January 22, 2020

Fifty years ago, Mary Poppins advised that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and vitamin manufacturers took note. Before you knew it, kids were clamoring for their daily dose. Y4Y’s recently archived webinar, “College and Career Readiness (CCR): Elementary” explores benefits and practical ideas in introducing elementary students to planning for their futures. But the sugar and bright coloring in this arena is, quite simply, playtime!

You don’t need to think of CCR as something that demands dedicated time and resources. Rather, like a multivitamin, a CCR framework can be a tidy way of bringing together current program initiatives like literacy, STEM, social and emotional learning, and more. Here’s an overview of the kinds of structured thinking you can apply to your intentionally designed activities to start preparing young students for their future careers.

Stepping Stones: What’s the Connection?

Since elementary students love to imagine themselves in various adult roles, 21st CCLC programs are the perfect place to infuse the structure that will convert natural playtime into visible stepping stones to future careers. Y4Y offers a Career Station Planner, for example, to get those creative juices flowing. Studies show you’ll improve engagement when students can see how their learning builds on what they already know. Your job is not to push all seven-year-olds toward college, but to open their eyes to limitless career options, and to the types of skills and knowledge (stepping stones) they can gain along the way to make each option a reality.

Three goals should drive your intentional CCR activities for elementary and middle school students: connecting academic learning to higher education and careers, expanding student options and awareness of career options, and encouraging 21st century thinking skills. How do you think? What do you know or not know? What steps or actions are required? These are questions you can ask and explore with your students.

Employability Skills: Plays Well with Others?

The U.S. Department of Education has established nine critical skill areas for employment in any field. These skills are an important component of CCR. It’s never too early to be thinking about how growth in each of these can be woven into 21st CCLC activities.

Effective relationships:

  • Interpersonal skills: Give a less-than-natural leader a quiet leadership role, such as writing out rules for a new board game.
  • Personal qualities: Call out the value of honesty and propose that a specific student be named the banker in a game of “town.”

Workplace skills:

  • Technology use: Can the program’s computer be used for some new application?
  • Systems thinking: Empty your desk or cubby and reorganize!
  • Information use: Take five fun facts about dogs and suggest a new product.
  • Resource management (time, money, materials, people): Build a five-layer pyramid using all the clay in front of you. How much is needed for each level?
  • Communication skills: Charades!

Applied knowledge:

  • Applied academic skills: What did you learn in math today, and can you think of how you might use that lesson at the grocery store this weekend?
  • Critical thinking skills: Name some things a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor, a postal worker and a car salesperson have in common in their jobs.

Flavors of Activities: Grape, Cherry or Hands-on?

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the elements of possible 21st CCLC activities that could be structured to get young students thinking about future careers, consider to what degree the activity engages students. Time, student needs and abilities, and resources will demand that all of the following levels of engagement be incorporated into your program at different times:

  • Awareness: These activities are simple exposures to possible careers and educational paths. They help students connect academic learning to possible applications. This could be an introduction to various mentors and role models. For example, you could invite a local physician to be a guest speaker. You might ask her to talk about what it’s like to be a doctor, to share her experience with schooling, and to explain that there are many different specializations within the medical field. Check out Y4Y’s Awareness Activities tool for more ideas.
  • Preparation: These activities develop goals and outline steps to accomplish those goals, such as completing paperwork or practicing life skills. One example might be a show-and-tell career day that includes costumes. Students could be given a writing assignment that mimics the work, such as a scientist’s lab report or an attorney’s closing argument in the case of the missing jelly beans. Check out Y4Y’s Preparation Activities Planner to get started.
  • Exploration: These activities go beyond awareness and preparation activities to offer students more independence and a deeper exposure to careers in their areas of interest. More important, exploration activities start to connect student interests (such as sports, being outdoors or “becoming rich”) to a wealth of career options. One example might be touring a science lab and interviewing people in various job roles in that facility. For older students, be sure to consult Y4Y’s Exploration Toolkit (Grades 6-12).

Bring Those Partners Along

Families will play the crucial role in CCR activities that they always do in 21st CCLC programs. Offer families tips on exposing their young students to career options. Survey parents on their child’s interests, however unrelated to career options they might seem. Your parent base is always the best place to start for professional examples. Students’ family members may welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that skills and knowledge are needed in every job. Next, reach out to the community, bearing in mind that some of your students may not have access to professionals in STEM or finance careers, for example. Partners in institutions of higher learning, whether universities or trade schools, can help connect students’ favorite playtime activities to real careers.

Career Counselors à Gogo

Who knew when you signed up to work with elementary students in a 21st CCLC program that you’d be adding “career counselor” to your job description? Besides Ms. Poppins, be sure to get advice from Y4Y’s CCR Train Your Staff materials around building college and career readiness, engaging families and planning age-appropriate activities. You may not staff magical nannies, but as a well-trained team, you’re sure to create a happy head start for your students.


January 22, 2020

Knowing how money works can help people make smart choices. When you think about money management, spending wisely may be the first thing that comes to mind. There are other things to consider too, like different ways to increase earnings, how to use credit and manage debt, when it makes sense to insure against risk, and how saving and investing can help make dreams come true. The term used to describe financial know-how across all of these areas is “financial literacy.”

