Summer Learning Programs


Teach with students in summer afterschool program


There is an important distinction between remedial summer school and enrichment programs. Traditionally, the term “summer school” described students making up for failing a class between September and June through “drill and kill” style summer learning. Increasingly educators, families, and policymakers have found that high-quality summer learning programs that mix 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, when school ends, students in low-income environments struggle to continue learning throughout the summer. Compare to their more affluent peers, this could lead them 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 recognizing the opportunity to use summer as a safe, developmentally rich setting for learning and growth. By utilizing summertime to re-engage students social-emotionally, research shows there will be a better chance to mediate some of the summer learning loss. Overall, consistent summer learning experiences can help close opportunity gaps, lead to higher graduation rates, and increase college readiness in students. 

Pandemic related learning loss resulting from school closures created impacts that may extend into adulthood, including reduced earning potential and educational attainment. Educators and policymakers have advocated for leveraging afterschool and summer programming to lessen learning loss effects and help students catch up, keep up. Alongside school time hours, these programs may help combat the pandemic effects. 

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 

The National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment (NCASE) brief claims 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. They recommend collecting, analyzing, and sharing compelling outcome data indicating the successes of summer learning programs. 

Additionally, summer programming goes beyond academic supports. The National Academies of Sciences (NAS) highlights the importance of student social and emotional learning and the ability to offer wellbeing benefits to youth during the summer months. In a recent report, NAS stresses the need for children to have access to basic developmental needs including adequate nutrition and safety. The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) 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-price school lunch during school in the summer too. 

Example Enacted State Legislation

NCSL’s the Promise of Summer Enrichment Programs and Policies LegisBrief takes a look at state and federal action regarding summer learning programs.  

The 2020-2021 Afterschool and Summer Learning Legislative Trends Whitepaper highlights recent state legislative trends. Additionally, the following examples provide a continued snapshot of legislation and are not exhaustive. Read more about enacted legislation on summer learning at NCSL’s Education Bill Tracking Database.   

The following examples provide a snapshot of legislation and are not exhaustive.




States’ efforts to support summer has included focusing policy and funding on certain populations (e.g. at-risk or older youth) or issue areas (e.g. professional development). Other states have taken steps to collect information on the state of afterschool within their state to inform future policy around funding opportunities.  


To curb the effects of summer slides, states have enacted legislation for summer literacy programs to help students retain knowledge over the summer and prepare for the curriculum requirements of the following year.     

Learning Recovery

Research has shown learning loss resulting from COVID-19 school closures has impacts that can exacerbate existing achievement gaps. States, districts and schools have sought to leverage afterschool and summer programming to help students catch up and keep up. 


During the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program.  While COVID-19 unexpectedly placed many children out of school, policymakers have enacted legislation that gives them access to meals. 

STEM Workforce

Summer programs with a STEM focus have provided the opportunity for youth to build core math and literacy skills that help curb the effects of the summer slide. These programs provide a hands-on learning style that motivates them in activities and strays away from traditional summer programming. They have demonstrated engagement within student populations that are underrepresented in the STEM field, particularly girls and minority students. Additionally, STEM programs allow for partnerships among schools and the community including colleges and universities, museums, science centers, federal science agencies and businesses. 

Council/ Taskforce

Another legislative trend includes establishing state task forces or commissions to study summer programs in the state and make recommendations, groups typically convene for a specified amount of time, are comprised of state agency representatives, community stakeholders and often state legislators, and are tasked with collecting information on the state’s afterschool and/or summer learning landscape and making policy recommendations to the legislature.  


Read more about enacted legislation on summer learning at NCSL’s Education Bill Tracking Database 

High Quality Programs

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) highlights these programs as some of the best in the nation:


The Dance Institute of Washington | Washington D.C.  

The Summer Dance Bootcamp is a five-week program that engages high needs youth in dance, literacy, and professional development activities. The program offers various dance styles along with Academic Power Hours, targeted to increase students’ literacy skills. 

America SCORES Los Angeles (ASLA) | Los Angeles, CA  

ASLA is a summer program using soccer, poetry, and service to improve literacy. ASLA focuses on improving English standardized test scores, self-esteem, teamwork, leaderships, hours pf physical activity, and community connections. Over the four-week program, students switch between soccer and classroom-based literacy activities.  

Memphis Public Libraries’ Explore Memphis | Memphis, TN  

Explore Memphis is a literacy-based summer program that focuses on addressing the “summer slide”, improving kindergarten readiness, and increasing student literacy rates. The programs main goal is to provide educational attainment opportunities to low-income, at-risk youth through educational and creativity-driven programs. 

College and Career Readiness

Fab Youth Philly's Play Captain Initiative | Philadelphia, PA 

The Play Captain Initiative is a summer program that empowers teens and trains them in leadership while also providing an enriching experience for the younger children involved. Play Captain Initiative’s mission is to decrease summer slide, increase physical activity, and provide jobs for teens.

Additional Resources