Scaling Up Summer: How Fast Is Too Fast?
When we find the solutions to problems that exist, sometimes it is our instinct to grow them as fast as possible. Every experienced practitioner knows that there is a steep learning curve whenever you introduce an intervention into a new environment. Bringing a summer learning program to your school isn’t any different. Once you’ve acknowledged the importance of academic summer programming for your students and understand the investment you’d need to make, the next piece that needs to be determined is how fast is too fast when scaling up programming within your school or community.
Our general recommendation is to engage between 5 – 8% of your school in year one. If you have 1,000 kids, then you should start with 50 – 80 students. Anything smaller will not expose you to the full spectrum of challenges that your student population may present over the summer. Some challenges will be easier to diagnose than others will, like simple transportation issues vs difficult cultural challenges where families send their kids to their native countries for the summer. Serving a higher percentage of your population in the first year may lead to chaos and wasted resources. If you have under enrollment or wind up spending additional money on staff to manage behavior and it appears to be irresponsible spending, the case for additional investment in summer will not be well received by taxpayers and other decision makers. Even with the use of a private service operator, which I would strongly encourage for this work, we suggest staying within the 5 – 8% of your student population size.
Based on our experiences, there are often reasons outside of the school or district's initial control that could pose challenges to scale, and they should be uncovered before scaling up a summer initiative. One of those factors is a city’s budgeting cycle. The fiscal year for most schools is July 1st. This means the summer school funding and budget would technically be a part of the school’s following academic year. This could make planning extremely difficult. Until the process or workaround for a better summer budgeting process is determined (de-coupling the school year and summer budgets may be the most logical solution), which can usually be figured out in a year, you want to start with a small pilot program.
Another factor to consider is social norms. For new families in the U.S., many times they will send their children to their native countries over the summer because they didn’t want their children sitting around unsupervised all summer, among other reasons. The first year the school introduces academic summer programs to families is a signal that scale is coming soon and allows them to plan accordingly.
Depending on the success in year one, we recommend supporting no more than 25% of your student body population in year two. That would mean about 250 students using our earlier school as a case study. Though 25% is the maximum we would recommend in year two, we’d caution against rushing to the maximum amount too soon. In fact, achieving 25% by year three or four is probably the best way to avoid compromising quality. To be sure, you want to scale to support as many children as possible. You’re also more likely to have a larger and more sustained impact by being patient.