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Guidance for running summer learning programs, including recommendations for early planning, hiring and sticking to firm enrollment deadlines.

This report updates earlier guidance to school district leaders interested in launching summer learning programs or improving established ones. It offers guidance based on evaluations of five urban school districts conducted between 2011 and 2016. The districts were selected by The Wallace Foundation to take part in the National Summer Learning Project, a multi-year effort to understand whether and how voluntary district-run summer learning programs can help promote success in school.

  
Go to the source: Talk directly with parents to understand what they need to know to make a decision about signing up your child for your program.
Don't reinvent the wheel: Use the Summer Learning Recruitment Guide for sample messages. Craft a message that describes the need your program meets for students and families, how they will benefit and what’s unique about it.
Have fun: Showcase field trips, high-quality enrichment and other rewards for participation as a “hook” for students and families.
  

RAND found that students needed to attend at least 20 days over the course of the summer program to experience academic benefits. So what kinds of programs do students and families like? A variety. RAND found that the two districts with the highest average attendance rates included one that looked like the school year and one designed like a camp. Timing, messages and messengers were all found to be critical components of a successful student-recruitment effort.​

Programs should communicate with families early and often, leading right up to the first day of the program, and use accurate messaging. Advertising that overemphasizes one aspect of the program over others (such as “fun” enrichment over academic learning) may result in disappointed students and lower attendance. Districts with the lowest no-show rates made personal connections with families in their program reminders, including handwritten notes from teachers and phone calls from district and site leaders.

For additional guidance and tools, visit the Summer Learning Recruitment Guide

  
​Select sites thoughtfully: Keep in mind the anticipated number of students, special facility or equipment needs, planned capital improvements and school feeder patterns.
Keep it together: Confirm that meal and snack times do not break up instructional blocks.
Be an early bird: Test your bus routes prior to the program’s first day. Ensure supplies are delivered at least one week prior to the start of the program.
  
​Put it in writing: Develop a staff manual with the program’s mission, vision, policies and leadership structure.
Assign clear staff roles: Identify who monitors meals, leads classes and helps transition students to and from classes.
Provide ample time for training and planning: Develop a training schedule and agenda that include time for both program orientation and site-team collaborative planning (see more in Staffing and Professional Development).
  
Use time wisely: Provide all staff with a handbook of key policies, contacts and schedules to avoid discussing logistics that can be covered in writing.
Provide context: Talk about the families and students being served to underscore why the summer experience and program elements are important.
Share the experience: Include all instructional support staff in curriculum training and practice sessions with teachers.
Be consistent: Model appropriate behavior-management strategies to ensure a unified approach throughout the program day.
  
Be realistic: Use historic no-show and attendance rates, not enrollment figures, to accurately project the number of staff needed for the summer program.
Cover your bases: Develop a site staffing model to ensure that critical functions related to attendance, professional development, behavior management, enrichment, instruction, meals and transitions are covered.
Aim high: Develop selective hiring procedures with the union to ensure you can hire the most qualified teachers.
  

​The Toolkit includes an example site schedule, a sample data report for participating sites, and the process to approve district funding requests for summer learning programs.

  

Offering a range of fun activities is considered an effective strategy for maximizing summer-program participation. Typically, school districts look to community-based partners for expertise in activities like sports, arts, design and cooking. It’s important to ensure these partners are equipped to carry out the program’s mission.

​Use the RFP wisely: Set clear requirements and expectations to recruit providers that best fit your mission. Best practices include keeping enrichment class sizes small and hiring enrichment instructors with relevant content knowledge.
Get on the same page: Use a Memorandum of Understanding to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities between the district and its partners.
  
Begin with the end in mind: First identify the target population of students to be served and your goals for their growth over the summer.
Be realistic about time: Consider how much instructional time you have in a day and over the course of the summer. Also factor in how much time will be needed for preprogram training, practice and planning with the curriculum.
  
The Toolkit includes an example site schedule, a sample data report for participating sites, and the process to approve district funding requests for summer learning programs.
  
Be transparent: Let all staff and stakeholders know how program quality will be measured before the program begins.
Focus your efforts: RAND found that no-show rates and attendance; loss of instructional time; instructional practice in academics and enrichment; and site climate were the most beneficial information for improving the program.

  
Take a quick tour: Review each planning category in the calendar side by side with the corresponding guidance found in the Summer Planning Calendar Companion Guide.
Make it your own: Set the timeline to match your program schedule. Begin by setting deadlines for major milestones.
Identify a planning lead: Look for a leader with influence, authority and committed time for summer. 
  
Be upfront: Set clear expectations in application and orientation materials that attendance is expected during all weeks of the program.
Reach out: ​Assign someone at each site to call home when students are absent.
Collect data: Track "no-shows" as well as daily attendance to spot issues and help plan for next year's program. Check out the Boston Attendance Tracker example.
  
Be consistent with behavior: Develop and apply appropriate student behavior policies that are aligned with the climate you want to create at your site. Check out Rochester’s approach in their staff handbook.
Break the ice: Include “getting-to-know-you” activities in both staff training and the program’s first week.
Have fun: Plan daily and weekly rituals that lift up student voices in songs, chants and recognition. Showcase student work and program themes in décor.  Pittsburgh’s site leadership handbook provides good examples.
  

​The Calendar includes sections dedicated to Student Recruitment and Site Operations and Culture.

  
Build a year-round planning team: Invite the right district experts to your team. They may include curriculum, transportation, human resources, procurement, information technology and facilities leaders.
Align your focus: Connect program goals to larger district goals for broader buy-in and sustainability.
Cultivate champions: Use the Sustainability Planning Tools with key stakeholders to generate ideas for long-term district and community engagement.
  
​Make it a priority: Create a master schedule with adequate time for transitions, academic classes in continuous blocks and 3-4 hours per day for academics.
Keep logistics smooth: Ensure buses, meals and supplies are delivered on time.
Prepare staff: Provide instructors with strategies to quickly launch and wrap-up lessons, manage independent practice time and re-energize students during the afternoon slump.
  
Find cost efficiencies: Determine where you can share costs within your program and across other district summer programs. Consider consolidating sites for savings on facilities and transportation.
Use your data: Review last summer’s enrollment, attrition and attendance data to better estimate the number of staff you need this summer—your largest expense.
  

​The Toolkit includes additional examples to help you develop staffing MOUs, hire staff, and create handbooks with important information about the program, its mission and goals, and policies.