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How four cities expanded summer learning

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How four cities expanded summer learning

Summer learning programs provide enrichment opportunities for youth, allowing them to increase math and reading comprehension skills, connecting them with mentors and peers, providing nutritious meals and helping them gain workforce experience. Unfortunately, more work needs to be done to ensure that students everywhere have access to quality summer learning opportunities. The most recently published RAND report, “Summer for All: Building Coordinated Networks to Promote Access to Quality Summer Learning and Enrichment Opportunities Across a Community” examines how coordinated efforts in four U.S. cities—Boston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.—brought together an array of stakeholders, including schools, community-based organizations, out-of-school time (OST) intermediaries, programs, and local government officials, to increase the accessibility and impact of summer learning opportunities in their areas.

In the early months of 2017, researchers commissioned by The Wallace Foundation conducted a series of interviews with stakeholders involved in the citywide efforts, including city government employees and staff from philanthropic and research organizations in each of the four cities. The intent was to find ways that organizations collaborated across networks, their goals, their plans of execution, and any successes and roadblocks along the way. Based on a literature review of coordinated networks, researchers used what they found to be the common indicators of a network’s success to document the progress and challenges of the four citywide efforts:

A shared vision and coordinated action. The north star for each city’s coordinated network was a shared vision, developed collaboratively, of what the network is setting out to accomplish to drive the work forward. To carry out the shared vision, there is also the need to coordinate the work of the various stakeholders involved and sustain engagement in the work. An advantage of the cities studied is that organizations involved had some experience working together on summer programming, allowing coordination to build off previous efforts. The differing goals and organizational structures of the various citywide initiatives demonstrate that different approaches can be effective if there is a common understanding and agreement on goals and a coordinated approach to implementation.  

Strong leadership. Having strong leadership in place, whether it was the mayor’s office or an OST intermediary, played a major role in the collaborative efforts to raise awareness of the work, grow support for the work, and help prioritize the work of the coordinated networks. For example, in Boston, the OST intermediary held the key organizing and facilitating role, while Pittsburgh distributed leadership evenly amongst all partners and in D.C., the initiative was mayor-led. The commonality across approaches was each of the lead’s, “capability, experience, and network to lead the effort.” Mayors in each city were champions of the work, and interviewees across the cities spoke of the critical role their mayor played. One interviewee stated, “…we have to have that support from the [mayor’s office] in order to make it a priority. They’re the key right there. Without them, it’s just not going to get done.”

Collecting data. Across cities, coordinated networks collected data that allowed them to track progress, communicate the impact of the work, and/or support program quality improvement. Data was also a way some leaders created an additional incentive for programs to participate in the network. For example, Boston After School & Beyond launched a “quality network,” collecting youth data for members, providing data reports to the programs, and offering professional development opportunities to address shared challenges. Programs faced problems establishing and maintaining buy-in from all partners, keeping them on the same page and moving in the right direction, and securing sustainable funding. Despite those issues, all four cities were successful in their goals. They were able to increase awareness of summer learning opportunities, improve the quality of summer programs, increase youth participation, and attract the attention of funders and policymakers. Three of the four cities continued their cross-partner collaboration at least four years after the initial research.

The following are recommendations for leaders in other cities that may be interested in their own coordinated efforts to increase access to quality summer programming:

  • Construct a vision that allows flexibility as you learn more about your city’s needs, as well as takes into consideration the coordinated efforts’ organizational structure to help ensure achievable goals
  • Especially for a citywide initiative, get the support of the Mayor’s office, which can in turn bring attention and funding to the project, as well as help to increase buy-in among current and prospective partners
  • Look to what has worked in the past, building on already established relationships while inviting new partners to participate
  • Be intentional about the strategies that will best help achieve your goals for summer programming, including accounting for the resources needed for implementation
  • Think about first focusing on the most underserved neighborhoods and targeting resources to support the communities with the most need for summer programming, which could produce a greater impact than spreading resources across the city
  • Create an evaluation plan, which includes knowing what data are needed and having the resources and a structure in place, to properly assess progress; the earlier the better
  • Provide incentives for summer programs—such as funding, data reports, and professional development opportunities—to encourage participation and secure their buy-in for the network

You can find the full report, “Summer for All: Building Coordinated Networks to Promote Access to Quality Summer Learning and Enrichment Opportunities Across a Community” in The Wallace Foundation’s Knowledge Center, as well as additional information on summer learning programs.

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