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Build Your Gameplan


Your written recruitment plan identifies target audiences, sets goals, specifies what you need to achieve, and determines the tactics you’ll need to reach and engage parents and students. Now it’s time to get to the engine of your recruitment plan, so to speak, selecting those tactics. Array your selected tactics in a calendar or timeline. This will be the Gameplan that will guide you and your team.

A Menu of Proven Tactics

Here are the tactics that the districts taking part in the National Summer Learning Project found to be effective. For each tactic, we suggest whether you should consider it required, recommended, or optional. We’ve also included, wherever possible, guidance on how to implement the tactics, such as how often a tactic should be employed, and guidance on what you can do to make implementing a tactic as manageable as possible.


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+Sending Materials HomeEssential
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Autumn

Registration materials should be sent home, via mail or “backpack express,” at least two times. The first time is the beginning of the registration period. The second time is within two weeks of the registration deadline. Some tips for creating registration materials include:

  • Ensure that motivating messaging remains front and center and that the details that will help parents make decisions (e.g., days and hours of operation, transportation, etc.) are prominent, as well

  • For the second distribution, we recommend adding a clear statement of the deadline, something along the lines of, “Only 2 weeks remaining. Registration closes April 30.”

On page 22, you’ll find sample copy for a recruitment flyer, and on page 23, sample copy for a recruitment postcard.

Implementation caveat: Some districts in the NSLP used incentives to encourage students to bring in completed registration forms. In most cases, these were relatively small, such as a pizza party. At one district, sending in a completed registration form entered the family into a raffle for an iPad. Our feeling is that incentives should be used judiciously. The pizza parties, for example, were a nice event for the students and helped create that relationship we discussed in Key Number 6. But our suspicion is that raffles that use completed registration forms as an entry ticket may have inadvertently motivated some parents to send in registrations without really intending to send their child to the summer learning program.

+Reminder Phone Calls (Robocalls)Essential
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Winter

​While conventional wisdom suggests that robocalls (automated phone calls) are considered annoying, parents in the focus groups conducted by Crosby shared that robocalls are accepted, even expected, ways of hearing from their child’s school. As they require a relatively low level of effort, we consider them practically a required tactic. Some schools have the capacity to generate their own robocalls. In this case, the principal should be the one recording the call. In other districts that took part in the NSLP, robocalls came from the Superintendent. Robocalls can be used during at least two stages in your outreach effort. First, they can be used during the registration period, probably most effectively as a reminder during the last two weeks of the registration period. Second, robocalls are a good reminder to parents of students who are signed up for the summer learning program that day one of the program is coming soon; these reminder robocalls can take place starting approximately one week out from day one. In both cases—promoting registration and reminding students to show up on day one—two robocalls is probably sufficient.

You will find two sample scripts for robocalls on page 23 and 25.

+Confirmation letters or postcardsEssential
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Spring

​All school districts running summer learning programs send materials home after registrations are completed—transportation details, request for waivers, etc. In addition, be sure to send home a confirmation letter or postcard letting parents know that their registration form has been received and their child has a reserved spot in the summer learning program. This is an important first step toward building that relationship with parents and students. Some of the NSLP districts sought to send the confirmation letter or postcard home on a rolling basis. That is, the mailing went out as soon as the registration form was received. Creating and sending these materials home requires no more than a medium level of effort. If possible, send them home on a rolling basis. If that is not possible, seek to get them in the mail no more than 7-10 days after the registration period closes.

Here is an example of a postcard that Duval County Public Schools sent home. And on page 24 we include a template for a confirmation letter.

+Use Personalized OutreachRecommended
Level of Effort: High
Time of Year: Winter

​Personalized outreach includes personal phone calls home (as opposed to robocalls) from principals or teachers, sending individualized notes home to parents, and speaking to parents at school events or during pick-up and drop-off times. Personalized outreach is one of the most impactful tactics. Parents in focus groups told us that they do consider teachers and principals to be trusted messengers. It is, however, labor intensive and requires a high level of effort, perhaps the most labor-intensive of all the tactics. Making this work requires a significant amount of management of and, guidance and support for your messengers. However, to the extent possible, we do recommend incorporating this tactic.

Here is some guidance for implementation:

  • It is practically mandatory to get principals on board. They will want to know how the summer learning program will help “their” students. And they will need to know that you and your team will make the outreach program as easy as possible.
  • Provide the list of parents and children to each messenger, including contact information.
  • Develop and provide a suite of materials, such as talking points, drafts of emails or notes home, scripts for phone calls, and frequently asked questions.
  • Be sure to track the students from each school who register, and routinely report back to principals about the status of their outreach efforts.

While personalized outreach can be used throughout the calendar, because it can be labor- intensive to manage and support, it is probably best used during the registration period, from the time registration materials go out until the registration deadline. If feasible, personalized outreach focusing on promoting attendance is also valuable during the time between the registration deadline and the first day of the summer learning program.

On pages 25 to 27, you will find these templates to help support this tactic:

  • Talking points for talking to parents about registration
  • Talking points for phone calls to parents
  • Frequently Asked Questions to provide to school personnel

Implementation caveat: A caveat we would offer is to be circumspect when it comes to one type of personalized outreach. That is, home visits. Two of the school districts in the NSLP used home visits, sending staff to the homes of “target” eligible children, equipped with contact information, talking points, and registration forms. One district used central office staff to make home visits on occasion. Another district partnered with an established community-based organization, one known to the parents, and employed a consistent, sizable home visiting program. In the district that used home visiting extensively, a significant number of registrations were generated. However, it appears that some parents registered their children but did not actually intend to send their children to the summer learning program. They probably said “yes” to appease the visitor at their front door. While an effective tactic in many behavior-change programs, the return-on-investment, or ROI, may be too low to merit utilizing this type of personalized outreach in summer learning recruitment efforts.

