Summer Planning

Effective summer learning programs require strong planning and execution, enabling staff to implement high-quality programs on time and on budget. Without dedicated time allotted for summer preparation, educational leaders can easily become overwhelmed by academic year demands, leaving districts scrambling to finalize summer plans and missing opportunities to maximize summer learning. By beginning the planning process in the fall, teams can leverage lessons learned from the previous summer session, identify areas to improve or scale activities, and map out steps to ensure that planning tasks are completed in a timely and comprehensive manner. An extended planning timeline also provides ample opportunity to reach out to key stakeholders  whether teachers/staff, community partners, or potential summer learners  and engage them in summer learning efforts. 

Strategies Aligned Resources

Commit to effective summer programs 

Summer programs that produce positive outcomes respond to student and community needs, center impactful learning opportunities, and are of sufficient duration to make a difference in students lives. Designing these initiatives requires thoughtful, intensive planning and assembly of the right decision makers to secure approvals and operationalize plans. It also includes targeted review and identification of proven practices for maximizing program impact for intended populations and in line with district priorities. Districts should seek early buy-in, educate partners about program goals and processes, anticipate challenges and develop mitigation strategies to ensure a smooth planning process.   

Rand’s second edition Getting to Work on Summer Learning + Add to Action Plan provides recommendations for district leaders and their partners who are interested in launching or improving summer learning programs. Key suggestions outlined on page ix include: Commit in the fall to a summer program and begin planning and recruiting instructors by January. 

  • Select a director with the requisite time and authority to lead planning. 
  • Identify priority student populations (e.g., all students, English language learners) to drive goal setting and planning. 

Develop a summer learning workplan and budget 

Whether adapting existing programs or launching a new initiative, summer learning requires a high degree of organization to optimize limited instructional time and keep students and staff engaged. Likewise, a well-defined budget can provide planners with a clear sense of what’s possible to support academics and enrichment activities, and identify gaps that could be filled with partnership agreements or other resource mobilization efforts.   Using tools to identify responsible, accountable, supporting, consulted, and informed (RASCI) partners, templates; and checklists can help districts ensure that bases are covered and participants can transition seamlessly to summer learning programs.  

The Wallace Foundation has curated a wealth of resources to support districts in their summer planning processes, partnering with thought leaders and practitioners to develop more than 50 evidence-based tools and resources. Review their Planning and Management toolkit + Add to Action Plan which includes: 

  • The Summer Planning Calendar, with sections devoted to management, continuous improvement, recruitment, curriculum, and other key areas  
  • The Summer Budget tool, which can help districts track standard expenses and revenue and customize their budget 

Page 7 of this planning resource + Add to Action Plan from TNTP is a list of questions to consider when determining which students to prioritize. You will also find for a list of considerations when choosing a summer learning modelincluding: what students know and have yet to master, how teams will track progress, and instructional capacity needed. 

Design effective messaging strategies 

Well-designed communications programs can provide critical information to potential summer learning participants and their families. This may include details about program activities, participant requirements, and the potential benefits of summer learning involvement.  

Beyond these considerations, a revamped summer learning program requires a shift in understanding of who summer learning is designed for. Rather than a remedial program required for students with failing grades  an approach that can further stigmatize and disincentivize students in need of support  these summer initiatives are designed for all students. Communicating early and often with potential summer learning participants and their families can drive home this message.  

The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) has a Summer Learning Planning Guide + Add to Action Plan that helps educators prepare to work with students and families/caregivers. See page 9 for a breakdown of communications considerations by stakeholder groups (i.e., teachers, families, students). 

In 2020, the National Summer Learning Association (NLSA) developed a National Summer Learning Week Toolkit + Add to Action Plan to increase participation in and support for summer learning programs. These include letters and social media campaigns. Review the toolkit for key messages, calls to action for community partners, and templates that you can use to tailor communications for your district. 

Launch a comprehensive summer learning recruitment effort 

Summer learning programs are only effective if students take advantage of them. Once districts have identified priority groups, they can design a recruitment plan to ensure that programs are engaging the students they’re designed to serve. This is particularly critical for families with lower incomes, many of whom do not have knowledge of or access to the academic and enrichment opportunities available for children from families with higher incomesSuccessful recruitment efforts are tailored to the communities they’re intended to reach, rely on multiple communication channels, and include considerations to make the sign-up process as user-friendly as possible 

Use the Summer Learning Recruitment Guide + Add to Action Plan from the Wallace Foundation to learn from five school districts how to launch a summer learning recruitment effort, develop a recruitment planning timeline, and create your recruitment game plan. 

Guiding Questions

  • Who do we need on our summer learning planning team, and what are the key tasks that team members need to complete? 
  • How can we communicate most effectively with students, families, teachers and partners to ensure robust summer learning participation?