February 26, 2021

You can learn about design thinking in Y4Y’s new course on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). Design thinking is a problem-solving learning approach that acknowledges the role of creativity and the arts in STEM learning. It’s similar to the engineering design process NASA engineers use, as well as the creative process you see in the arts. You might remember that classic scene in Apollo 13 when the engineering team is presented with a list of materials at the astronauts’ disposal and asked to devise a way to make a “square peg to fit into a round hole.” The engineers had to use their imaginations, being flexible in their perceptions of what materials serve what purpose, in order to save the lives of their space-going counterparts. That scene perfectly illustrates design thinking.

An activity that taps into design thinking leads students to develop a product that solves a real-world problem or create something meaningful or of value. These activities ask students to

  • Research users' needs.
  • Clearly state the needs of users.
  • Challenge their assumptions and document their ideas.
  • Create solutions through brainstorming, collaboration and experimentation.
  • Test and refine solutions.

Since 1978, schools around the world have offered Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) competitive clubs, promoting collaborative, creative problem-solving activities. Explore the design thinking that’s at the heart of this organization, the benefits and outcomes for students who’ve participated over the decades, and how these globally relevant lessons can be brought into 21st CCLC programs.

OotM problems, both long-term and spontaneous, ask students to combine their knowledge and their imaginations in a team environment to build, fix or create something in a new way. A small but statistically significant 2019 study that surveyed coaches and judges in the organization found that 10 core competencies were built through participation: teamwork, creativity, problem solving, planning and organizing, time management, public speaking, leadership, compromise, oral communication and adhering to constraints or parameters. Noted, also, in a 2017 study, participation in OotM helps students “learn, develop, and create highly transferable skills, experiences, and competencies, helping them become more career-ready and better prepared to engage into the global workforce.” So, what is OotM’s magic formula?

OotM teams are guided by adult coaches who might aid in developing discrete skills needed to solve a problem, but do not assist in forming actual solutions. Reflecting the importance of student voice and choice, teams can choose from several different types of problems, from mechanical to literary or musical. Long-term problem-solving involves student-planned use of time and material resources according to a list of criteria that must be met. These principles also come into play in the solving of spontaneous problems which are, as the name suggests, on-the-spot activities.

But the key element of imagination, to young minds, translates to a sense of “play,” even when rigorous structure and goals define an activity. Any veteran coach will tell you that preparation for an OotM team is a textbook makerspace, complete with generic materials such as rubber bands and Popsicle sticks with endless possible uses. While the students’ “arts and crafts” experience will offer them some proficiency with using these materials, formal curriculum and hands-on experience will help them understand nuances such as how you can best orient a Popsicle stick to maximize its strength, or what conditions and forces dictate the limits of a rubber band.

OotM’s popularity speaks to how much students enjoy creative problem solving together because it taps into their natural love of play. In fact, another way to describe design thinking is “play with a purpose!” With tools such as the Activity Center Planner, Student Self-Monitoring Checklist for Project Work, and STEAM Activity Example, the new Y4Y STEAM course will inspire you to reimagine how to support your students’ school-day STEM learning. Incorporating design thinking means that not even the sky is the limit when it comes to also giving your students the many career-readiness skills that OotM participants have enjoyed for decades. Truly, you can place the universe at their fingertips by helping your students to learn through play.


February 17, 2021

In 2017, Admiral William H. McRaven wowed Americans with his viral commencement speech centered on his experience with elite Navy Seal training. His simple message, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed,” reduced all achievements, great and small, to simple goal setting and drawing inspiration from achieving those goals. More important, it drew attention to the fact that little things matter: We all have the power to end each day with a reminder that we started the day having achieved a goal.

Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Health and Wellness: Partnering With the School Day, might seem a far-flung topic from Navy Seal training. After all, our wellness goals for our students hopefully don’t involve confronting sharks or sitting in freezing cold mud all night. But Admiral McRaven’s advice still resonates.

The mini-lesson in the new Y4Y Click & Go shows how valuable your 21st CCLC program can be in advancing the health and wellness of your students, beginning with the basic definition of health as “the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Moreover, wellness is defined as “the quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.” An actively sought goal: enter Admiral McRaven.

