina Otero.

Y4Y: And what are the logistics of supporting this program?

JS: Our original grant came from 21st Century Schools and our former Program Director, Mary Massey. A friend in the community, Stephen Newhall at our local bike shop, rob and charlie’s, supported our program by offering us a huge discount on our bikes. We added more bikes with grants from Core Crew and Santa Fe Fat Tire Society. This past year, we added 30 Stryders to our fleet, donated by Free Bikes 4 Kidz. We have two large storage areas at our school where our bikes are stored. We work with community partners such as rob and charlie’s bike shop, Safe Routes to school, Core Crew, and others to provide bikes, helmets, bike-to-school chaperones, and bike repair clinics.

By taking a safety approach to the biking part of the program, students are learning safe routes to school, the importance of riding on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic, and what traffic laws apply to them (and the importance of obeying those laws). We emphasize wearing a helmet and taking other safety precautions such as wearing bright colors and even reflective clothing, riding in a predictable pattern (meaning they should hold a straight line and not make turns without signaling), and checking your bike before each ride to be sure there is air in the tires, the brakes work properly, the chain is on correctly, and the headset is appropriately tight.

Y4Y: Your program must be incredibly popular! In your experience, do students join because of the opportunity to learn to ride a bike? What’s your vision for the future growth of this ingenious element?

JS: We would like to offer biking every day possible, weather permitting. We can also ride indoors with younger students during inclement weather. We hope to continue to maintain our bike fleet so that our bikes are in top working order and safe so that future “Mustangs” (our school mascot) can learn to ride bikes and navigate our bike paths and lanes safely and enjoy a healthy, lifelong sport.

Y4Y: I’m sure the bicycle program took a back seat during the days of fully virtual school and out-of-school time, but elsewhere in your outcome-driven program, other ideas were hatching. Mr. Cruz, why don’t you share a little about how your site made the most of building relationships, even during the shutdown.

BC: The Pet Parade was an incredible experience with the Ramirez Thomas Elementary community. It all started with a site coordinators meeting where we brainstormed about things to do online like virtual field trips, etcetera. The Pet Parade was an idea from there! During regular school hours, ALL students wanted to show their pets or toys through the camera, but we just didn’t have enough time for everyone. So, one day in our afterschool program we did the Pet Parade so students, families, and staff could show their pet or toy to everyone! We had like 60 families in our Pet Parade, all from the 21st Century Program. We also invited staff from RTE and students from regular school hours who weren’t in the program to participate. The parade worked within the time we had. We gave each participant 30 seconds to introduce themselves and their pet and to do something fun, like a trick or something funny.

Y4Y: I’d love for you to share how you thought about equity in designing this special activity.

BC: RTE follows the RTE-3, which means Responsibility, Teamwork, and Empathy, which includes Equity, and this was really important with our community because not all families have a pet at home or maybe they lost their pet. Personally, I don’t have a pet, so I had an idea to take a puppet of a Llama that I won in a crane arcade claw machine. I did my presentation to show the community how they can use their 30 seconds and also to motivate students to use a puppet or something similar to participate in the parade. I used music from Spotify to bring enthusiasm to the parade and to have a really good time for all during the outbreak of COVID-19.

Y4Y: What did you feel were the most valuable takeaways from that huge success?

BC: My goal was for everyone to have a fun time and we (all RTE 21st Century staff) did it! I was so happy to see smiles on the students and everyone laughing. Also, it was a good opportunity for students to see each other from other classrooms. At that time students were used to seeing only students from their classes.

Y4Y: Let’s jump up to your high school students. I understand that none of your sites operate in the high school, yet through 21st CCLC programs in your lower-grade sites, you partnered with the high school student council (or “Thunder Council”) on a community service project. Tell us about that project — especially what you’re most proud of.

WR: Francis X. Nava is named for the first Santa Fean to die in the Vietnam War. Our school honors him and all veterans each year by participating in the Veterans Day parade. Our intermediate grades walk and sing songs. They also carry a banner with his picture on it. We also host a Veterans Day celebration where veterans are welcome to come and eat lunch with the students. Our Thunder Council has an assembly, and the family members of Francis are invited.

The Thunder Council sponsor, Ms. Mayo (student council is run by 21st CCLC at Nava Elementary), partnered with the Student Government at Capital High School, sponsored by Ms. Maden-Bonillas. Because the program was in remote learning last year, they first collaborated virtually, and students painted words of encouragement on rocks that were placed outside around their neighborhoods.

Students then created holiday postcards that were mailed to senior living facilities in Santa Fe. The cards were sent anonymously, but on social media, people were asking who was behind these kind and wonderful cards. They finished the year by creating a Tile Mural Project. Students drew pictures and wrote words about inner strength on individual tiles.

The Inner Strength Tile project was dedicated in a ceremony February 23rd at the school. The Thunder Council students spoke about why they created the mural. The Capital High School Student Government President, Pete Velarde, spoke about how they were motivated by the elementary students and how they loved the collaboration. Christus St. Vincent’s representative, Ms. Armijo Etre, expressed their gratitude on behalf of the hospital.

Y4Y: It does sound like your Nava community is something special, families included. Can you share how your Nava site makes the most of its partnership with your parent organization (the PTSA) to engage families?

WR: The 21st Century grant requires that each program plan four family events per year. One should focus on parent learning and one on family engagement. All of our sites offer amazing events. One event held at Nava was a Chinese New Year, or Lunar celebration. The event was sponsored by our 21st Century leadership as well as the PTSA and school leadership. The event was held outside. There were activities for families to engage in such as Chinese lantern making, constellation viewers, gold coins and red envelopes for luck, constellation and Chinese zodiac stories, telescope viewing, and s’mores. Nava has a population of 180 students. Over 90 participants came out for the event.

Each year there is a planning meeting in which school leadership, PTSA, Community In Schools leadership, and 21st Century leadership plan out family events for the year. The PTSA provides meals or snacks for these events, which are timed to begin as parents pick up their students from the 21st CCLC program. It’s an easy sell to have an engaging event where a meal is provided, making it easier for parents to stay and have fun.

Y4Y: That’s a great partnership indeed! Are there other partnerships in your community that play such an important role?

WR: Community In Schools supports Gold Star Families through rental, utility, grocery, tutoring and counseling assistance. We have had opportunities where the 21st Century students prepare sugar skulls that will be used in the CIS “Day of the Dead” family event. There are days when the CIS coordinator comes to the release time of 21st Century students so that they may support our parents.

Y4Y: Well, the passion and dedication you all bring to your work really comes across. I wonder if you might each share a single thought — whether a philosophy or guiding principle in your practice — that you believe the greater 21st CCLC community could benefit from?

JS: Learning can be rich and fun and part of the big picture where students learn to navigate our world, learning skills outside of the classroom in ways that will support positive life decisions.

BC: I believe that all children can learn, achieve, and perform at the highest levels. I am dedicated to high expectations. I believe all children have the right to learn, and 21st CCLC provides an environment that is safe and a curriculum that challenges them through creativity and learning through play.

WR: I exist to provide opportunities for our students and parents.

Jeri Lyn Salazar is a gifted education teacher at Nina Otero Community School and site coordinator for 21st Century Programs.



Bryan Cruz is a bilingual teacher with seven years of experience in the field of elementary education between Mexico and the U.S. His passion is to teach and support the Santa Fe community.



William Rodriguez is a teacher with 28 years of teaching experience and 20 years’ experience as a 21st CCLC site coordinator.