Community System-Building for Summer Learning

A number of local organizations in Oakland, California are committed to building a system for summer learning in our city. This work is convened by Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY), but led through a collaboration with a number of local partners. This work is modeled on some of the system building work of The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), a partner organization that has built a field around this issue, recognizing and disseminating what works, convening key actors, and building capacity for quality practice in summer learning. For the last nine years, NSLA has worked with communities to assess and document the local summer learning landscape in a number of cities. These system-level collaborative efforts—often initiated by local funders seeking to build capacity and sustainability of summer programs—have led to more efficient coordination between multiple entities, resulting in a real impact on local families. Community-based organizations, schools, public housing authorities, public libraries, and other partners have increased the quality of programs and services offered and communication across community programs, and implemented more efficient systems and infrastructure within programs.

How Does Community System-Building for Summer Learning Work?

To bring summer learning to scale, funders, intermediaries, and programs need to know:

  • What’s working and what’s not: Community leaders and local funders are well positioned to encourage and facilitate evaluations that assess the impact and quality of programs in their community.
  • Who to engage: Community leaders can work together to identify stakeholders and engage them in change efforts.
  • How to facilitate and plan for a collaborative approach: Community leaders can work with programs to develop methods to collect and share program information to drive equity, planning, and help keep the work on course.
  • What quality looks like: Following system-level evaluation and resultant planning, local intermediaries can provide targeted training and professional development to impact specific youth outcomes.
  • How to understand impact: With a shared focus on the intended outcomes, funders and intermediaries can work with providers to create systems to track the skills youth are gaining within programs and across the community.

What are the roles of NSLA and PCY in this work?

NSLA has developed a three-phased approach to community system-building and collective impact to help communities reach more youth with summer learning opportunities. Fundamentally, this approach is about working in collaboration with local community organizations and institutions to coordinate key systems and leverage existing infrastructures to increase quality summer programming for those most in need. The three phases are: community assessment, community coordination and strategic planning, and capacity building.

As part of the process, we  worked to identify and support local agencies to serve as affiliates for community assessment, policy and program quality work, and system coordination. NSLA training and materials—including the comprehensive Community Indicators of Effective Summer Learning Systems—allow local intermediaries, like PCY, to facilitate these activities.

Impact: System-Building Case Studies

Baltimore: After conducting a community assessment with NSLA, two private foundations and one public funding intermediary developed a common summer grant application. This application has streamlined the funding process for local programs, and improved the ability of the participating funders to understand how their individual summer portfolios support access to programs across the city. As a result of this effort, four additional private foundations made grants to
programs that had used the common application.

Birmingham: NSLA developed an action plan based on the findings of a
community assessment. The result was an initial joint investment of $500,000 by six local foundations to expand the capacity of local summer learning providers to deliver high-quality programming. This has grown to 11 funders investing $850,000 in 2015.

Indianapolis: In 2015, the Summer Youth Program Fund (SYPF), a collaborative of ten local funders, made a joint investment of $2.4M in close to 200 summer programs serving 50,000 youth. Since 1995, SYPF has contributed more than $39 million dollars to Marion County organizations providing summer programs.

How to Contribute

To join the Oakland Summer Learning Network, contact us. To collaborate with work group members directly, see our full member listing.


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