New Jersey Department of Education

Essential Elements of a Summer Program

The National Center for Summer Learning has been the lead agency in identifying and studying the effects of “summer learning loss” on youth throughout the country.  Since 2001, this organization has conducted research, developed policy, and provided professional development throughout the country.  The primary focus of the National Center for Summer Learning is to ensure that “…more children and youth have ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills during the summer months.”  As a result of their research, the National Center for Summer Learning has identified nine characteristics of an effective summer learning program.  The characteristics are identified below:

  1. Intentional focus on accelerating learning
  2. Firm commitment to youth development
  3. Proactive approach to summer learning
  4. Strong, empowering leadership
  5. Advanced, collaborative planning
  6. Extensive opportunities for staff development
  7. Strategic partnerships
  8. Rigorous approach to evaluation and commitment to program improvement
  9. Clear focus on sustainability and cost-effectiveness

Through their work the Center for Summer Learning indicated that the “…best programs focus on developing the whole child—intellectually, socially, physically, and emotionally—so that he or she is prepared for both the present and the future.” 

Summer programs have an additional benefit to all students not just those that are most at risk.  Research suggests that summer programs benefit all students by preventing the “learning loss” that occurs when children are not in school.  Research reported by John Hopkins National Center for Summer Learning states that:
“Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996). When this pattern continues throughout the elementary school years, lower income youth fall more than two and one-half years behind their more affluent peers by the end of fifth grade.” (National Center for Summer Learning website) Additional research suggests that “Two-thirds of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).”

National Center for Summer Learning

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