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 Why a Recruitment Effort is Crucial


To attract students who can benefit from a voluntary summer learning program, you need a plan. Sending a flyer home or advertising once in the local newspaper isn't enough to reach busy parents. Several factors make an intentional recruitment effort necessary:

Unlike summer school, voluntary programs require that parents and students choose to attend.
Many parents and students are not used to thinking of summer as a time of learning.
School districts must overcome the negative perceptions of traditional summer school that many parents have.
Voluntary summer learning programs compete with many other programs and activities for the attention of parents.

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


59% of school-aged children from low-income families take part in sports, compared with 84% percent of children from wealthier families.
Source: Pew Research Center
Summer learning can help close the opportunity gap.
The Value of Outreach to Low-Income Families

Many public school districts are looking to expand or launch voluntary summer learning programs, especially for children from low-income families. These children can experience setbacks over the summer compared with their more affluent peers. A number of studies have found that students from low-income families learn less during the summer than students from higher-income families.

Students from low-income communities can also face an opportunity gap—they are less likely to have access to the enriching, nonacademic experiences that students from higher-income communities usually have.

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

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What is the National Summer Learning Project?
Project BackgroundThe guidance offered here is based on research from the National Summer Learning Project (NSLP), the largest effort 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, Florida)
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 the districts carried out their summer learning programs.

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 recruitment strategy, you'll want to create a written plan. Below is a sample timeline to give you a sense of the kinds of outreach activites needed throughout the year. The timeline is divided into four main phases:  increasing awareness in the fall, registering students in late winter/early spring, ramping up registration efforts in late spring, and encouraging students  to show up on day one. The specific activities are all discussed in detail in the Build Your Game Plan 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

Give Families Personal or Robocall Reminders Leading Up to Day One of the Program.


We'll walk you through the process of building your recruitment effort. 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 need to involve to make my recruitment program a success? The answer should include district leaders, such as the chief academic officer or other members of the superintendent’s “cabinet,” who can help push your efforts forward when they hit a roadblock. It should also include central office staff with direct supervision of principals, as well as principals at the schools hosting summer learning programs. It may also include community partners that provide enrichment programming during the summer. Bring them in early.
A Case Study

 A Case Study

  • Achieving your recruitment goals often requires course corrections. The Dallas Independent School District and Big Thought decided to take a new approach in response to some eye-opening research findings.
    Read the case study

Summer learning programs have the potential to increase opportunities and improve outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds. Intentional outreach to these students is critical. Start planning early and involve key stakeholders in the community. Connect with parents early and often to ensure the success of your recruitment effort.