September 17, 2018
Whether you’re an old hand or just had your first experience with summer programming, you know the best time to start planning for next summer is now. Here are some ideas from 21st CCLC sites that participated in the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative and used a planning process designed to produce high-quality programming.
Market your program to build interest before summer begins.
In Kansas, a summer program for elementary school students once struggled to enroll students in what was described as a “summer school” focused on academics. Using strategies from the Summer Learning Initiative, staff decided to call the program a “summer camp” instead of summer school and created a fun “summer safari” theme. They emphasized engaging, hands-on learning experiences that build students’ academic skills. The program sent personalized invitations to the students who would benefit most from participation, and followed up with phone calls. For the summer 2018 program, they were at capacity with a waiting list, and parents were calling to ask if their child could get into the program. The program director attributed this success to the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative’s marketing and intentional student recruitment strategies.
Offer activities that keep students engaged throughout the summer.
Incorporating student voice is essential to creating a summer program that students want to attend. A high school program in California provided a variety of opportunities for student input. For example, the site coordinator turned his office into a resource center and encouraged students to stop by to talk. The program also used student surveys. Staff members set up an outdoor canopy during lunch to conduct informal focus groups with students. The site coordinator said these efforts to incorporate student voice improved program quality.
Some programs used educational field trips that were connected to their learning goals and program themes. For example, a program in New Jersey with a theater theme took students to local performing arts centers for learning events, then had them write about their experiences in a journal. Structured experiences like this provide real-world learning opportunities that motivate student attendance and engagement.
"They don't have to be here — they want to be here."
State Coordinator, California
Your work’s not over when summer ends.
Once your program ends, taking the time to learn from your successes and struggles can help you make improvements the next time around. Summer Learning Initiative participants created continuous improvement plans that included performance measures and measurement tools. They assigned staff, targeted groups for assessment, and set time frames to help them determine if they met their goals. Comparing actual outcomes to intended outcomes will help you understand the effectiveness of your program. Analyzing data and discussing lessons learned can help you make adjustments that will lead to greater satisfaction and success for staff and students.
For example, a program for high school students in Oregon struggled with student attendance — until staff members decided to incorporate more student voice and offered engaging science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) activities that matched student interests. A program in Kansas learned that many students were struggling during the school year, so the staff tried a new approach for the summer, using project-based learning to target specific skills and content. Students and teachers alike enjoyed the hands-on activities, and the program director reported increases in staff capacity.
"This helps them see different ways to teach. It's making them better teachers."
Project Director, Kansas
Summer Learning Initiative resources are free and available on Y4Y.
Even if you’ve never helped plan a summer learning program, you don’t have to start from scratch! Visit the Y4Y Summer Learning Initiative webpage to watch short videos of Initiative participants and download the tools they used on. You can learn more about the steps for planning and implementing high-quality summer learning experiences by exploring the resources on that page and ones in the Y4Y Summer Learning course.