COVID has had a tremendous impact on education. Still trying to catch up, even two years later, are the kids attending summer school1. Post COVID summer school programs have expanded in many school districts to include more than catch-up courses in math, science, and English—but also to include other programs such as the arts, mental health and support services. Schools are using their COVID relief funds to pay for these extended programs. Summer school now isn’t just about catching up, but about getting ahead and learning a new skill2.
Typically, there are three types of summer school programs:
1. Credit Recovery: a student has fallen behind, and they need to pass the class to move up a grade.
2. Credit Acceleration: a student wants to get ahead and accelerate in classes, to make more space for certain classes in the fall on their schedule.
3. Summer Enrichment: more focused toward academic enrichment or extracurriculars, such as a theater camp or coding camp.
One thing to remember is that these families who have opted into a summer program are not getting a break in school communication this year. They also aren’t getting a break from school. (We know you aren’t, either, and we thank you for that!) Parents may still have to be packing lunches, doing pickup and drop-off or coordinating with other family members or friends around work schedules. How do we keep these families engaged—especially the first group mentioned above?
Here’s a list of eight ideas for better parent involvement over the summer.
Make it easy to find
Have a “Summer School” button that’s easy to find on your homepage. When families click on that button it will take them to the summer school resource page with everything they need to know. If you are a large school or district, break it down into a couple of buttons such as, “Elementary Summer School,” “Middle Summer School,” etc. Remember, parents have no time to hunt for information. If you can make this a big button in your home page, do so!
Consistent teacher communication with parents
If families are already used to referencing the teachers' online pages for information during the school year, have the teachers continue to update this information in the summer. If there is a subscribe button for the teacher pages, even better, as families will get email alerts when new information is posted.
Communication…even if it doesn’t APP-ly to all?
Communicate with parents through an app even if it doesn’t apply to all families. This is a great tool to engage your families with alerts and important notices about summer school. Not every family is plugged into their email, to receive alerts from teacher pages, so this way you know you are reaching everyone. It also helps reach the families whose contact information is no longer correct in the SIS. What about the other families whose children aren’t enrolled in your summer program? As long as it’s not an overabundance of push notifications going out daily, it shouldn’t be a nuisance. Remember that’s the beauty of push notifications: they are free for you to send and free for families to receive. Push away!
A dedicated calendar
Create a dedicated summer school calendar that families can subscribe to. Include start and end dates for the programs your school is offering as well as deadlines, and any summer events you’re having. This calendar should also be linked on the summer term page so everything is all in one place.
Timing is everything
So many school events are early in the morning or before noon. In a two-income household that means someone has to use vacation time, or request off and not be paid, to be present or “engaged” at a school event. I personally have been to a choir concert at ten in the morning—it was a bit rough on the family schedule. If you want to maximize engagement, have events after school hours or as late in the day as allowed by the teachers’ union and school board. Create a survey form for families and find out what time they would all most likely show up at an event at school. Maybe for your school it is ten am.
Newsletters from teachers
Empower teachers with the resources to easily send a newsletter or email from their contact list of subscribed families to their page. This way families will know what’s coming in week one, two, and three of the summer term.
Ask first and then provide alternatives
Ask for volunteers: research shows that families who volunteer have a higher academic success rate, and also will most likely return to volunteer3. This will help with the parent involvement vs. parent engagement argument for your school. If you get the parents to the school you will hear their ideas, what's working what's not, etc. The program in general will have a higher success rate. Obviously not all families have the time or resources to take time off and volunteer. Getting families to come help paint the school or plant the community garden in the heat of the summer may be a little unrealistic. Get families involved in ways that’s easy for them. Ask families to participate in assignments through your app, online forms, or through teacher communication. If this is working, go in for the ask and try an in-person event. Have families share cultural traditions and history, to build a summer school cultural community. If there are language differences, be sure you’re not embedding forms, or newsletters on your summer term page, but everything is built into your CMS. An integrated form builder will produce forms that are translatable by browser. Also make sure your app has a translating capability to include all families.
Don’t be afraid of a QR code
We all got used to these on menus during COVID, but they are free and easy to create, and they provide an alternative to translating dynamic material for families. You’ve created a resource page for the summer term with all the information families would need. If you are planning on a flyer to send home, include the QR code on it to direct traffic to the page. If information changes, you are just updating the page instead of sending home new flyers every week. Also, because of it being on its own page on your website, it will translate to whatever language families have their browsers set to. Go to: https://www.qr-code-generator.com/ to create one now!
Parent involvement is very much like trying to engage teenagers at the dinner table. If we are eating leafy greens and lentils the conversation is strained and sullen. If we are eating pizza, we learn everything that’s happening at school. Translation: it needs to be very easy and a little fun. We understand not every day can be a pizza party but make it as easy as possible for families to understand what’s going on in the classroom during the summer, understand in their own language, and inspire them to maybe share their time.