Online Guide Offers Insights, Tool Kit to Help School Districts and Community Organizations Recruit Students for Voluntary Summer Learning Programs

March 06, 2018



The Wallace Foundation
Lucas Held
(212) 251-9782


Online Guide Offers Insights, Tool Kit to Help School Districts and Community Organizations Recruit Students for Voluntary Summer Learning Programs

New Resource Explains Eight Keys to Successful Marketing

New York – Many public school districts are seeking to expand or launch voluntary summer learning programs, especially for children from low-income families. But once a program becomes available, will students attend? A new recruitment guide on how to market summer learning to parents and students offers guidance and detailed templates that districts and others can use to interest children and families in these programs and encourage their participation.

The resource, “Summer Learning Recruitment Guide,” is available online and in print and is based on the experiences of five large urban districts and their community partners that recruited thousands of children for voluntary summer learning programs. The National Summer Learning Project, supported by the Wallace Foundation, is 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.

Even though the five participating districts—Boston, Dallas, Duval County, Fla., Pittsburgh, and Rochester—were committed to and experienced with running summer learning programs, they had limited experience in recruiting students. To assist, the Wallace Foundation engaged Crosby Marketing Communications to support the districts and their partner organizations in engaging parents and ultimately attracting students to the programs.

The new marketing guide contains advice drawn from the districts’ recruitment efforts over several years, including which strategies worked the best and why. It also contains insights from focus groups with more than 100 parents about how they think about summer and what would motivate them to sign their children up for voluntary summer learning programs.

The lessons and tools in the guide are also applicable to community-based organizations that need to effectively engage parents, children, and youth for voluntary programs.

“Studies have found that students from low-income families lose ground academically over the summer, and also are less likely than students from wealthier families to have access to enriching, non-academic experiences,” said Lucas Held of The Wallace Foundation, which released the guide in partnership with Crosby Marketing Communications of Annapolis, Md. “Many of these parents and students aren’t used to thinking of summer as an opportunity for learning, so it was important to listen to them and to market voluntary summer learning opportunities in ways that would appeal to them and to their children.”

For example, while parents were protective of their children’s time during the summer, they valued the mix of fun and academics offered in the voluntary programs. Although parents weren’t charged a fee, they didn’t like the word “free,” associating it with a possible lack of quality. Terms such as “no-cost” were more appealing, as were the words “register” or “sign up” rather than “apply,” which connoted selectivity, the guide says.

The guide contains detailed information on eight keys to success for summer learning recruitment: understand your audience; create engaging messaging; create a written plan; make your outreach consistent and assertive; use trusted messengers; build a relationship with parent and students; make registration as easy as possible; and engage directly with students.

Along with a menu of proven tactics—and whether they are required, recommended, or optional—the guide contains examples and templates that can be used to recruit students, ensure they register, and confirm their participation on the first day. These include sample copy for recruitment flyers; recruitment postcards; scripts for robocalls; talking points for teachers to us for individual students and with parents; scripts for phone calls with parents; copy for emails and promotional activities; talking points for district personnel to explain the program, and more.

“Working closely with the school districts that participated in the National Summer Learning Project, we learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to engaging with parents and students around summer learning,” said Jeff Rosenberg of Crosby Marketing and author of the guide. “This guide is built on those real-world lessons and is designed to help school districts design a recruitment program that can be customized to work in their own district.”

Summer Learning Recruitment Guideis available at

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The Wallace Foundation
The Wallace Foundation seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of arts for everyone. The foundation has an unusual approach: funding efforts to test innovative ideas for solving important public problems, conducting research to find out what works and what doesn’t and to fill key knowledge gaps – and then communicating the results to help others. Wallace, which works nationally, has five major initiatives under way:

  • School leadership: Strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement.
  • Afterschool: Helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to many more children.
  • Building audiences for the arts: Enabling arts organizations to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.
  • Arts education: Expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens.
  • Summer learning: Better understanding the impact of high-quality summer learning programs on disadvantaged children.
  • Social and emotional learning: Aligning and improving opportunities for social and emotional learning for children across school and out-of-school-time settings.
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