Voluntary, school district-run summer learning programs can confer a variety benefits on children who attend them regularly. But first, kids need to enroll—something districts and their partners should not take for granted, given competing opportunities.

Based on the experience of five urban school districts that took part in a Wallace Foundation-funded effort to expand high-quality summer learning opportunities for low-income students, this website and publication offer guidance for successful recruitment.

Before the districts began their work, Crosby Marketing Communications conducted focus groups with about 100 parents of 3rd and 4th graders in three cities. Based on the focus groups and its observations working with the districts, Crosby identified eight keys to successful recruitment for a summer learning program. They are:

  • Understand your audience
  • Create engaging messaging
  • Create a written plan
  • Make your outreach consistent and engaging
  • Use trusted messengers
  • Build a relationship with parents and students
  • Make registration as easy as possible
  • Engage directly with students

Also from the focus groups, districts learned that while parents were motivated by the idea of preparing their children for the next grade, they also believed summer should be a break from the rigors of the school year. Therefore, it was important to emphasize that summer programs offered a mix of academics and fun. The term “summer school,” elicited a negative reaction from the parents. So did the word “free,” which they took to imply a lack of program quality. Parents mentioned transportation, hours of operation, location and perceived safety of the program site as potential barriers to participation.

The website and written guide both include an overview of tactics the districts used as part of their recruitment efforts—from texts and robocalls to “try-the-program” events and one-on-one outreach. They categorize these tactics as “required,” “recommended,” or “optional”; indicate the level of effort involved; and provide examples or templates that districts can use or adapt.

Although designed for summer learning programs, the guidance—derived from the principles of community-based social marketing—can be applied to other voluntary programs serving children and youth.

 Points of Interest

  • In focus groups of about 100 parents, most said they don’t make summer plans for their children until mid- to late-April or May. Some reported making them earlier, while others said they wait as late as June. A new guide helps encourage earlier outreach.
    Recruiting for a summer learning program? A new guide helps get parents interested and encourages early outreach.
  • In focus groups, parents indicated that they want their children to have a say in deciding what they will do over the summer. It is therefore crucial that districts market their summer learning programs directly to students, using special events, materials and one-on-one outreach.
    Parents say it’s not enough to sell them on summer learning. The kids need to be excited, too. Two words: Pizza party

 Supplementary Materials