September 14, 2023

Julie Smutko Daugherty, the previous editor of The Y4Y Insider and host of the Voices From the Field podcast, sat down with the current Insider editor, Cappella Santos-Brown, to reflect on what she wishes she’d known before embarking on the Insider’s journey and the lessons she’s learned about planning, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Y4Y: Thank you for joining me for this special conversation, Julie. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye to The Y4Y Insider, but it has been an amazing journey to see it grow into what it is today. The newsletter has been such a treat to work on, and I can only imagine that, when you stepped in prior to me, you felt the same way! When you stepped in to write and edit the Insider, what was your vision?

Julie Smutko Daugherty: My past experience in newsletter writing told me that you have to keep the content fun and lighthearted for readers to stay engaged, but not get carried away with your own sense of humor. We’ve all read marketing materials that seem so concerned with entertaining the reader that busy people just give up because the writer is trying too hard. Our 21st CCLC audience is as busy as they come, but still, it’s nice to, like I said, keep it fun and light, and that was goal number one.

Y4Y: That’s so true. It really is a fine line between writing content that feels entertaining versus cheesy. What went into deciding which categories would be featured, like the popular “Gathering STEAM” section? 

JSD: I would always try to focus on any new training content on the Y4Y website, because (a) it was an opportunity to bring new courses and Click & Go training material to the attention of both leaders and frontline staff, and (b) featuring that content in a short blog could act like a movie trailer and give learners a quick overview of what to expect. Before I invest two hours or more in a movie on Netflix, I like to watch the trailer to see if it’s really something for me, so this was a big role of the newsletter, in my opinion.

Y4Y: That’s a great point! Could you walk us through the process of figuring out what information our audience would find the most relevant?

 JSD: As you know, this is an evolving process. I always try to keep an ear to the ground, and by attending national conferences, listening to Y4Y’s technical working group, and watching the chat box in Y4Y virtual training, I could get a sense of what weighed most heavily on the minds of our audience. That, and of course “clicks.” Like you mentioned, STEM resources are always popular with our 21st CCLC professionals — the clicks don’t lie!

Y4Y: Exactly — it is an evolving process, and that’s what makes it so interesting! In Y4Y’s Voices From the Field, you’ve had a multitude of interview subjects ranging from state coordinators, program directors, and various subject matter experts. Can you talk about the lessons you’ve learned through these interviews?

JSD: Well, lesson number one is that in this field, we have so much to learn from each other. Practitioners can learn as much from each other as from us — In fact, Y4Y largely draws from best practices around the country to develop ALL our material, not just the podcast. And, listeners are excited to hear about successes and “learning opportunities” from others who are doing the same work. I like to joke that the world is made up of people who are very happy to learn from others — like, “Gee, thanks for telling me the stove is hot. I won’t touch it” versus those who just have to find out for themselves, like “Oh, that stove is hot? Let me just touch it for myself, even if it means getting burned.” Our 21st CCLC audience is mostly made up of the first and is eager to learn from others’ experiences in the hopes of jumping straight to success.

Y4Y: Any cool stories that have stuck with you throughout the years?

JSD: So many, but I’d say they’re the guests that gave me a different lens on education in general that really stick out, like Stacey Gummy, who runs a forest kindergarten, who talked about how many concepts very young people can really learn by exploring nature themselves. Then there was Tiffany Grant and Amy Franks — two unrelated podcasts that really hit home, for me, that our students of color deserve to see themselves in the books they read and the language they hear spoken. One of my earliest inspirations was Tara Cox, who talked about makerspaces and, my favorite part, the concept of undoing “right answer” thinking. Then there was Katherine Manley, who, after growing up poor, poor in a mining town (and writing an excellent book about that experience, by the way), had a perspective on teaching the most disadvantaged students that you couldn’t really get if you hadn’t lived it yourself. I could go on all day — our whole team knows what a passion I had for every Voices opportunity.

Y4Y: Yes! I almost see every Voices guest as a dish, and they all come together to form this amazing buffet that our audience can learn from. Every single one has different ingredients, spices, and “nutritional value” if you will, to provide something very different but very necessary. So, I know from personal experience that keeping the Insider fresh takes a lot of planning and organization — much of which was passed down from you at the beginning of my journey! Could you share how you managed all the moving parts when things always seem to move so quickly? Was there a process that seemed to help you the most?

