summer learning
Plan your district’s summer learning programs with CSBA’s board study sessions
Though few may be thinking about it as they slip on their heaviest coat and step out into California’s coldest months of the year, now is the time for school board members to re-examine their summer learning programs to ensure all students have access to enrichment experiences that not only prevent summer learning loss, but boost overall achievement.

Research has long shown that low-income youth, English learners and students of color stand to benefit most from high-quality summer education programs. Summer learning programs not only support students who need extra time to catch up and master skills they’ll need in the upcoming school year, but can also provide a safe place where students can access healthy meals and a chance to more deeply explore their interests in topics such as science, technology or the arts.

“When summer learning programs are about more than remediation, they can provide kids with extra support, real-world connections and hands-on learning opportunities where they are able to learn through experiences, connect to community resources and learn about careers that they didn’t even know existed,” said CSBA Education Policy Analyst Manuel Buenrostro. “It’s important to start planning for these programs early on because, when done well, summer learning is not just a side project, but will ideally help connect students to what they learn the rest of the school year.”

Not all summer programs are created equal, however, and governing boards should treat summer learning with the same attention they give to traditional school year programs and make them part of year-round planning.

To jump start the process, CSBA provides materials to guide board members through three study sessions to help improve understanding of the importance of providing high-quality summer programs, assess the need in each district, and put together all the pieces, including funding, staffing and development of local partnerships that make for strong and effective summer programs.

Study sessions encompass big-picture questions and technical details

Governing boards are instrumental in setting the expectation that summer programs play a considerable role in strengthening a district’s overall educational effort. The first study session provides board members with a better sense of how summer learning aligned with district goals can help shape student achievement across all grade levels and subject matter, as well as how beneficial such programs can be in boosting engagement and social-emotional outcomes.

Academic-focused programs can improve students’ skills in subjects like math, reading and science, while enrichment and recreation programs allow students to experience something new and often foster positive relationships with teachers and peers.

Students of all ages can benefit from programs that include community service projects supporting project-based learning, collaboration and civic engagement, while older students can gain career-related skills through workforce development programs.

It cannot be understated how important high-quality summer learning programs are in closing achievement gaps for underserved students.

Through the second study session, boards will learn how best to support and align summer learning programs to meet district needs and goals. An assessment should be conducted to help determine which district goals could be met through summer programs and what is possible to provide within a summer learning program. This is also a good opportunity to take stock of any current summer learning programs already provided. While it is not the board’s role to conduct the assessment, board members can identify the questions that need answering and create a vision for how days available for summer instruction could be used most productively, among other actions. Governing board members should ask themselves, do children who participate in these summer programs benefit from them? How much do current programs cost? Do they need to be revamped or replaced, or are they working as intended? And do they align with district goals?

The third study session expands on the gritty details around figuring out how to fund, staff and evaluate summer learning programs. District revenues from various sources can be used to support a summer program if it furthers specific district goals, such as providing extra support for English learners.

As noted in the lesson, the biggest cost of summer programs is the staff, but districts can think outside the box. Depending on the program, it may make sense to rely on credentialed teachers. Or, if a district is partnering with a local library or parks department, that organization’s staff may take the lead with the help of district-provided support staff.

It is also vital that board members evaluate any summer learning program that is implemented. There are many questions that can help guide that process, starting with: Are these the programs families want and need? As with any big decision regarding curriculum and program offerings, working with stakeholders can help provide necessary feedback and help generate new ideas.

Summer sessions are a key part to ensuring equity

It cannot be understated how important high-quality summer learning programs are in closing achievement gaps for underserved students. While children in middle- and high-income families may spend the months off taking family vacations, attending summer camps and participating in local enrichment programs, low-income youth often lack the resources to participate in comparable activities.

Districts can help fill the gap by providing them with enrichment activities that students are excited to participate in, healthy food and a safe place to be physically active.

“To make education more equitable, it’s important that districts have these summer programs,” Buenrostro said. “It helps level the playing field for students, because if you don’t have summer programs, students who don’t have other summer learning options won’t be doing much learning over the summer.”

To access CSBA’s summer board study sessions and other summer learning materials, visit