Afterschool Focus: Back to School with Illinois Learning Priorities

Back-to-school time is an exciting season for educators and families alike. To help Illinois families make the most of the 2016-17 school year, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has identified the following priority areas for the upcoming school year: attendance, literacy, college and career readiness, and health and wellness. As 21st CCLC professionals, you and your teams are uniquely positioned to integrate these priorities into afterschool programming and engage families with these initiatives. 


Why it matters. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10% or more of school-about 18 days a year, or 2 days a month. As early as PreK, chronic absenteeism can be a predictor of future academic challenges and as a student progresses through school it becomes a reliable indicator of his or her likelihood to drop out of school.1

How 21st CCLC programs help. Through evidence-based practices such as providing a sense of belonging, fostering relationships with supportive adults, and creating opportunities for academic enrichment and success, high-quality afterschool programs can contribute to improved school attendance.

  • Partner with schools to make improved attendance-both at school and afterschool-an explicit goal and not just a byproduct of programming. Share attendance data, and remember to look beyond daily attendance and unexcused absences. Look at the percentage or total number of absences per student, data that tells you if a student is at risk of chronic absenteeism.2
  • Target students with at-risk levels of absence to participate in afterschool programming. The extra support of afterschool can make a difference for at-risk students, especially those who are just beginning to show attendance problems.
  • Complete the Attendance Works self-assessment tool to see if your 21st CCLC program has the right policies in place to boost student attendance.
  • Maintain a focus on attendance year round. Many schools and programs make building good attendance habits a priority when the school year begins, but some schools report seeing an attendance slump between April and June.3 ExpandED schools offers tools and strategies to maintain attendance during these months.


Why it matters. More than 90 million adults in the United States possess only basic literacy skills-those needed to understand short and easy documents and texts-or below basic skills.4 Without these skills, adults struggle with tasks such as applying for a job, understanding a rental agreement or credit card statement, or reviewing the nutritional information on a food label. 

How 21st CCLC programs help. There are simple ways to integrate literacy into afterschool programming, even if literacy is not your program’s primary focus and you don’t have a team of reading specialists on staff.5 What better place than afterschool to form book clubs, perform plays, or host family literacy events?

  • Create an environment that promotes literacy. Simply creating a reading corner with comfy pillows and a variety of interesting books can help students become more comfortable with reading.6
  • Make real-world connections. Engage reluctant readers with real-world activities like directions for cooking, carpentry, or games. Writing activities might include students recording their experiences with field trips or science experiments. Students can engage with the community by writing letters to local newspapers or interviewing community members about topics like work, family traditions, or local history and then creating a publication to tell their stories. These activities help literacy feel less like a requirement and more connected to ideas and experiences that are useful in real life
  • Consider students’ interests, grades, and skills. All students are more likely to engage in literacy activities that address topics they find interesting, and older students especially want to have a say in programming.
  • Provide staff training. Resources like the Afterschool Training Toolkit for Literacy have information on best practices, lessons, and videos of literacy activities. The corresponding Instructor’s Guide and Professional Development Guide have additional guidance, lessons, and reflection opportunities for afterschool staff.7
  • Involve parents. Family literacy events and field trips to the local library are just a couple of examples of how you can engage parents in literacy activities.

College and Career Readiness

Why it matters. When a child begins kindergarten, graduation seems a lifetime away. Yet every day of every school year should help students acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to successfully pursue some type of postsecondary education and succeed in the 21st-century workforce. 

How 21st CCLC programs help. In addition to rigorous academic instruction, students need 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, adaptability, imagination, and entrepreneurism. They also need opportunities to explore college and career options and develop the related skills.8 Afterschool programs can help meet these additional challenges to help students become college and career ready. 