JSD: Well, when you’re editing, you definitely have to get comfortable with the role of “nagging.” It feels like nagging anyway, but I would remind anyone who finds themselves in the position of keeping a lot of balls in the air that most people are just going to be grateful for reminders. As I keep saying, we’re ALL busy. But that said, it really is important to give others and yourself generous timelines whenever humanly possible. And of course, remain flexible. The rest of the “process” is just keeping to a calendar.

Y4Y: Hey, I can tell you that I appreciate a good nagging! Unfortunately, sticky notes and a to-do list will only get you so far. In that same vein, no project is complete without some setbacks, and as a monthly project, I can think of a few just since the beginning of my journey with the Insider. Could you share a little bit about any challenges you’ve experienced throughout the process and more importantly, how you’ve overcome these challenges?

JSD: I would say flexibility and creativity can help you overcome a lot of obstacles. When having to plan themes so far in advance, the content we might have based them on didn’t always come online at exactly the moment we had hoped for months prior. If a lot of other elements were built around that theme, we could use a little creativity to tie existing (and equally important) content back to that theme. There were also a couple of cases when our understandably busy Voices guests had to postpone, so I always tried to work ahead and could often pull a future guest in early, and maybe just tweak how their interview was “packaged” — just enough to show how that conversation was relevant under that theme. But that’s just the sprinkles — every interview was like a beautiful cake unto itself.

Y4Y: Flexibility is exactly right. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quoted that one Friends episode: pivot! One of the reasons why I love the Insider so much is because it blends relevancy and creativity. I especially love how each issue is themed, which is something you started at the very beginning. Do you have a favorite issue or an issue that was particularly fun to work on? How did you find inspiration for the various themes and even the content that was featured?

JSD: Well, as you know, I actually built most issues around our “Creative Program Ideas,” column. After the Voices interview, my favorite part of editing The Y4Y Insider was drawing from numerous calendars (from whimsical days of the year to historical events, several agencies like the U.S. Treasury, National Librarians, etc.) and using interesting happenings in any given month to inspire program activity suggestions. When I really applied myself, I could find ways of tying together all the month’s events and new Y4Y content (or maybe existing content most relevant to where our practitioners were in the school year) and come up with a theme.

As far as a favorite, that’s tough. I loved the many issues — especially through the pandemic — that had a theme designed to unify our practitioners who were all feeling so isolated at that time. In fact, Y4Y’s virtual training was SO instrumental in helping our learners feel connected. Beyond that, I hope there were issues that got people thinking — like “Find Your Hidden Treasure” or “Variety Is the Spice of Life.”

Y4Y: I loved hearing about how you thought up new themes from the Creative Program Ideas because I actually think of themes from either the time of the year or what kind of cool courses or tools we’re coming out with at Y4Y.

So, as we move forward, what do you hope audiences have gained from the Insider’s resources or Y4Y as a whole? Is there anything you’d like to share with them as we enter the transition into the new Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC National Technical Assistance Center (NTAC)?

JSD: In response to the last half of your question, it’s clear that the Department of Education is so invested in out-of-school time as the needed springboard in communities across the country that the Secretary is looking to expand training for these professionals through the new Technical Assistance Center. Since we’re always hearing “I wish I knew about you guys earlier!” we know that the resources our amazing team has developed have been crucial to the 21st CCLC audience, and here’s our chance to expand that reach. As for the Insider, whether folks read just one blog, took one activity idea, or told their coworkers about a new training that Y4Y had to offer from each issue if nothing else, I hope it’s been that monthly inbox reminder to our practitioners that they are an important part of something big.

Y4Y: Thank you so much for this amazing retrospective on the Insider, Julie. I think we went over some valuable lessons that can really be applied to so many things — not just if you’re a newsletter editor! I look forward to seeing what’s next.


September 14, 2023

Whenever I attend conferences and have the pleasure of speaking one-on-one with attendees, I always hear a variation of the same couple of phrases: “How am I just now hearing about Y4Y?!” or “My boss tells me to take your courses, but I didn’t know about all the resources you provide!” Y4Y really is a treasure trove of resources and information. So, with Y4Y moving to soon, here’s a reminder of the different ways you can take these treasures and make your program sparkle like gold!