With tips from the Click & Go resources, your health and wellness initiative can bridge gaps in school-day offerings with activities centered on physical activity, social and emotional learning, and nutrition. As the admiral might say, you can inform, support and inspire students to set goals around making good choices in these areas. Then help them reach those goals. Research shows that improving wellness boosts the ability to focus attention, process information and build new skills and knowledge. This ultimately results in better grades and behavior, and a better outlook in life for your students. What’s more, the lessons gained through social and emotional learning itself builds self-awareness, self-regulation and positive coping skills. Before you know it, your students may very well have the fortitude of a team of Navy Seals!

Admiral McRaven’s words of wisdom emphasize the power of hope, and how profoundly one person can change the world by giving hope to others. This gets to the very spirit and mission of the 21st CCLC program, which is designed to pave the way for underserved students, show them the bright futures within their power to achieve, and provide tools to help them reach their goals. Their health and wellness lie at the beginning and end of that achievement, just as a neatly made bed lies at the beginning and end of a goal-driven day.


February 17, 2021

Y4Y’s new Click & Go, Recruiting and Retaining High School Students (RRHHS) holds the premise that in every community, there are high school students who grapple with belonging. This can be especially true for students who are new to this country. Your program can lift up and inspire them to a whole new level of engagement and maturity. Be intentional in how you support these students, and help them chart their own course to adulthood. Looking for ways to help them break through language barriers, find their own place in your 21st CCLC community, and stay physically and mentally strong? Consider combining resources from Y4Y’s new courses on supporting English learners and student voice and choice, along with the new Click & Go on recruiting and retaining high school students.

Here are some challenges that immigrant teens may face, and where you can find Y4Y tips to support them.

Making Friends

Being the “new kid” as a teenager comes with some daunting statistics about student behaviors like falling in with a rough crowd and experiencing higher rates of substance abuse and even suicide. You can lay the groundwork for countering these statistics by training staff on creating a safe learning environment for English learners. A “safe environment” may be a new and welcome experience for English learners who are immigrants, depending on the circumstances in their countries of origin. Building trust among staff and students is an important first step in helping them build friendships and connections. You’ll appreciate the Y4Y RRHHS Click & Go tools for adopting a Youth Ambassador program because they put friendship-building at the center of your program design.

Cultural Assimilation vs. Family Wishes

In one generation, the U.S. went from being referred to as a “melting pot” to a “tossed salad” as people realized the benefits of keeping unique aspects of one’s home language and cultural rather than requiring people to give up those things to create a single, blended “flavor.” You can build trust by demonstrating to students and families that your program will respect and revere the practices they’ve brought with them. From the Home Language Survey and Knowing Families and Cultures tools to the Cultural Competence Training to Go and Family Goal-Setting Survey, you’ll establish, from the inside out, that your program is a shared effort between families and staff, and that participation in your community means never putting students in the position of having to choose between their heritage and their future.

Language Barriers, Low Literacy Levels and Interruptions in Formal Education

Tips for supporting a wide array of English learners in your program range from hiring a multilingual staff, which may be feasible if your students share the same native language, to using the universal language of math, as Marcy Richards describes in this month’s Voices From the Field: Diversity, Equity and English Learners. You can engage in Y4Y’s full course on the subject for in-depth professional development, or you can brush up on some basic concepts with Y4Y tools like Instructional Strategies for English Learners, Marzano’s Six Steps for Vocabulary Instruction, and a basic Sentence Frames and Stems worksheet, all of which can be downloaded and customized to meet students where they are.

No Sense of Control

There’s extensive research on the correlation between a sense of control in one’s life, and engagement and therefore success. Teens often grapple with feelings of restriction as they desire greater freedom to make their own choices and “do their own thing.” Immigrating to a new country (and learning a new language and culture) during adolescence can add to their frustrations and their sense of “not being heard.” Y4Y’s new Student Voice and Choice course can help! Adapt the Activity Choice Form to reflect your students’ ages and English literacy level. Tools like the Concentric Circles Discussion Format and Focus Group Format give you the added benefit of group work that builds friendship and community while reinforcing student voice and choice. Use the Student Goal Setting and Reflection tool as proof to your students that they have the power to say, to choose, and to control their futures as part of their new community.