+Events for Parents and StudentsRecommended
Level of Effort: High
Time of Year: Spring

Parent and student events are, for the most part, used by the NSLP districts during two time periods: 1) the registration period and 2) after registration closes and before day one of the summer learning program. (In one district, some of the summer learning programs have even started to hold events in the fall or early winter for returning summer learning students.) Certainly, they require a high level of effort. And, depending on the event, there are budget implications. However, because they can promote a strong connection and relationship between the parent and student, and the summer learning program, as well as a degree of comfort with the program, we recommend this tactic.

Examples of events put on by the NSLP districts include:

  • The Dallas Independent School District held registration events at several popular institutions, including at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
  • Several districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, Rochester City School District, and Duval County Public Schools, held movie nights. In some cases, they rented a theatre and provided two tickets to every student who had registered; each child was required to bring a parent. In other cases, movie night took place in a school auditorium.
  • “Try-the-program” events can be effective. Pittsburgh Public Schools, for example, for its Summer Dreamers Academy program, holds “Summer Dreamers Night Out.” It’s held at one of the program sites, after registration closes and before the first day of the summer learning program. Parents and students get to meet the summer teachers and staff, students get to try out some of the fun enrichment activities, and parents get to hear about what their children will learn during the summer.
+In-school events for studentsRecommended
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Spring

There may be no better way to make a student feel wanted by your summer learning program than inviting them to a fun in-school event just for them. In some districts taking part in the NLSP, schools held pizza parties or ice cream socials. In some schools, it was as simple as eligible students getting to join the teacher or guidance counselor for an “invitation only” lunch in his or her office. These events work well as recruitment events, taking place during the registration period, as well as events to promote day-one attendance, held between the close of registration and day one.

These events require a medium to high level of effort by central office staff. This is because, in our experience, school staff have so much else on their plates and therefore many schools need support to pull the events off. In some districts, central office personnel had to deliver the pizzas to school. In one district, central office staff had to deliver ice cream to individual feeder schools. Perhaps the most novel approach, one that cut down on the necessary effort, was the “ice cream social in a box” approach by Duval County Public Schools. Central office delivered, to each feeder school, a template for inviting students to the ice cream social, the list of eligible students in each class to be invited, and a voucher for purchasing the ice cream from a local grocery chain.

+One-on-one Teacher Interaction with StudentsOptional
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Winter

A few encouraging words from a teacher to a student can be powerful. When it comes to recruiting for summer learning, this tactic can take place during two different time periods: the registration period and the time between end of registration and day one of the summer learning program. During the registration period, teachers can let a student know she thinks the student would really enjoy and get a lot out of the summer learning program. And, after students register, the teacher can let her students who did sign up, know how excited she is for them.

We classify this tactic as optional, not because it may not be effective, but because it requires a medium-to-high level of effort for central office staff. Staff need to make sure that each teacher is provided an up-to-date list of eligible students. And then, after registration, staff need to get each teacher an accurate list of which of her students are signed up. Finally, it’s helpful to provide talking points to teachers. On page 24, you’ll find some sample talking points that your teachers can use as-is or adapt.

+Mailings to StudentsOptional
Level of Effort: Medium
Time of Year: Autumn

We do think this is an effective tactic. We list it as optional solely because we consider it a valuable addition to the tactics we labelled required or recommended. The level of effort is medium, perhaps slightly greater if you decide to design and print a postcard like the Rochester City School District did (see the example).

Mailing materials to students—addressed to them, not their parents—can be an effective tactic at any point: during the registration period, after registration and before the program starts, and in the fall, to let students know you hope they will return next summer. You should expect, however, that a certain number of the mailings will be returned since some students will move and the district may not have up-to-date addresses.

+Emails homeOptional
Level of Effort: Low
Time of Year: Winter

If you have email addresses for parents, use them. Emails can be valuable reminders during the registration period and can be sent several times—for example, shortly after registration materials go home, midway through the registration period, and as the deadline draws near. The level of effort is low and, thus, emails are a relatively easy way to ensure your outreach is consistent. On page 28, you will find examples of three emails that can be used as is or adapted.

+Texts to ParentsOptional
Level of Effort: Low
Time of Year: Winter

If you have mobile phone numbers for parents, consider sending brief text messages as reminders. It’s a low effort tactic. If you do text, send no more than three texts so that it does not begin to feel like a nuisance to parents—remember, some parents get charged per text. See page 30 for three sample text messages that you can use during the recruitment period.

"Build Your Gameplan" Summary A successful recruitment program requires using a mix of tactics. Based on our experience, some tactics are required, such as sending materials home, reminder phone calls and confirmation letters. Build around these with other approaches, such as events for students and parents, and mailings to students. You’ll be much more likely to achieve your recruitment goals.

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When should registration materials be sent home?When should registration materials be sent home?Parents should receive flyers and registration materials at least twice. They should be sent home at the beginning of the registration period and then again within 2 weeks of the close of registration.
How can you help teachers promote summer learning to students?How can you help teachers promote summer learning to students?Give teachers two things: a list of eligible students in their class and talking points. It requires a bit of work, but the relationship between teacher and student is a great resource for recruitment.