On this page

Why a Recruitment Program is Crucial

​Getting the students who can most benefit from your voluntary summer learning program requires designing and implementing a recruitment program. Sending a flyer home or advertising once in the local newspaper will not be enough to reach busy parents. Several factors make an intentional recruitment program necessary:

These are the voluntary summer learning programs, unlike many other summer programs offered by public school districts that are mandatory
Many parents are not used to thinking of summer as a time of learning. School districts need to overcome negative perceptions many parents have of traditional "summer school"
District summer learning programs compete with many other programs and activities for the attention of parents

Plus, many school districts seek to recruit specific groups of students, such as students at risk of grade retention or serving a specific proportion of students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).


Students eligible for school lunch have a
34% point achievement gap in math.
Source: NAEP
Let's close the gap.
The value of getting the “right” students to your summer learning program

Many public school districts are seeking to expand or launch voluntary summer learning programs, especially for children from low-income families. These children experience setbacks over the summer compared to their more affluent peers. Most studies have found that students from low-income families learn less during the summer than do students from higher-income families. Plus, if students do experience summer learning loss, those from low-income neighborhoods experience larger losses over the summer compared to students from wealthier neighborhoods.

Students from low-income communities also face an opportunity gap—they are less likely to have access to enriching, nonacademic experiences than students from higher-income communities. For example, 59 percent of school-aged children from low-income families take part in sports, compared to 84 percent of children from wealthier families.

Voluntary summer learning programs that offer a mix of academics and fun enrichment activities could address these disparities, potentially helping students from low-income families achieve better academic and social-emotional outcomes.

 Untitled ‭[2]‬

What is the National Summer Learning Project?
Program Scope​The guidance offered in this playbook are based on learnings from the National Summer Learning Project (NSLP), the largest study ever to look at whether and how large-scale, voluntary summer learning programs offered by public school districts can help improve educational outcomes for students.

Supported by The Wallace Foundation, the NSLP is a partnership of:

The RAND Corporation
Boston Public Schools, with the community-based organization, Boston After School and Beyond
Dallas Independent School District, with the community-based organization, Big Thought
Duval County Public Schools (Jacksonville, FL)
Pittsburgh Public Schools
Rochester City School District

Research Methodology The research component of the NSLP included a randomized controlled trial along with studies examining how summer learning programs were implemented.

Conducted by RAND, the RCT focused on students who were in 3rd grade in spring, 2013
Students who signed up to take part in the districts’ summer learning programs were randomly selected to participate or not participate in the program for two summers (2013 and 2014)
RAND will continue to gather a wide range of data from both groups of students through the 7th grade, including school year grades and attendance, student performance on standardized tests of math and reading, and measures of social-emotional skills

Learn more about the NSLP

A Sample Recruitment Timeline As you Develop Your Strategy for recruiting students to take part in your summer learning program, you'll start by creating a written plan. Below is a sample timeline of tactics that can support your written plan. It gives you a sense of the kinds of outreach efforts needed throughout the year. These tactics focus around increasing awareness in the fall, registration in late winter and spring, and in late spring, encouraging students to show up on day one. They are all detailed in the Build Your Gameplan section.

"Think About Summer" Events

Have an in-school pizza party for students who attended last summer.

Send Materials Home

Distribute a “happy holidays, summer is coming” greeting card to students.

Send Materials Home

Flyers and registration materials should be sent home at least twice.

Registration Event

Hold a summer “fair” where parents and students can learn about your summer programs

Confirmation Letters

Confirm with parents that their children are enrolled.

Welcome Postcards to Students

Let students know you’re excited to see them in the summer.

Reminder Phone Calls

Personal or robocall reminders leading up to day one of the program.


We'll walk you through the process of building your recruitment program. But if you’d prefer, you can jump ahead and see the range of tactics the districts in the NSLP used.

Involving Key Stakeholders Early in the planning process, ask yourself, who are the people I will need onboard to successfully implement my recruitment program? And who are members of the district leadership I need in the summer learning “corner” to help push our recruitment efforts forward when we hit snags at, for example, some schools? Undoubtedly, this will include district leadership, such as the Chief Academic Officer or other members of the Superintendent’s “cabinet.” It will include members of the central office leadership with direct supervision of principals. It will include principals at the schools hosting summer learning programs. It may include community partners that provide enrichment programming during the summer. Bring them in early.

 A Case Study

  • Achieving your recruitment goals and objectives often requires some course corrections. The Dallas Independent School District and Big Thought decided to take a new approach after enlightening research findings.
    Read the case study
Why Recruit Summary Summer learning recruitment is critical to help provide opportunities for students at risk of grade retention or students with IEPs. When beginning a recruitment effort, start early and involve key stakeholders in the community. Connect with parents early and often to ensure summer learning success.

 Test your knowledge:



What are some of the biggest obstacles to recruiting success?What are some of the biggest obstacles to recruiting success?Parents don't always see the importance of learning during the summer, plus they often mix up voluntary summer learning with traditional, remedial "summer school." And there are community programs available too.
Why is it so important to address the opportunity gap?Why is it so important to address the opportunity gap?Academic learning is very important, but so is learning that takes place through non-academic pursuits, such as art, music, and sports. They can exercise the mind in different ways, as well as help develop important social-emotional skills.