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Address Learning Loss with ESSER Funds and K-12 Enrichment Programs


“This summer, more than ever, our highest priority must be on providing safe spaces with caring adults, and learning opportunities grounded in student interests that can re-spark their engagement, foster their recovery, and prepare them for returning to in-person learning in the fall.” 
2021 California Summer Learning Guide: Investing in Resilience and Relationships

Students have suffered learning loss throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with tutoring sessions to help get students back to grade level, schools can implement summer enrichment programs that can increase both academic and personal development, while helping students with social, emotional, and mental health needs.

Summer enrichment programs that encourage students to engage with their peers is especially beneficial to students who have been isolated during the pandemic. These programs can also slowly ease students back into a physical learning environment before the return to school in Fall 2021.

Below are some tips to implement a successful enrichment program and information on how schools can leverage ESSER to fund their programs.

Follow Best Practices

Researchers from The Wallace Foundation have spent years evaluating what makes enrichment programs successful and found that schools who implement the following practices see the best results:

  • Voluntary, no-cost programs that include free transportation and meals
  • Programs that last at least five consecutive weeks with three hours of instruction a day
  • Small class sizes with instruction aligned with the school year

Enrichment programs are not the same as summer school, so schools are also urged to be creative and rethink the typical learning environment. While summer school typically focuses on academic instruction and is usually mandatory for low-performing students, summer enrichment programs are voluntary sessions that engage students in various activities.

These activities which should supplement academic instruction include career development sessions, sports leagues, art activities, and field trips to museums. Some schools also create program themes, offering a series of sessions that focus on a specific topic. Examples of themes include STEM and robotics, gardening, theatre, science, exercise, and health.

Welcome All Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted underrepresented students, including students from poverty or homelessness; students of color; students with disabilities; and students with inadequate access to technology.

These students typically experience the most learning loss over a normal summer, as they don’t have access to learning or enrichment activities like their peers do. In fact, according to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss can leave students, particularly those from low-income households, two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers from higher-income households. These students are also less likely to graduate high school or attend college.

Creating an enrichment program that welcomes all students requires districts to proactively collaborate with underserved student groups and their families. You can accomplish this by surveying students and their families to understand their priorities and by teaming with community partners and organizations who can represent these student groups.

Encourage Attendance

It’s difficult to engage students over summer since students tend to think negatively about summer school. Districts can overcome this challenge and negative perception by clearly promoting why summer enrichment programs are different than typical summer school. Recruitment ideas include:

  • Having teachers write personalized letters to invite students to attend
  • Partner with local community organizations such as churches or libraries who can help bring awareness to your programs

You can also incentivize students with rewards, like field trips, gift cards, or books. Even small rewards, like a certificate of achievement, can honor students who have attended the entire program.

Recruit the Right Instructors

Summer enrichment programs should be led by experienced teachers, tutors, volunteers, and community organizations. Regardless of who is instructing your programs, you’ll need an efficient method to recruit, screen, approve, and track each instructor. It’s critical that instructors pass thorough background checks, especially those who will have unsupervised student contact.

Raptor Volunteer Management is an automated school volunteer management system that streamlines the application process, tracks hours, and confirms each volunteer is safe to work with students. The system provides an integrated, customizable online volunteer application, full criminal background checks, volunteer hour tracking, event management, and robust reporting.

Leverage ESSER Funds

Districts are receiving an unprecedented amount of stimulus funding from the CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and ARP Act to address the impacts of COVID-19. For ARP ESSER, districts must reserve at least 20% of the funds to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions, which includes summer enrichment programs.

By helping you recruit, screen, and manage volunteers for summer enrichment programs, Raptor Volunteer Management is an allowable expense under all three COVID-19 relief sources. Districts can also strategically leverage these funds to keep their schools safe from the virus and maintain a safe learning environment long after the pandemic ends.

Learn more about ESSER, including how to write your fund and reopening plan, in our Guide to K-12 Safe Reopening: Strategies for ESSER Funding to Protect Your School.