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How to Recruit, Retain Kids for Voluntary Summer Learning

Summer learning: 6 smiling kids in summer clothes crowd together
. Wallace Foundation

Leaders of summer learning programs who are now reaching out to enroll kids often have to deal with a high no-show rate.

In fact, that rate initially was as high as 45 percent for students registering for free, voluntary summer learning programs in five school districts — in Boston; Dallas; Jacksonville, Florida; Pittsburgh and Rochester, New York — in 2011.

These districts took part in the Wallace Foundation’s National Summer Learning Project, which, among other things, resulted in a useful playbook for recruiting underserved kids into voluntary summer learning programs.

To deal with the high no-show rate, districts should improve outreach to families after they register, advised the Summer Learning Recruitment Guide, which the foundation released in March. A single contact is not enough, the guide said.

Send home a confirmation letter, communicate directly with registered students before school ends or even host an event for students and their families, the guide suggested.

Using such practices, the five districts improved the show-up rate in their summer learning program.

Summer learning programs must build relationships with students and families, the guide said.

“We do outreach to our returning families,” said Melanie Claxton, coordinator of out-of-school time for Pittsburgh Public Schools, which offers the free Summer Dreamers Academy. The program also uses robocalls to communicate with parents, she said.

Schools don’t always find it easy to maintain a year-round relationship with kids in the summer learning program.

Rochester City School District does a great job during the summer program, but follow-up during the year is missing, said Luis A. Perez, director of program support and expansion with the Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association, which has worked with the district.

“They struggle with who’s supposed to be following up on the child,” Perez said.

Best practices detailed in the guide include:

  1. Find out what your local parents think regarding summer learning.
  2. Create clear and engaging messages.
  3. Put together a written recruitment plan.
  4. Try to reach parents at least three times with your messaging, using more than one approach.
  5. Use trusted messengers. Teachers, guidance counselors and principals should deliver the message because they are trusted figures who can engage parents and students.
  6. Build a relationship with parents and students, including during the school year.
  7. Make registration easy. Offer various ways to register including online, mail and taking forms to school.
  8. Deal directly with kids to get them interested.
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