February 17, 2021

Sometimes we know exactly what we want. Sometimes we know exactly what we don’t want. In your program, you can avoid the ho-hums between these extremes with Y4Y’s new course on student voice and choice. But remember: your students need more than just a voice to be inspired. They need your help finding that voice. After all, those frontal lobes are working overtime to develop right now!

Your adventures in student voice and choice begin with a tour of the Y4Y Musicfest with young Stevie. You’ll learn to

  • Prepare staff at the Rock and Roll Stage.
  • Create a safe environment for student voice at the Country Stage.
  • Capture student voice and choice at the Pop Stage.
  • Embed student voice and choice throughout each activity at the R&B/Soul Stage.
  • Assess and reflect on implementation at the Jazz Stage.

After completing the Implementation Strategies portion of the course, you’ll receive an Advanced Level certificate and be able to

  • Define student voice and choice.
  • Describe how to create a program environment that honors student voice and choice.
  • Develop a program schedule of activities that honor student voice and incorporate academic needs.
  • Utilize strategies for honoring student choice.
  • Access tools and resources for increasing student voice and choice in your program.

Leaders who opt to complete the “Coaching My Staff” portion of the course will earn a Leadership Level certificate and be able to

  • Train staff to integrate student voice and choice across program activities.
  • Create a professional learning plan for staff.
  • Use effective coaching techniques while implementing the professional learning plan.

You’ll find the downloadable, customizable tools with this course to be inspired and inspiring!

Confucius famously noted that if you choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. What he meant was, you might work hard, but you’ll enjoy it more if it’s work of your own choosing. Offering the at-risk students in your program a voice and choice is the educational equivalent of this sage advice. Your 21st CCLC program should be painlessly fun and enriching even as your students put forth their best effort. This new course will set you well on your way while having your own fun at the Y4Y Musicfest!


February 8, 2021

Comedian and journalist, Stella Young, offered a delightful and humorous firsthand perspective on what it means to be a person with a disability. She said, “It’s not a Bad Thing, spelled with a capital B and capital T.” Nor does it “make you exceptional, brave or a source of inspiration just because you happen to get up in the morning and remember your own name.” Her words remind us that we’re all differently abled, and no one wants to be labeled. With tips and tools from Y4Y’s new course on including students with disabilities, your program can embrace this idea and move toward true inclusion.

A starting point for authentic inclusion is the use of person-first language when referencing a disability. For example, instead of saying “Emma’s autistic,” which equates Emma with her disability, you’d say “Emma has autism” or “Emma has a diagnosis of autism.” Those last two examples present Emma as a person first and foremost, separate from her disability. For more examples of person-first language, see Y4Y’s Socially Responsible Language tool.

It might be tempting to shrug off this shift as simply more pressure toward political correctness, but the depth of attitude that accompanies a shift in language is significant. Try it. Also, check out Y4Y’s Process for Developing Inclusive Forms to ensure written communications based on inclusive practices and language. You’ll be stepping away from identifying your students by their disability and teaching their peers to do this as well. Just as we all see beyond hair color or last name as soon as we learn even a few more things about a person’s individuality, so too must we practice seeing beyond a disability. Fine-tuning our language is the first step.

What Ms. Young so humorously alluded to is that a person with a disability doesn’t want to be “an inspiration” to others simply because he or she is disabled. Rather, people want to be acknowledged for their genuine gifts and contributions. Every student, without exception, deserves the opportunity to shine in your program. Just make sure you have different paths to the stage! Check out Y4Y’s Building an Inclusive Environment by Roles tool so that each staff member understands their part in making your program inclusive for all students. Assess your space with Y4Y’s Environmental Checklist. Maybe literal ramps are what your students with disabilities need to access a stage where they can shine. Learn about Expanding Activities, and remember: Knowing each student’s strengths – and they ALL have them – is the key to developing young stars.

Ms. Young would likely agree that it’s OK to say you’re inspired by someone’s perseverance or positive attitude in the face of a challenge, whether that challenge is caused by a disability or some other circumstance. Her point is perseverance and a positive attitude are inspiring characteristics in anyone! Credit the person, not the disability or circumstance. Genuine inclusion in your 21st CCLC program means removing obstacles that stand in the way of all students showing the world their truly inspiring star power.