Summer Learning Programs

There is a distinction to be made between remedial summer school and enrichment programs. Traditionally, the term “summer school” was utilized to describe students making up for failing a class between September and June. However, increasingly educators, families, and policymakers have found that high-quality summer learning programs that include a mix of academic and enrichment activities can reduce summer learning loss in a fun, engaging way. While most students learn at a similar rate during the school year, researchers found that when school ends, students in low-income environments struggle to continue their learning throughout the summer. Comparative with their more affluent peers, this could lead them to be cumulatively behind by two-and-a-half to three years by the time they get to fifth grade. With this knowledge, there has been a shift in recognizing the opportunity to use summer as a safe, developmentally rich setting for learning and development. By utilizing summertime to re-engage students social-emotionally, research shows there will be a better chance to mediate some of the learning loss that occurs during the summer. 

According to a RAND publication, the following are among the characteristics of a high-quality summer learning program: 

  • Highly qualified and specially trained staff, along with early planning that engages partners with clearly delineated roles
  • Smaller class sizes, individualized instruction, and sufficient time on task (operating the program for at least five weeks, with three to four hours of academics per day)
  • Involving families and maximizing student attendance with firm enrollment deadlines, clear attendance policies, and electronic student records
  • Strategic use of partnerships
  • Using evidence-based, commercially available curricula, and standardizing its use across sites
  • Providing carefully planned, engaging enrichment activities

In a brief from the National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment (NCASE), they state that it takes high-quality summer programs to have a lasting impact on youth. NCASE demonstrates the importance of understanding the available funding is necessary for high-quality summer programs. One of their recommendations is to collect, analyze, and share compelling outcome data to prove that summer learning programs are successful.

Additionally, summer programming goes beyond academic supports. The National Academies of Sciences (NAS) highlights the importance for student social and emotional learning and the ability to offer wellbeing benefits to youth during the summer months. In a recent report, NAS goes to stress the need for children to have access to basic developmental needs including adequate nutrition and the need for safety. An NSLA report provided research showing that many children go hungry during the summer and only 1 in 7 youth eligible for summer meal programs received them. Summer programs offer an opportunity to reach students who receive free or reduced-priced school lunch during the school to offer them this in the summer as well.

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Summer Learning Research and Publications: