How Municipalities Can Support Summer Learning Programs


  • Emily Young
  • Brandis Stockman
July 5, 2023 - (5 min read)

What are Summer Learning Programs?

When the bell rings at the end of the school year, families are left with a fundamental question: What will their children do during the summer? This time away from school is a vital opportunity for young people to explore new passions while building skills critical for success. Programs that allow youth to do just this are called summer learning programs. Unlike summer school, which is focused solely on academic instruction and is often for remedial purposes, high-quality summer learning programs have experienced staff who provide engaging programming for youth that includes both academic instruction, acceleration, and enrichment activities. High-quality summer learning programs often ensure that youth of all backgrounds can participate by offering free or low-cost options, as well as providing meals and transportation. 

The Benefits of Summer Learning Programs

Summer learning programs are a proven strategy cities are harnessing to:   

  1. Promote Student Success – Children of all backgrounds and ages can experience “summer learning loss,” where students forget some of what they learned the previous school year during the summer. However, youth from marginalized backgrounds are especially at risk for this loss, the cumulative effects of which contribute to the academic achievement gap and can have serious consequences for students’ future academic opportunities and careers. Studies have shown that summer learning programs are an effective strategy to reduce summer learning loss among students. 
  1. Support Youth Mental Health – In a time when young peoples’ mental health continues to be impacted by the pandemic, summer learning programs have been shown to decrease youths’ levels of anxiety and depression while improving their attitudes about themselves and others. The positive relationships youth build with staff in programs also contribute to improved mental health among participants. 
  1. Keep Youth Safe and Healthy – Although not their main purpose, summer learning programs are physically safe spaces for youth to go during work hours – a time when they might otherwise be unsupervised. These programs also provide youth with healthy meals during the summer, something that is especially important given the fact that 6 in 7 students who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year lose access to these meals over the summer. 
  1. Prevent Crime– Summer learning and youth employment programs have long been linked to a decrease in youth crime rates. By participating in summer learning programs, youth are not only less likely to be perpetrators of crime, but they are also less likely to be victims of it. 

The Need 

Despite the many benefits of summer learning programs, far too few young people are able to access them each year. In 2019, 20.6 million youth participated in a structured summer program, but another 13.9 million youth were unable to participate but wanted to do so. In speaking with parents about why their children were not enrolled in summer learning programs, the top three reasons cited were program cost, transportation, and program availability.  

What Can Cities Do? 

Given the expressed demand for summer learning programs, and their proven benefits, cities are poised to play a major role in supporting these programs. Cities seeking to become champions for summer learning can: 

  1. Celebrate National Summer Learning Week from July 10th-14th – A national celebration of summer learning programs which cities can participate in by visiting program sites, making mayoral proclamations, and uplifting the importance of summer learning programs in their communities. Be on the lookout for an upcoming NLC blog on how cities across the country are celebrating! 
  1. Join the Engage Every Student Initiative – Engage Every Student is U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s bold call to action to ensure every child who wants to participate in an afterschool or summer learning program has access to one. NLC is a key partner of the initiative, which offers monthly webinars, office hours, and other resources to those looking to expand programs in their communities. Become an Engage Every Student ally or pledge your support today! 
  1. Leverage the Bully Pulpit – Elected officials have a powerful platform from which they can amplify the importance of summer learning programs. By visiting program sites or continuously referencing these programs in relation to other municipal priorities, officials can boost the visibility of these programs within their communities. 
  1. Share Program Information at City Sites – Cities can meet families and youth where they are to publicize information about programs and their importance. City-run spaces such as libraries and parks are frequently visited by families and youth and are perfect places for cities to promote summer learning. To further increase accessibility, some cities have even created searchable online databases of programs available in the community for caregivers to use. 
  1. Convene and Support Program Providers– Cities with many programs can act as a city-wide intermediary – offering providers program quality and management resources along with opportunities to connect with one another in service of young people. City-wide intermediaries often also evaluate existing programs and provide support for quality enhancements. 
  1. Run or Financially Support Programs – Many cities run their own high-quality summer learning programs through their parks and recreation departments or libraries. Cities without the infrastructure or resources to do so can still support program providers financially through city-funded grants. Some cities have even leveraged funds provided through the American Rescue Plan Act to support the summer learning programs in their communities. 

Learn More

For more information on how you can support summer learning programs in your city, contact NLC’s Education & Expanded Learning Team .

For more information on how you can support summer learning programs in your city, contact NLC’s Education & Expanded Learning Team at 

About the Authors

Emily Young

About the Authors

Emily Young is a Program Specialist with the Education and Expanded Learning team within the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities.

Brandis Stockman

Brandis Stockman is the Program Manager Education and Expanded Learning for the Center for Leadership, Education, Advancement & Development at the National League of Cities.