February 28, 2020

On the heels of the 25th anniversary of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the U.S. Department of Education announced a renaming of this unique funding initiative. At the direction of Congress, it is now the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant Program. The new designation honors Representative Lowey, a steady advocate for afterschool programming, for her tireless efforts on behalf of children and families. She has represented New York’s 17th District since 1988 and will retire this year. She played a key role in the original 1994 bill (Text H.R.6. – 103rd Congress), which stated that 21st CCLCs would “enable the entire community to develop an education strategy that addresses the educational needs of all members of local communities.”

Nearly 1.7 million students and 184,000 adult family members each year are served by this 50-state initiative, which offers academic support and enrichment programs at 11,512 program sites.

The Department’s You for Youth (Y4Y) program is proud to serve professionals in this important field of work. In addition to providing free online learning 24/7 at y4y.ed.gov, the Y4Y Technical Assistance (TA) team provides virtual and in-person TA to more than 165,000 21st CCLC practitioners.

For a refresher on how it all began, visit the Introduction to 21st CCLC course. You might learn something you didn’t know about the short history of this incredible idea!


February 13, 2020

Bad weather is sometimes unpredictable and always out of our control. Cultures that have developed around some of the harshest weather conditions just lean into the storm with good preparation like dry clothes, an emergency kit and a strategic plan. Similarly, people can navigate life’s storms successfully by preparing socially and emotionally. That way, they’re ready to act and respond wisely when difficulties arise — and they always do! Your 21st CCLC program can use social and emotional learning strategies to help students develop this kind of “storm readiness.”

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has done a great deal of research and development in social and emotional learning. Here’s the definition CASEL uses:

“Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course spotlights five areas for personal growth identified by CASEL:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management
  • Responsible decision making

People sometimes say these are “soft skills,” which can make them sound unimportant or unnecessary. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Our ability to navigate emotions and relationships greatly affects how and what we learn, in school and beyond. Social and emotional skills are life skills. So, when you model and teach these skills to students, you’re helping them prepare for success throughout their lives.

Not convinced? Think back on your own experiences in school:

  • Remember your favorite teacher, coach or counselor? Why is that person your favorite? It’s probably not just because you loved math or were really good at soccer. Your personal relationship with this adult made you more interested in learning what he or she had to teach you.
  • Consider a time when you were anxious about a test, felt intimidated by a teacher or had trouble with a classmate. This likely kept you from doing your best. You may even have developed long-term anxiety about test taking, a particular subject or certain kinds of classroom interactions (like giving a speech or working in small groups).

Your experiences are similar to those of every learner, including the children and youth in your 21st CCLC program. Social relationships and emotional states have a profound effect on learning. Positive emotional experiences motivate people of all ages to work hard and try their best.

Developing smarter, kinder, happier, more productive human beings is a goal we can all get behind. Y4Y’s new Social and Emotional Learning course helps you envision how social and emotional learning fits with that goal and with your other program goals. It also shows you how to weave social and emotional learning strategies into your program activities, and how to support staff members throughout the process.

You might also want to check out Y4Y’s new Creating a Positive Learning Environment course. It has strategies for infusing a “can do” attitude into program activities and routines. That course shows ways your staff can improve the overall program culture and climate, whereas the Social and Emotional Learning course shows ways to help students manage their internal “weather system.”

Why not put on your snow boots or galoshes and jump in with both feet?


February 13, 2020

Counselors have a saying: “Environment always wins.” At the height of flu season, this isn’t always great news, but instituting the Dracula sneeze, aggressive hand washing and a generous supply of hand sanitizer are measures every educator knows can sway the environment in their favor. But when it comes to positivity, slather that stuff all over your 21st CCLC program.

Creating a program environment that enables your staff and students to do their best work is a smart way to magnify everyone’s efforts. Not sure where to start? Take a peek at Y4Y’s new Creating a Positive Learning Environment course. Chelsea, your guide, will welcome you as an “apprentice builder” and walk you through six strategies to help you renovate your program environment. You’ll learn how to define and assess organizational culture and climate, plan for behavior management, build relationships, be intentional about designing a positive learning environment, and plan for continuous improvement. A few tweaks can make a big difference.

