Cover: Summer for All

Summer for All

Building Coordinated Networks to Promote Access to Quality Summer Learning and Enrichment Opportunities Across a Community

Published Nov 10, 2021

by Catherine H. Augustine, Jennifer Sloan McCombs, Garrett Baker


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Research Questions

  1. How have cities developed collaborative efforts to strengthen and promote summer opportunities?
  2. What progress have these efforts made?
  3. What challenges have these networks faced?
  4. What lessons have emerged from this work that might benefit other cities?

In 2011, The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Project (NSLP) to expand summer program opportunities for students in urban districts and to study the effectiveness of district-led summer programs and how they could be well implemented. Through the NSLP, The Wallace Foundation has provided support to public school districts and their community partners in Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, New York.

In 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a consensus study report regarding summer experiences and how they shape the development and well-being of children and youth. One of the key recommendations in the report is for cities and counties to take a comprehensive, communitywide approach to ensuring that the needs of their children and youth are adequately met during the summer. As the NSLP wound down, some districts and their community partners turned their attention and efforts toward sustaining their progress in promoting program scale and quality. To further sustainability, some of these districts and their partners are part of regional networks working to expand opportunities for quality summer programming in their cities.

In this report, the eighth in RAND's Summer Learning Series, the authors chronicle the early efforts of community leaders to create coordinated approaches to increasing access to quality summer programming, noting their challenges, enablers, and early outcomes. The report is intended to help city and county leaders, district leaders, out-of-school time intermediaries, and other community organizations launch and sustain such coordinated networks.

Key Findings

Challenges included staffing, priorities, and organizational efforts

  • Programs faced perennial obstacles, such as finding qualified staff and reliable transportation. However, these challenges did not prevent the networks from continuing.
  • Some program providers questioned network leadership and fundraising models, wondering if they were pitting themselves against the networks for local funding.
  • It took considerable effort to keep partners informed and moving in the same direction.
  • Sustainability was a challenge, causing some networks to rethink approaches to quality improvement efforts, which can be costly.

Buy-in was an indicator of program success

  • In each city studied, organizations had been focused on the importance of summer programming for youth and community organizations and had some experience collaborating with one another. As a result, galvanizing a more coordinated effort around summer programming was a relatively easy next step, particularly with mayoral support.
  • Mayors served as strong and visible leaders of this work, and individual organizations provided skilled leadership, building networks based on established relationships.

Different structures had different strengths, but all were effective

  • Different organizational structures — such as intragovernmental department coordination, intermediary-led coordination, and multi-organization collaboratives — can be effective.
  • Leaders of the networks set goals and strategies that capitalized on their structure.
  • Through their efforts, the networks succeeded in raising awareness of summer opportunities throughout their cities and providing information to families about specific programs.
  • The networks that focused on quality improvement made impressive strides in supporting program-level continuous improvement efforts.
  • Citywide coordination among youth-focused organizations could help increase awareness of, attention to, participation in, and improvements to summer programs.


  • Set a broad vision that allows for strategic evolution.
  • Garner mayoral support for the citywide effort.
  • Align the goals and strategies to the organizational structure of the coordinated effort.
  • Align strategies to goals for summer programming.
  • Carefully consider strategies and the resources needed to implement them well.
  • Consider targeting efforts to neighborhoods with the greatest need.
  • Determine how to assess progress early in the process.
  • Create incentives to ensure summer program provider buy-in.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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