What We Know about Summer Programs and Virtual Learning: A Thought Leader Session

Can large, urban school districts successfully run high-quality summer learning programs? If so, how? And what impact can these programs have on students? And how are these programs working in a time of covid and social distancing?

The Wallace Foundation, the RAND Corporation, and five urban school districts explored the first three questions as part of the National Summer Learning Project, a six-year effort to provide voluntary, district-led summer programs that offer a mix of academic instruction and enrichment-and test whether they help boost students’ success in school.

In December, Karen Pittman sat down with Catherine Augustine from the RAND Corporation and Melanie Claxton with Pittsburgh Public Schools, one of the five communities involved in the project, to explore their engagement with the study and the results and lessons learned.

Since then, we’ve experienced a summer like no other, and Karen spoke again with Catherine and Melanie to explore how districts have adapted to this new form of virtual educational engagement, and what lessons may be applied to virtual or hybrid school environments for the 2020-21 school year.

See below for short segments from each portion of the event.

Part 1: The Readiness Projects

In her opening remarks for the session, Karen provides a light overview of the Readiness Projects and explains the new Build Forward Together series, part of a new endeavor that will focus on how to bring coherence to local efforts to rebuild and re-imagine a community’s learning ecosystem.

Part 2: Lessons Learned from the National Summer Learning Project

Karen then addressed an opening question to Catherine. Reflecting not just on Pittsburgh, but all of the sites that were part of the National Summer Learning Project, there was a great deal of work building up the capacity to coordinate. And then, of course, COVID changed everything. What did being prepared do? What were communities better able to do? How were they able to pivot better?

Part 3: 2020 Summer Programming in Pittsburgh

Karen pivoted the conversation to Melanie, asking her to explain how things played out on the ground in Pittsburgh and how they were able to engage young people in a time of social distancing and virtual learning.

Part 4: Summer Learning Gains and Learning Supports

Karen posed a question to Catherine, asking whether the hybrid summer model of mornings of concentrated academics and afternoons of enrichment in interest-based activities allowed programs to both keep interest up and keep attendance up to produce learning gains. Were those gains in the summer comparable to gains one would expect to get in the school year? This segment concludes with more remarks from Melanie about lessons learned and reflections about the summer.

Part 5: Planning and Preparing for the Fall

The conversation moved into a discussion of how the summer experience contribution to the planning and preparation for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Part 6: Concluding Reflections

The presenters all offer concluding remarks about what they’ve learned and the types of things they hope to see going forward, centering on the learning hubs model underway in Pittsburgh. Catherine remarked that “I would love to be able to think more about how this interwoven approach could be sustained. How community providers could be providing that one-on-one attention, mentoring and tutoring, not just compartmentalized afterschool, but interwoven throughout the day and maybe into a longer school day.”