  • Help students explore, set goals, and prepare for postsecondary education. An afterschool program can help students learn more about college by taking them to visit college campuses, helping them identify colleges they might attend, and assisting them with the application and financial aid process. The Pathways Resource Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Education has additional resources that educators can use to help students identify interests and career paths. Many of the resources are geared specifically to the Illinois economy and workforce.
  • Partner with local employers to help youth learn about and experience career opportunities. This includes inviting members of the business communities to talk to students about their professions and the education, skills, and experience that they require and also arranging job shadowing, volunteer, or apprenticeship opportunities for students.
  • Make real-world connections. Some students struggle to see how they can use classroom knowledge to solve problems in the real world. Exposure to college and the workplace helps students see the practical application of what they are learning in the classroom.9  

Health and Wellness

Why it matters. One in three school children in the United States are overweight or obese, while one in five live in households that struggle to put food on the table, a challenge known as food scarcity.10 In addition, a large number of Illinois students have experienced trauma. Their experiences range from being victims of abuse and neglect,11  to dealing with traumatic situations such as death of a loved one, a serious accident, witnessing violence, being bullied, incarceration of a loved one, or life-threatening situations. Students who face obesity, food insecurity and/or trauma are more likely to struggle with academic and behavioral challenges at school.12

How 21st CCLC programs help. Because afterschool and summer time are periods that students are vulnerable to both rapid gains in body mass index and food insecurity, afterschool programs can meet important nutritional needs of their students. Parents who have students in afterschool programs have also reported that they look to afterschool programs to provide healthy foods and help keep their children physically active during out-of-school time.13  

  • Serve healthy meals and snacks. ISBE’s After-School Care Program offers reimbursement to help schools serve snacks to children in afterschool activities. The Smart Food Planner from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation helps community organizations find ideas for healthy snacks, meals, and beverages.
  • Make nutrition a part of the 21st CCLC environment by providing nutrition and fitness opportunities for staff. These activities not only benefit staff but also contribute to overall program success, increase staff retention, and provide healthy adult role models for students.14
  • Offer nutrition education, physical activity and behavioral health supports such as trauma-informed care. In addition to helping meet students' immediate nutritional needs, 21st CCLC programs can help students and their families adopt healthier habits. Activities include cooking and fitness classes for students and their families, community gardens, mentoring programs, peace circles, parent cafés, and community health screenings, all areas where our Illinois 21st CCLCs shine. Looking for ways to get started? Check out the resources from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition.


Afterschool Alliance. (2013). Kids on the move: Afterschool programs promoting healthy eating and physical activity. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Brand, B., & Valent, A. (2013). The Potential of Career and College Readiness and Exploration in Afterschool Programs. In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from

Chang, H. N. & Jordan, P. W. (2013). Building a Culture of Attendance: Schools and Afterschool Programs Together Can and Should Make a Difference! In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from

Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. (2011). Household food security in the United States in 2010 (ERR-125). Retrieved from         

ExpandED Schools (2015). Avoiding the attendance slump: Strategies to maximize learning time in June. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from

Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (1997). The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

FitzSimons, C. W., & Hatcher, D. W. (2013). Creating Healthier Environments: Strategies and Examples for Afterschool and Summer Programs, Including 21st Century Community Learning Centers. In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from

Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS). (2016.) Child abuse and neglect statistics: Fiscal year 2015. Springfield, IL. Retrieved from

Kutner, M., Greenberg, E., Jin, Y., Boyle, B., Hsu, Y., and Dunleavy, E. (2007). Literacy in everyday life: Results from the 2003 national assessment of adult literacy. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

Lesgold, A. M., & Welch-Ross, M. (Eds.). (2012). Improving adult literacy instruction: Options for practice and research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among US children and adolescents, 1999-2010. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307, 483-490.

Rasco, C. H., Cheatham, J. B., Cheatham, S. H., & Phalen, E. M. (2012). Using Afterschool and Summer Learning to Improve Literacy Skills.In T. K. Peterson (Ed.), Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success. Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from



1 Chang & Jordan, 2013.

2 Chang & Jordan, 2013.

3 ExpandED Schools, 2015.

4 Lesgold & Welch-Ross, 2012; Kutner, Greenberg, Jin, Boyle, Hsu, & Dunleavy, 2007.

5 Rasco, Cheatham, Cheatham, & Phalen, 2013.

6 Rasco, Cheatham, Cheatham, & Phalen, 2013.

7 Rasco, Cheatham, Cheatham, & Phalen, 2013.

8 Brand & Valent, 2013.

9 Brand & Valent, 2013.

10 Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012; Coleman-Jensen, Nord, Andrews, & Carlson, 2011.

11 Illinois DCFS, 2016.

12 FitzSimmons & Hatcher, 2015. ?

13 Afterschool Alliance, 2015.

14 FitzSimmons & Hatcher, 2015.