Polish It Up

Sometimes an old and seemingly out-of-fashion ring you found at a random antique store simply needs a good polish to be as good as new again! The same can be said about your program. Everything — and everyone — needs a thorough polish every now and then, and the cool thing is that there’s more than one way to do that! From full courses to Click & Go’s and Quality Program Quickstarter (QPQ) modules, the ways that you and your staff can polish up your program are endless. Also, don’t forget that for the first time ever, many of our courses, QPQs, and tools are now available in Spanish through the Y4Y Spanish Sub-Portal! We’d be here all week if I told you about every single learning opportunity, but here are some tried-and-true’s, with a few of my personal favorites thrown in:



  • Marketing and Outreach QPQ: Create messages and activities to recruit students and to let stakeholders know about your program’s efforts and impacts.
  • Sustainability QPQ: Find out about steps you can take today to ensure your program’s still there tomorrow.

Click & Go’s

No matter which route you choose, you’re sure to find the information to make your program shine!

Magnifying Your Program’s Abilities

Have you ever seen a diamond under a magnifying glass and noticed how the light bounces off the facets in every direction? I like to think of Y4Y’s famous downloadable and customizable tools as the magnifying glass that can make your program dazzle! Y4Y puts a multitude of tools at your fingertips, but it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Thankfully, we have it all broken down for you — from starter sets to training packages, you’ll be on the right path in no time:

Passing the Heirloom Down

Remember, your program is a priceless jewel, and the Y4Y treasure trove is here to make sure that heirloom can be passed down for others to admire and enjoy for years to come. So go forth and sparkle!


September 14, 2023

Just because the weather’s cooling down and the leaves are changing color doesn’t mean you have to say farewell to summer! In fact, Y4Y’s September is the perfect time to dream big and think about next year’s summer program. What went so well this time that you’ll do it again next year? What could be better? Gather your staff around the bonfire to toast marshmallows and compare notes while the summer’s still fresh in your mind. Then, to make sure you’re as prepared as can be for next time, follow Y4Y’s Summer Learning Initiative planning path:

  • Learn: Explore the Summer Learning Initiative website to learn from the experiences of 40 Summer Learning Initiative grantees across seven states who received in-depth coaching and professional development to build their summer programs. Visit the Program Implementation Planner page for practical tools and friendly advice on developing a plan that’s strategic, comprehensive, and results-oriented.
  • Listen: Catch the vision as leaders share how summer learning can make a positive difference for students. Also, check out the research on the potential benefits.
  • Launch: Follow the clearly marked planning path to start your journey toward a high-quality summer learning program. Starting down this easy-to-follow path now will lead you toward a 2024 summer with less stress and greater impact than ever before.

For now, take a deep breath, savor your summer successes, and add this note to your September calendar: Meet with the team to review the Y4Y summer learning roadmap.


August 14, 2023

Screenshot of opening slide for the Y4Y Sustainability Quality Program Quickstarter“Sustainability” has become something of a buzzword lately — and for good reason! People all over are replacing everyday household “disposables” with items like reusable straws and plastic-free soap. These small decisions are sure to make a lasting impact on Mother Earth — and future generations will benefit. Did you know that this same idea can apply to your program? With Y4Y’s newest Quality Program Quickstarter module, Sustainability, you’ll have the power to plan for the sustainability of your program no matter what happens!

The Wide World of Grants

It can be helpful to think of grant money as a seed that you and your team must plant, water, and nurture so that the seed sprouts and grows into a flourishing program. From the fruits of your labor (pun intended), students and families get resources that help them thrive and move toward their goals. However, like Mother Nature, the wide world of grants can sometimes be unpredictable, so it’s important that your program has strong roots to sustain itself even if the status of your grant changes. That’s where Y4Y comes in.

