This report looks at how schools, community-based organizations and other civic organizations in four cities — Boston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. — formed coordinated networks to increase access to high-quality summer programming for young people. (Boston, Dallas and Pittsburgh were participants in the National Summer Learning Project, a multi-year, Wallace-funded effort to expand access to summer learning opportunities and understand whether and how voluntary district-run summer learning programs could help promote success in school, provide high-quality enrichment opportunities.)
All four cities sought to bring together their school district and an array of other players, such as the local out-of-school-time intermediary, community-based organizations, the library system, local government agencies, and the mayor’s office, to create new summer program slots and strengthen and promote existing programs. In 2017, the authors interviewed representatives of these organizations and found the following:
- Organizations in all four cities had at least some prior experience working together on summer services, so launching a new coordinated effort was a relatively easy next step.
- The mayors of these cities served as key supporters, setting goals, keeping the various players on task, and attracting funding and media attention.
- Goals varied from city to city. They included raising awareness of summer programming and engaging the community, improving program quality, increasing access to and participation in summer programs, and promoting neighborhood safety.
- There were three different leadership models for these efforts: In Boston and Dallas the local out-of-school-time intermediary took the lead; in Washington, D.C., the mayor’s office took the lead, with the Department of Education playing a facilitating role; and in Pittsburgh, leadership was distributed among all participating organizations. All three models were successful, but the intermediary-led efforts were farther along in their quality improvement work.
- All four efforts were successful in raising awareness of summer learning opportunities and providing families with information about specific programs; increasing the number of young people participating in programs; creating new programs in high-need areas; improving program quality; and attracting the attention of funders and policymakers.
- Challenges included establishing and maintaining buy-in from all players, keeping them informed and moving in the same direction and securing sustainable funding. Still, at least three of four cities continued their efforts for at least four years after the authors’ initial research.
The authors offer the following recommendations for leaders in other cities interested in launching and maintaining coordinated efforts to increase participation in high-quality summer programming or similar goals:
- Set a broad vision that allows for flexibility as more is learned about local needs.
- Make sure the mayor is involved.
- Model efforts on what has worked in the past, building on established relationships and inviting new people and organizations to participate.
- Adopt goals and strategies that fit with the chosen leadership model. For instance, a mayor-led effort may be better positioned to involve government agencies like Parks and Recreation or the police department.
- Choose the right strategies to reach established goals and carefully consider the conditions and resources needed to execute each strategy.
- Consider targeting efforts to neighborhoods where the need is greatest.
- Create an evaluation plan early, identifying the data needed to assess progress, and make sure the right staff and data infrastructure are in place to carry out the plan.
- Offer incentives for summer programs to participate in the network, such as additional funding, individualized data reports, professional development and networking opportunities, and videos and photos they can use in their marketing efforts.