Developing and Scaling-Up Summer Programming in East Durham

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Executive Summary The vision of East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) is for all children and youth in the Initiative’s focus area to successfully graduate high school, ready for college or a career. Providing high-quality summer learning opportunities is a critical component of reaching this goal. In light of this focus, the policy challenge for this project is: how should the East Durham Children’s Initiative develop its summer programming for all students at Y.E. Smith Elementary School and, in the future, for all elementary-age students in the Initiative’s focus area? I offer proposed action items for how EDCI can develop its summer programming and potentially scale it up for all elementary-age students in the EDCI focus area. Methodology To address this policy challenge, I conduct literature reviews of best practices in summer programs, parental engagement, and scaling-up programs. I also examine six evidence-based summer learning programs, using data collected by targeted interviews with program personnel. I analyze these programs based on four criteria to supplement the best-practice literature. Next, I analyze the issue of scaling-up a summer learning program to include all students at Y.E. Smith Elementary and in the EDCI focus area by evaluating four action options. Research on Summer Learning Loss and Programs Research indicates that summer learning loss disproportionately affects low-income students and that these losses contribute significantly to the achievement gap between low-income students and their more advantaged peers. Y.E. Smith Elementary, in EDCI’s focus area, has a consistently high percent of low-income students (around 92 percent), the group most adversely affected by summer learning loss. Evidence shows that high-quality summer programs can prevent learning loss and increase academic skills, while lack of access to these programs can harm academic achievement, increase obesity, and hinder social development. Components of Effective Summer Programs A synthesis of the available research, analysis of six effective summer learning programs, and targeted interviews reveal eight characteristics of high-quality summer learning programs. These eight characteristics inform the EDCI-specific proposed action items.

  1. Purpose
  2. Finance and Sustainability
  3. Advanced, collaborative planning
  4. Staff
  5. Parental Engagement
  6. Focus on learning
  7. Program culture
  8. Rigorous evaluation

Scaling-Up EDCI identified scaling-up summer programs as a policy challenge and goal to have all elementary-age children in the EDCI focus area attend enriching summer programs. Although scaling-up has multiple uses, it is generally defined as replicating a successful practice on a larger scale (with more students, across more schools, or both). For EDCI, the challenge is to scale-up an opportunity to attend a high-quality summer program and to bring best practices to scale in summer programs, not necessarily scaling-up a specific program. Research and my interviews suggest five best practices. A program scale-up would ideally contain all these components, but research suggests that the first four are critical to success.

  1. Detailed, but flexible planning
  2. Incremental Progress
  3. Sufficient Resources
  4. Dynamic Leadership
  5. Support Networks

Proposed Action Items This project’s proposed action items for EDCI are stated directly as next steps; however EDCI’s leadership will ultimately determine the appropriate course of action for the summer program. My proposed actions items for EDCI fall into four categories based on their importance to EDCI and feasibility: action items EDCI already uses fully or partially, action items for immediate implementation, actions items for future implementation, and long-term action items for scaling-up. I offer timeframe guidelines for each category, which are an estimate of when it seems to be feasible for EDCI to implement the items. However, timelines for implementation of these action items likely require a formal discussion within the EDCI leadership. The action items for immediate implementation are listed here. A complete list of the proposed action items is available on pages 53 – 55 of this project. Research suggests that EDCI should engage in these action items, which seem feasible by the end of the 2012 calendar year:

  1. Create an inventory of summer program options in Durham (utilizing the services of a volunteer or summer intern if available).

  2. Disseminate information from this inventory to “non-targeted” Y.E. Smith students.

  3. Ensure that the EDCI evaluator, Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy, has adequate time and information to plan a rigorous evaluation including data collection for the next summer.

  4. Develop a mission statement for this summer program jointly, with relevant stakeholders, which aligns with EDCI’s overall mission.

  5. Set specific, rigorous, and feasible goals for student achievement each summer.

  6. Calculate a true cost for the current program at Y.E. Smith, including in-kind donations, facility, transportation, and meals.

  7. Monitor the four key components of cost-effectiveness: enrollment, quantity, quality, and price of resources.

The attached document provides a detailed discussion of the research, analysis, and proposed action items highlighted here.





Howley, Julia (2012). Developing and Scaling-Up Summer Programming in East Durham. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.