Guest Post: Making the Most of Your Summer Fun(ds)— Putting Together the Pieces of Your Summer Program Puzzle

November 09, 2023

This is a guest post from AASA 2023-24 president, Gladys Cruz.

The early stages of planning a summer program include several interconnected decisions that, if done well, lay the groundwork for an effective program. Last month we discussed how to assemble your planning team and analyze your benchmark testing data to kick off your year-round planning process. Now it’s time to build upon that foundation. Consider the following four questions (and one key action item):  

1. How many students could benefit from a summer program and on which grade levels might the program focus? 

While some districts offer summer learning for the full Pre-K-12 range, others may focus on specific grade levels, such as those critical to early literacy or key transition years (e.g., Kindergarten readiness and middle- and high-school transitions). Use your data to identify which grades need the most support along with the specific academic and social-emotional skills that could be improved in those grades during a 5-6-week summer program. Then, based on assessment data, estimate the number of students in each grade level who could benefit from that focus. 

2. What revenue and facilities are available to dedicate to the summer program?

Districts have a number of options for funding summer programs. This guide provides a comprehensive list, and the following are some of those key funding sources to consider as you plan your program: 

  • ESSER III funding, which must be obligated by September 30, 2024, making it a ripe—and expiring—source of funding for summer 2024. 
  • Recurring federal funding such as Title I Part A and Part C (Migrant Education), and IDEA Extended School Year, which can be applied to summer programming. Districts may also partner with local 21st Century Community Learning Centers grantees to host summer programming. 
  • Dedicated state funding streams for afterschool and summer and local general funds that can also be allocated in the summer. 
  • In-kind donations from local businesses which can include food, field trips, and attendance incentives.  
To begin to track revenue and expenses, use the Summer Budget Tool found in the Summer Learning Toolkit and linked below. 

Tool - Summer Budget: Adaptable tool pre-populated with common revenue and expense line items. 
Once you’ve determined the ideal size and scope of your program, consider what facilities are available. Select facilities that do not need major repairs and have air conditioning and other amenities like gyms, fields, and auditoriums if possible. Co-locating various programs will allow for cost savings in transportation, utilities, and custodial services.  

3. What do we know families, students, and teachers want during the summer?

Even the best summer learning programs will only make a difference if students attend regularly—and attendance in a voluntary program is not a given. To be successful, program leaders should solicit direct input from families, students, and teachers to design a program that meets their needs—and that excites them. Given the many competing demands on time in the summer, ask families to weigh in on the schedule and identify attendance incentives that would appeal to them. In particular, programs beginning in late May or early June often see a major decrease in attendance after the Fourth of July holiday. Ask parents about their holiday and vacation plans to understand how to make the most of the summer schedule. 

4. What kind of staffing model will help us achieve our vision for summer? 

Staffing will likely be the largest cost driver for any summer program, so it’s helpful to get a sense of staffing needs early in the planning process. Consider what staff-to-student ratio will fulfill the program’s vision and what specialized staff or aides may be needed based on the intended student population. Additionally, explore partnerships with community-based organizations, institutes of higher education, and other potential partners that may provide staffing resources. RAND recommends that the ratio of staff to students does not exceed 1:18 at any point in the program day.  

This sample Pittsburgh Site Leadership Staffing Model may provide staffing ideas for larger, multi-site summer programs. 
ACTION ITEM: Save the Date

Once you’ve answered these foundational questions, set program dates as soon as possible. (RAND’s research suggests programs last at least 5-6 weeks.) Then send out a Save the Date at least to your priority families sooner rather than later. Remember: First impressions count! Ensure that the Save the Date includes camp-like branding and messaging that features all the fun ways students will learn. Consider incorporating a theme or highlighting benefits like no-cost meals, transportation, enrichment programming, and field trips to generate excitement and interest. Visit the Summer Learning Recruitment Guide for sample language for families and students

This blog is part of a Summer Program Planning series that draws from evidence-based practices culled from RAND research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. Each suggestion is accompanied by concrete resources from the online Summer Learning Toolkit to provide just-in-time support throughout the school year for your district’s summer learning team. (Check out the May, June, July, August and October blog posts for more summer advice.)
For more, share Eight Key Summer Learning Practices for Elementary School Districts with your summer leadership team.