What Makes a Summer Learning Program Effective?

The National Center for Summer Learning identified nine characteristics of effective summer learning programs, and recommends that all summer learning providers work toward incorporating these broad characteristics into current programming.

To find the answer, we looked to program providers, education and youth development experts, research and evaluations, and our own experience in direct service delivery. These characteristics are based on what we have learned about programs that demonstrate success in increasing academic achievement and promoting positive youth development.

As a result of our research, the National Center for Summer Learning identified nine characteristics of effective summer learning programs. The characteristics are deliberately broad and span the education and youth development fields. Think of the nine characteristics as a set-they are interconnected and each of them contributes to a program's effectiveness.  We recommend that all summer learning providers work toward incorporating the nine characteristics into current programming.

The first three characteristics reflect an approach to learning or a program's "frame of mind." 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. 

The program infrastructure characteristics are part of an organization's larger strategy to achieve and maintain quality programming. These elements make it possible to create and support effective programs.

Approach to Learning

  1. Intentional focus on accelerating learning
  2. Firm commitment to youth development
  3. Proactive approach to summer learning

Program Infrastructure

  1. Strong, empowering leadership
  2. Advanced, collaborative planning
  3. Extensive opportunities for staff development
  4. Strategic partnerships
  5. Rigorous approach to evaluation and commitment to program improvement
  6. Clear focus on sustainability and cost-effectiveness

Simply put, an effective summer learning program is one that successfully accelerates learning and supports positive youth development as part of a proactive approach to stemming summer learning loss. The program achieves and maintains high-quality programming through strong leadership, careful planning, extensive staff development, strategic partnerships, continual evaluation, and a focus on sustainability.

The National Center for Summer Learning. (2009). What Makes a Summer Learning Program Effective? Retrieved May 23, 2009, from


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