Reopening Youth Summer Learning Programs

The unprecedented public health emergency caused by the novel Coronavirus has created tremendous challenges for cities across the country. In March, over 124,000 U.S. public and private K-12 schools closed their buildings impacting at least 55.1 million children and youth who were sent home to transition to virtual/distance learning.

While every school district across the country offered different formats and dosage of virtual learning opportunities, what remained the same across communities was that millions of youth who lack access to essential broadband and internet connectivity were left behind and fully disconnected from school.

In response, a number of cities collaborated with cross-sector partners to address the myriad of needs youth had as a result of school closures. They transitioned to distributing technology and internet equipment, establishing safe food distribution sites, while also developing online program opportunities to support youth during the summer months.

Historically afterschool and summer learning programs have played an important role to curb academic loss, prevent summer slide, keep young people active and healthy, and prepare youth for the workforce. As the school year ended and states and cities are reopening, summer programs should provide support to students, families, and communities during the COVID-19 crisis. In providing this vital support, the utmost attention should be given to the health and safety of staff and those individuals served.

Below are several steps that local leaders can take to balance the need to serve and support families during the summer months and keep community residents safe, as well as considerations for reopening summer programs:

Assess Need for Services

  • Consider virtual opportunities to connect with youth and families to include the voices of residents, especially those who are particularly underserved, in the programs and processes by hosting virtual townhalls, individual case management, and/ other needs assessments.
  • Connect with cross-sector partners and/or reopening task forces at the local and state level to ensure that policies, practices, and procedures are inclusive and equitable. This will help inform the community’s needs while assessing the capacity of youth-serving organizations to support youth and families in your community.
  • Transition content and program opportunities to virtual when possible to maintain social and emotional connections and academic opportunities for young people, especially for underserved students, in alignment with changing physical distancing guidelines. Find Virtual Program resources from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) here.
  • Plan ahead for Fall 2020 School re-opening. While collecting the voices of community members on their summer needs, ask questions about their anticipated need next school year if schools remain partially closed, have virtual learning components, or staggered schedules. Many needs will remain so this data will allow cities and their partners to put plans in place to support families with community-based activities while schools are closed.
  • Encourage school district leaders to incorporate questions about students’ afterschool needs into their district-wide parent surveys so community leaders are aware of the needs and can begin to have these conversations about how to support children and families when schools open.

Considerations for Re-Opening of in-person Summer Learning Programs & Camps

  • Meet with city program staff and youth practitioners (virtually) to assess comfort and whether staffing accommodations need to be made. Allow time for staff to identify as vulnerable individuals as defined by the
  • Determine which facilities have enough space to implement physical distancing in alignment with public health recommendations while considering high need areas.
  • Consider converting other large public or private facilities that may be unused or underutilized during this time (city-owned convention centers, senior centers, churches, museums, libraries, etc.) for youth program usage if program sites do not have appropriate space to allow for physical distancing,
  • Identify the number of youth that can be served at each site and the number of staff that are available based on community engagement, cross-sector partnerships, and in accordance with state and local re-opening guidelines. In some cases, youth program groups may not exceed 10 youth and one adult per room or per a certain square footage area.
  • Based on the contagion rate, ensure that all staff and youth have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Masks are recommended for children three and older.
  • Identify the best method to conduct health screenings based on the CDC’s three recommendations.
  • Determine the supplies needed for increased cleaning and disinfecting of objects and surfaces by following CDC guidance.
  • Based upon community engagement and up-to-date public health policies, consider a phased re-opening that prioritizes vulnerable youth and children of critical infrastructure workers.

Implementation of Re-Opening

  • Develop a written plan to codify and communicate health and safety protocol with staff, families and stakeholders including physical distancing considerations, PPE requirements, and guidelines for entering facilities.
  • Connect with the school district and community-based organizations to provide summer learning activities that would help curb academic loss and/or create opportunities for youth to develop social-emotional skills.
  • Designate at least one individual from the city to act as the primary contact for youth, parents/ legal guardians, and staff.
  • Consider virtual training for staff to ensure that summer program and respective city employees understand the new policies and procedures prior to returning to the program.
  • Confirm with the CDC’s Youth Programs and Camps During COVID-19 Pandemic checklist that policies and procedures meet health and safety guidelines.
  • Identify the appropriate agencies to provide updates of operating status and program vacancies as municipalities and states may vary in reopening approvals and timelines.


Field Guide for Camps On Implementation of CDC Guidance:

COVID-19 – Resource Center for Camps:

Suggested Camp Supplies and Materials for 2020 Camp Season:

CDC Activities and Initiatives Supporting the COVID-19 Response:

Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open:

Mizzen App- Learning Opportunities for Youth:


About the Authors

Gislene Tasayco AuthorGislene Tasayco is the senior associate for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families Education and Expanded Learning team.




Bela Shah Spooner smallBela Spooner is the Program Director, Education and Expanded Learning at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.