The Forest of Fruitfulness

By spending an hour or so with the Sustainability QPQ module, you’ll develop skills to define program sustainability in real terms, recruit partners and financial resources to keep your program strong, and develop a five-year sustainability plan and maintain it as a living document. Take a walk through the module and see what our fruitful forest has to offer:

  • Most people agree that out-of-school time programs are valuable, so use this to your advantage! Engaging key stakeholders within your community — people and organizations who value your program, share common goals, and can contribute financially or in kind — is a great way to ensure your program lasts. Be sure to use our budget template to keep track of your program’s finances — and other resources.
  • After you’ve found the fertilizer to keep your program growing, it’s time to develop your sustainability plan. Take a peek at the four steps you can take to get there:
    • Set sustainability goals: What are you trying to achieve?
    • Examine your financial plan: How do you currently allocate funding to achieve these goals?
    • Build capacity: How can you use resources to fill funding gaps?
    • Do long-range strategic planning: What will you do each year to build your program and make it sustainable?
  • Once you’ve taken the steps to strengthen your program’s roots, you’ll have the chance to view Sustainability Case Studies and see what it took for four different programs to build a sustainable program.

Tilling the Soil

Just as farmers till the soil to prepare for fruitful crops, it’s important to make sure your program can withstand anything Mother Nature has in store. Thankfully, Y4Y’s Sustainability module was created especially to help you identify partners, find resources, and develop a plan so that your program can weather the elements for years to come!


August 14, 2023

school aged girl standing in front of a black board with her left arm lifted in the air with a red fabric cape flowing to the rightTeaching your students important leadership skills now is essential for building confidence and a positive sense of control for the rest of their lives. Let students know that being a leader can be exciting and low-pressure, and watch them lead lives of success, strength, and self-discipline.

Little Leaders of Tomorrow

I remember a time in my early schooling when my teachers would assign various leadership roles to my classmates and me. Someone would always be the “line leader” when walking single file to the library, another would oversee passing out handouts for group activities, someone else would be the “show-and-tell facilitator,” and so forth. The joy I felt when I was the lucky duck chosen for one of the special leadership roles — you may as well have told me I’d won the Heisman Trophy. Though our roles were generally low-stakes, my teachers knew what they were doing! Instilling a sense of leadership within children starting at a young age (and fostering it as they grow older) is a surefire way to set them up with skills for success later in life:

  • Communication: Leadership experiences at a young age provides practice in communicating one-on-one and in group settings.
  • Responsibility: Young leadership encourages students not only to take responsibility for their own actions, but also to positively influence the actions of others.
  • Self-awareness and conflict resolution: In leading others, students learn wonderful things about themselves. In interacting with the many different personalities of their peers, students learn how to deal with conflict and situations that may be outside their comfort zone.
  • Self-sufficiency and advocacy: Through leadership opportunities, children learn to become self-sufficient and proactive, which allows them to advocate for themselves and their peers, both academically and in their personal lives.

Follow the Leader

So, we all know the value of providing leadership opportunities to students, but some students might feel a sense of panic or uncertainty when taking on a new role. Don’t worry — the key is to initiate leadership roles and behaviors in a free and easy way while letting students know that your program is a safe space! Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Start small. Help students see that they lead every day, often without even realizing it. Did they help get a younger sibling ready for school that day? Perhaps they did something as simple as reminding their friends, “We only have three more minutes till we need to be in second period.”
  • Expand students’ understanding of leadership. Model for your students what being a good citizen looks like. Did you use the last of the paper towel roll in your classroom? Take the time to visit the supply closet and replace it — trust me, your students will notice! Share with them that the initiative and action required for good citizenship is also a form of leadership.
  • Find opportunities to teach and practice skills. When there’s the inevitable argument between students, teaching them how to diffuse situations and address problems will go a long way in making students feel capable of leading. As the saying goes, “You can’t lead others until you learn to lead yourself.”
  • Guide students toward meaningful opportunities. Give students a chance to lead in their own school or classroom, and then in their own community. Assign small leadership roles, like my amazing teachers did, and as their confidence grows, guide them toward leadership opportunities in their own community, like volunteering at a local animal shelter or planning a service-learning activity.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re confident 100% of the time. Rather, leading takes self-awareness, humility, and ongoing communication. It’s something that must be earned every single day, and you’re never too young to start earning (and learning about) leadership! So go ahead and lead your students on to great horizons — both now and in the future.