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Why Summer?


During the summer, students from low-income backgrounds lose more ground compared to their wealthier peers. Summer can be a time to help level the playing field through high-quality, summer learning programs that research shows produce measurable benefits in math, reading and social and emotional learning. School districts have typically thought of summer as a time for remedial work only. There is evidence, however, that summer can help districts face one of their biggest challenges: closing persistent opportunity gaps.

These gaps contribute to disparities in student achievement. They also mean that the array of enriching summertime experiences available to higher-income children are unavailable to children from lower-income communities. A 2020 study by the U.S. Census Bureau bears this out. It found that children living above the poverty level are more than twice as likely as children living below the poverty level to participate in clubs; or take part in music, dance, or other lessons; or play on sports teams. 

Summer programs can be part of the solution. They can help students make up ground in core academic subjects. They can also provide activities—everything from theater and visual arts to nature walks and rock climbing—that children might otherwise miss out on. Voluntary-attendance programs run by the school district are a promising option because they have the potential to reach more students than traditional summer school or smaller programs run by nonprofits. Download this summer by the numbers infographic.


What do I need to know about Summer Learning?

Summer programs give students a chance to sharpen their academic skills and take part in enriching activities like sports, arts, and community service. They provide an opportunity for active learning, new and exciting experiences, and warm and supportive relationships.

Voluntary-attendance programs run by school districts are a promising solution because they can reach more students than traditional summer school or smaller programs run by nonprofits. A multi-year study of programs for elementary school children in five cities found that students who attended for 20 or more days did better on reading and math tests than students who did not attend a program.

Successful summer programs:

  • Plan early

  • Work hard to recruit families

  • Offer fun learning experiences students don’t get during the school year

  • Make sure summer learning is a district priority all year long

  • Build support from district leaders, elected officials, youth, and the community.

Where do I start?

Find more than 50 tools to start or enhance summer efforts. The resources come from the work of summer learning experts and districts that took part in Wallace's National Summer Learning Project. The toolkit contains everything from tip sheets to staff handbooks.  Get the Toolkit 

The Toolkit includes four kinds of resources:

  • Tool: Customizable resources, e.g., program observations;

  • Sample: Documents used by five urban districts and their partners, e.g., staff handbooks, position descriptions and enrollment forms;

  • Tip Sheet: Additional advice from field experts on how to use materials on each topic;

  • Guidance: For each tool, sample, and tip sheet, an explanation of what it is, why it’s important (with connections to research), who can benefit from it and tips for effective use.


The Summer Planning Calendar and Sustainability Tools include detailed companion and facilitation guides with tips to help you develop your planning process. Click here for more planning resources. 


Tools to help you plan, budget for, sustain, and assess the quality of the program. 

Sample job descriptions and staffing agreements and tips for planning high-quality professional development. 

Best practices for marketing the program and creating a warm and welcoming environment. 

Ideas for selecting and modifying curriculum and partnering with enrichment providers. 

Sample staff hanbooks and tips for creating a positive program environment. 

Comprehensive to-do list by month and topic paired with expert guidance

Kid's Playing Outdoor

What are the benefits of Summer Learning?

In a RAND Study of voluntary summer learning programs, there was promising evidence that high attendance in programs that provided high-quality instruction led to benefits in math and reading.

While summer learning programs can help stem the learning loss, they also provide value to children and youth in other important ways: they are a safe place to play and explore one’s passions, provide access to food, and assist with skill development and job training, to name a few. 

Safe place to play and explore one's passion
Summer learning programs can provide a safe space for children and young adults to learn, play, and explore their interests. With likely more flexibility than the traditional school day to provide opportunities like hands-on learning experiences and field trips, these programs allow youth to experiment with their passions and engage in experimental learning.

Provide summer meals
There are 72.4 million children under age 18 years in the United States. 41 percent of those children live in low-income families. Among U.S. households with children under age 18: 82.7 percent (30.8 million) of households with children were food secure in 2022. Household food insecurity affected 17.3 percent (6.4 million) of households with children in 2022. In Oklahoma, 1 in 4 (25%)children are food insecure. Summer programs help fill this need for many children. 


Skill development and job training
Youth develop and strengthen social and emotional skills, foundational skills – whether you want to call them 21st century skills, soft skills, or employer-desired skills — and gain job training and experience. There is relative agreement across frameworks that skills like critical thinking, communication, and decision-making are essential to success in college, career, and life, and these skills can be developed in quality afterschool and summer learning programs.

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