Wouldn’t it be great to give students a head start on financial literacy? What if they started thinking early about the difference between wants and needs? If they knew the power of compound interest, might it motivate them to work and save toward big dreams instead of spending now on “wanted” things that won’t last? What if they suddenly “got it” that classes like math, science and foreign language study will affect their career options and income later in life?

“Sure,” you might be thinking, “but our 21st CCLC program doesn’t have the time, knowledge or resources for that.”

The good news is, you don’t have to be a money whiz to make financial literacy part of your program, and you don’t have to start at square one. Y4Y’s new Financial Literacy course walks you through planning and implementing financial literacy activities for students of all ages and their families. It shows how to enlist local people and resources to create powerful learning experences. It has tips for coaching and training your staff to support financial literacy activities and community partners. As with all Y4Y courses, you’ll also get tools to customize or use “as is.”

If you learned from Y4Y’s Building Financial Literacy Click & Go last year, and you’re ready to take the next step, this course is for you. Let Tawanda, the host, guide you through planning and implementing high-impact program activities. Investing in student and family financial literacy now can pay off in attitudes and habits that last a lifetime.


January 22, 2020

The Y4Y team thanks Shannon Browning, 21st CCLC Program Director at Macomb Public School in Oklahoma, for her heartfelt answers to questions about food insecurity faced by so many Oklahoma students. Ms. Browning offers great ideas on how 21st CCLC programs in other states can also help.

Y4Y: Food insecurity is not an uncommon challenge among 21st CCLC students. Can you share how prevalent this is in your state, and what that insecurity looks like?

SB: According to the Oklahoma Health Equity Campaign, one out of every four Oklahoma children lives with food insecurity. From the small, rural, high-poverty perspective, it feels even more prevalent. Our school offers breakfast and lunch to all of our students at no charge, and now we are able to provide a snack before and supper following our 21st CCLC afterschool program. What does this look like for us? We have several children that have approached me before 9 a.m. at school asking me what we would be serving for supper. One moment that will forever stand out in my mind is when I had a student in the first grade start crying one day when school was releasing early and we had to cancel afterschool programming because of a storm coming into our community. I walked into the elementary to make sure we had contacted all of the parents, and the student was sobbing in the hallway. I sat down with him and tried to comfort him, explaining that it was just a precaution and we would all be OK. He told me he was crying because he would not get to eat supper that night. The only meals this child ate were at our school. Food insecurity is a very real thing to these children.

Y4Y: Funding from 21st CCLC grants cannot be used for food, yet you have described food security as a priority in your programs. How have grantees worked creatively to address this concern?

SB: Our leadership team, led by our superintendent, Matt Riggs, placed food security as a top priority and focus of our program from the very first day. It was never an option to “not” provide this service. Our cafeteria manager is very actively involved in making sure we meet all the child nutrition guidelines for this service. We have an outstanding 21st CCLC Oklahoma State Department of Education team that connects us with the right resources. While the supper program is not a 21st CCLC-funded program, we work hand-in-hand to make sure that it works for all of our students who need it.

This past July, the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning and Representative Monroe Nichols from District 72 hosted a gathering of leaders in Oklahoma City. The conference was designed for leaders across the state to explore several topics facing Oklahoma students, with a focus on the role out-of-school time programming plays in supporting those students. Topics included Oklahoma’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Plan, addressing food insecurity and healthy living, adverse childhood experiences and outlining a collective legislative agenda. The topic most heavily discussed was food insecurity.

Y4Y: Can you describe specific examples or anecdotes along your path to ensure that your students are well nourished that would be useful to other states facing the same concerns?

SB: We work together with several organizations to provide food and resources for the families in our community. We partner with the Avedis Foundation, Department of Human Services, Chickasaw Nation, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Absentee Shawnee tribe, local churches and community members to help find resources suited to each of our families’ needs. We had a student-led group that initiated providing boxes of food for students every Friday that would last them through the weekend. While this started out as a small initiative, it snowballed into an enormous resource for our community. At one point, we were sending home boxed meals for over 40 students. Because of space, two of our local churches took this over to better serve our community. This program is still running today, three years later.

Y4Y: Please share any additional benefits or surprising outcomes that resulted from your state placing a priority on food security for its students.

SB: One benefit was a wonderful response to our afterschool and summer programs. Our attendance is well above our targeted 65 students each day, usually ranging from 70 to 85 students daily, and continues to grow each year. Our community is supportive of what we are doing for the students. The Macomb community, like so many small rural communities in Oklahoma, had become very disjointed from the school and each other. This program has helped to restore a conversation between the school and community that had been deficient in past years. I think the community understands that the school and partners are working with the families rather than against them. Food insecurity is real not only with our children, but also with our adults. Placing emphasis on this need in their personal lives seems to help reinforce this common goal.

Y4Y: Did we miss any important points around this issue? If so, please share any other wisdom on the topic.

SB: Food insecurity and the results thereof are among several issues slowly degrading small communities in rural Oklahoma. If we can help even a small portion of this problem by addressing the food needs of the family and giving them a resource lifeline, we can make a difference in our community, our state, and our world.