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​​​​​​ Develop Your Strategy

We observed what worked (and what didn't) in five large urban districts and came up with Eight Keys to Success for summer learning recruitment. How you incorporate these keys into your own recruitment effort will depend on local context, but note that we have divided the keys into two groups:

  • Numbers 1 through 3 will likely be the foundational components of any plan.
  • Numbers 4 through 8 are supportive techniques that the districts in the National Summer Learning Project have used effectively.
Understand your audience

Whether you hire a research center at a local university to conduct focus groups or talk to parents directly, the more you know about what parents think about summer and your summer learning program and what they want for their children, the more likely you are to be successful. Learn what parents and children want your program to offer; what details parents need in order to make a decision about registering; and what barriers could get in the way.


Create engaging messaging

Good recruitment materials lead with what’s most important and motivating to parents, rather than administrative requirements like deadlines and forms to be completed. Some points to emphasize include:

District teachers lead academics and trained professionals lead enrichment activities.
The program is a mix of academics and fun.​​
Summer learning helps students succeed in the fall.
The program takes place in a safe environment.
Transportation and meals are included.

Also, describe your program as “no-cost,” rather than “free”—a word  parents associate with low quality. For step-by-step guidance on creating unique messaging that will resonate with parents in your community, click below.


Create a written plan

A written plan is a must. It will lay out all the steps you and your team need to take to make your recruitment effort a success. Start by identifying your target audiences as specifically as possible (e.g. . “children with IEPs” or “children at low levels of reading proficiency”). Next, set goals that can be clearly measured, such as the number of students in each grade you want to register. Then spell out all the activities that need to happen to achieve those goals and put them in a calendar or timeline. Once your plan is in place, measure your progress. For example, you might keep track of the number of contacts made with students.


4Be consistent and assertive

Parents should hear about your program several times, using different channels. More >>

5Use personalized outreach

Have trusted people—principals, guidance counselors, teachers—reach out to parents and students. More >>

6Build relationships with parents and students

Help make parents and students feel they are part of your summer learning “family.” More >>

7Make registration as easy as possible

Give parents as many ways as possible to register their child. More >>

8Engage students directly

Keep in mind: students are your most important “customers.” More >>

What Parents Think
Focus groups in three cities taught us a lot about what parents think about summer learning. We learned, for example, that they want summer to be a break from the rigors of the school year and that they often confuse summer learning for traditional summer school, which can have a negative connotation. When we explained that a summer learning program is a mix of academics and fun, however, parents were all for it. They especially liked that summer learning can help their child get ready for the next school year. Read more about what we learned to help you market your own summer learning program.

More on what Parents Think

Summary 8 Keys to Success The foundation of your recruitment effort is understanding your audience, developing engaging messaging, and creating a written plan. Once this foundation is in place, use best practices, like personalized outreach, to make a connection with parents and students.​
Children from low-income families
take part in out-of-school activities at half the rate of their more affluent peers.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
For many students, summer learning will open new worlds.