A Fair Approach to Registration: A Dallas Case Study To help inform their recruitment strategy, the Dallas Independent School District and its nonprofit partner Big Thought hired a research firm to conduct surveys and focus groups of parents whose children participated in the district’s summer learning programs. They found that almost 80 percent of students registered because of information sent home from school. They also learned that many parents wanted more details about the programs like what the curriculum covered.

Perhaps the most important insight from the research was that students who registered were more likely to be from relatively affluent families than the low-income families the district hoped to attract. The reason? Online registration, which the district relied on heavily in the past, discouraged many parents because they didn’t have ready access to computers.

As a result, for summer 2017, the district took a different approach, seeking to make registration as simple and appealing as possible not only for parents but for principals and staff. “We encourage principals to promote summer learning for their students who can most benefit,” said Crystal Rentz, Director of Summer Learning & Extended Day Services at Dallas ISD. “Our principals have a rigorous evaluation heavily weighted on student achievement. We talk to the principals, helping them see that summer learning can help students at-risk get the boost they may need.”

To make the process easy, each school received the exact number of promotional materials it needed so school staff didn’t have to make copies. And, unlike in past years, parents were not instructed to send completed registration forms back to their child's school, so there was no need for a staff member to track registrations (except at the schools hosting the summer programs, which had additional staff to provide support).

Instead, parents throughout the district were invited to the “Discover Summer PREP U Super Saturday and Resource Fair.” This event, held at a centrally located elementary school with plenty of parking and access to public transportation, was a one-stop shop for families to explore a variety of summer learning opportunities and talk directly to program staff. Parents could register their child for a program and immediately get confirmation that they had secured a slot.

To publicize the fair, postcards were sent to parents throughout the district. Flyers were delivered in bulk to each school. So were posters and yard signs. The mayor attended. Local media covered the event. The result—more than 4,000 parents and students attended.