Children from historically marginalized communities experience setbacks in the summer relative to their wealthier peers, and these structural and ongoing inequities have become even more pronounced, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an opportunity for school districts and their community partners to explore how to leverage summer to provide compelling, engaging and culturally responsive programming, in settings both inside and outside of school buildings.
How We Are Tackling It
The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Project in 2011 to understand the implementation and effectiveness of voluntary summer learning programs and to provide quality summer opportunities to students. Students in five urban school districts were offered the opportunity to participate in a full-day, voluntary summer learning program for two consecutive summers, prior to 4th and 5th grade. While district programs differed, each offered at least three hours of academics plus enrichment activities for five days per week, for at least five weeks. Districts typically partnered with community organizations to offer enrichment activities; two districts developed their summer program together with their community partners. The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation, is the largest and longest study of summer programming.
Findings reveal that high-quality summer learning programs can produce meaningful benefits for “high attenders”—those who attended 20 or more days. School districts and other organizations seeking to implement summer learning programs to boost outcomes for students should consider a number of factors linked to student benefits: offering programs for multiple summers, promoting high attendance, ensuring high academic time on task, supporting quality instruction and operating programs for at least five weeks.
Further guidance from the NSLP on planning and running summer programs can be found in the Knowledge Center. Key publications include:
District Summer Learning Network
The District Summer Learning Network draws on our longstanding work through the National Summer Learning Project and what we have learned. The goal is to help districts and their community partners plan and implement effective summer programs and use federal dollars available through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, in a strategic and sustainable way, especially to meet the needs of children from marginalized communities or those who need it the most.
The effort, which will run through 2023, will be managed by FHI 360, an international nonprofit that works with governments and the private sector on change efforts across multiple public sector areas including education, health and workforce development.
Participating districts will work to shape three-year plans that serve the needs of young people—especially those from historically marginalized communities—and do so in ways that are effective, evidence-based and sustainable long term, once ESSER funds are no longer available. Plans will respond to local context and needs and will align with priorities articulated in each district’s ESSER federal-spending plans. In addition to defining a vision for summer, plans will also include strategies around equity, whole-child learning and community partnerships.
To shape their plans, districts will have access to the following:
- Targeted technical assistance, coaching and professional development, based on current context and needs
- A facilitated peer learning community, which will include smaller cohorts of similar districts
- Access to new and existing tools and resources for planning and implementation, drawing from, but not limited to, the online
Wallace Summer Learning Toolkit
The cohort is intended to reflect a geographically diverse group of high-need/high-poverty districts spanning urban, suburban and rural communities that have a history of and interest in embedding summer learning in their strategy. We are working with a small group of national organizations to nominate districts for participation. Districts interested in learning more can contact
At Wallace, we are particularly interested in supporting districts that are eager to work with community partners to address access and find ways to better meet the needs of children who are not normally able to attend summer programs. This aligns with what we have learned through our longstanding work: district-community partnerships that offer a full day of high-quality academics and enrichment over about six weeks in the summer can make a difference for children.
The project will also include an external research study to document findings and lessons that can be shared with the broader field to help improve policy and practice. For example, through the research, we hope to better understand how districts and their partners design and implement summer plans and programming that support young people from historically marginalized communities, what kinds of supports help districts do this work and how this varies according to local goals and contexts.