Add this course to your tool belt, and use it to strengthen your program’s foundation, imagine new possibilities, and make dreams come true for students and families. It might be easier than you think to create a “yes, I can” environment where confidence, curiosity and enthusiasm are contagious. 


February 10, 2020

Great research momentum is building on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the impact they can have throughout life. This research provides a new window into the thoughts and emotions of what may be a troubling number of your students. Consider for a moment what the view might be from their side of that window. Is it a jungle out there?

Ask yourself, “Do I see a pattern of any of these behaviors in a student I’m concerned might be experiencing trauma?”

  • Inappropriate displays of emotion, whether anger, crying, or even laughter that’s not appropriate to context
  • Withdrawal from activities or peers, especially when others are enjoying themselves
  • Tendency to jump at sudden sounds that don’t startle others
  • Expression of distressing thoughts, either verbally or through drawings
  • Ongoing complaints of a stomachache or headache
  • Aggression
  • Quickly changing emotions
  • Habitual absences

If you answered “yes,” that student may well feel like getting through each day is like navigating a jungle. One common finding in children who’ve experienced trauma is a heightened state of arousal, which can resemble a sensory processing disorder. This could mean hypersensitivity to sounds, lights, touch or movement. Your 21st CCLC program could feel as loud and overwhelming to a student as a Grateful Dead concert would to Grandpa. But before you go lowering the lights, demanding silence from everyone, and pushing for 6-foot personal bubbles, bear in mind these essential tips for building resilience:

Encourage doing for others. When students feel they’ve helped another person, especially if they have a unique gift to share, it boosts their confidence and sense of purpose.

Be positive. The old fake-it-till-you-make-it adage came about for good reason. There’s a wealth of data on the impact of gratitude in one’s life. Transition times are a great opportunity to play with positivity. Maybe students can quickly call out their favorite dessert or color as they pass under the overhead fire alarm, starting their turn with “I LOVE….”

Create safe opportunities to socialize. Humans are unquestionably social creatures. Of course, circumstances matter. Be intentional in grouping students into small groups for looser activities, especially when you suspect a student may be dealing with trauma.

Talk about feelings. Remind students that there are no bad feelings to have. Naming feelings instead of pushing them away helps people process emotions so that they can move forward.

Reinforce and exhibit good self-care habits. A sense of powerlessness is likely to plague traumatized students. Healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits may not be fully within their control, but you can talk up simple practices like treating oneself to dancing around the room for exercise, getting outdoors as much as your program allows, or taking a 10-minute “power nap” to get back some of that lost power. (Stress management ideas are available on Y4Y).

Help students think constructively about the future. Universally, children are focused on the future. That is where most of their living lies, after all. Thoughts and dreams of a better life are not exclusive to students of any demographic, but an understanding of how to get there may be. Make a practice of brainstorming as a group how, for example, a student whose parents can’t afford college could become an engineer. Better still, bring in visitors who have personal stories like this to share.

Remember that behind every success story are a few whopper “failures.” Maybe you’ve heard the saying “Failure is the breakfast of champions.” It’s not failure itself that feeds success; it’s what you learn from it. You can embed the practice of thinking about something constructive you’ve learned from failures — whether it’s something as small as spilling water on the floor or something more significant, like failing a test or a class — into every undertaking. It’s not a true failure if wisdom is gained.

Get students to think for themselves. Ask leading questions instead of offering solutions to problems or dilemmas. Help students view problems as jigsaw puzzles: the person to place the last piece is the one who finishes the puzzle. How gratifying it is for a student to solve her own puzzle.

Researchers and frontline professionals are in agreement that even a single nurturing, attentive connection with an adult — and it truly could be any adult who has the child’s best interests at heart — improves the odds that a child who has experienced trauma will succeed in building resilience and overcoming ACEs. Put on that big yellow hat and be prepared to fight your way through the jungle together.

Check out Y4Y’s Click & Go on Trauma-Informed Care for more ways to serve these very special students.