Summer Is a Season of Learning

aypf logo formattedIn her June 19 Summer Learning Day message, First Lady Michelle Obama said to youth: “If you want to go to college, get a good job, and fulfill your dreams, you can’t let your summers go to waste.” Across the country, youth are participating in summer school, STEM and arts camps, recreational programs, and enrichment activities to build their literacy, math, problem-solving, teamwork, and other skills. Their successes prove that summer learning is a key strategy to closing achievement and opportunity gaps, ensuring that all youth have a path to success in education, and ultimately in life.

Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put our nation’s youth at risk for falling behind – year after year – in core subjects like math and reading. These losses over the summer are cumulative and contribute significantly to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids.

Many kinds of high-quality learning opportunities during the summer can make a difference in stemming learning loss. These opportunities can be voluntary or mandatory, at school, community organizations, or even at home. And we know that “quality” is well-defined and rooted in research. A major study from the RAND Corporation shows that individualized academic instruction, parental involvement, and smaller class sizes are a few components of high-quality programs that produce positive results for young people.

In addition, school- and community-based programs often provide access to critical resources that support health and nutrition, with many serving as feeding sites for the federal summer meals program. Summer meals often draw students to attend learning and enrichment programs while ensuring that low-income students who rely on subsidized meals during the school year do not go hungry in the summer.

Summer is also a critical time for teens. Summer learning programs can provide essential college and career preparation opportunities for older youth, such as employment and volunteer opportunities throughout the community.

At the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), we continue to develop and provide resources on strengthening and expanding summer learning programs in communities. With the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, our new report, Accelerating Achievement Through Summer Learning is an essential resource for program providers, education leaders, policymakers, and funders who are making important decisions about summer learning programs as a way to accelerate student achievement.

The report profiles 13 diverse replicable summer learning program models and demonstrates how these programs address a variety of K-12 education priorities to deliver strong outcomes for children, youth, and educators.

For example:

  • The Boston Summer Learning Project (SLP) represents a citywide approach to summer learning that addresses the knowledge, skills, and experiences young people need to succeed. Launched in 2010, the SLP is a partnership between the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and Boston After School & Beyond (BASB) and involves collaborating with leading community organizations to deliver an integrated full-day, five-week summer program for high-need students. The program accelerates academic progress and builds skills associated with success not only in school but also in college and careers.
  • The REACH! Partnership is an innovative Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) program that serves middle and high school students, focusing on college readiness and preparation for careers in healthcare and construction. Students take part in the program’s Early College Summer Institute. Here, they attend Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) every day for four weeks, taking classes that utilize a co-teaching method involving college instructors, AmeriCorps tutors, and high school teachers. Students receive two to four hours of group instruction followed by one-on-one tutoring, plus one to three hours of cultural enrichment and college readiness activities that range from a weeklong BCCC orientation to seminars on financial aid, résumé writing, and financial management.

Across the country, NSLA is seeing many states and cities embrace summer learning as a key strategy in helping their students make measurable academic progress. We hope that if you haven’t already, you will take the pledge to keep kids learning and place your program on our interactive map. Together, we can ensure that students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning all year long.

Learn more about the National Summer Learning Association at Join us at our Summer Changes Everything annual conference, October 12-14 in Baltimore, MD.

Rachel Gwaltney is Director of Policy and Partnerships at the National Summer Learning Association. Contact the author at:


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.