Taking Stock of Our Time-Bound Investment in Expanded Learning

Our staff explores what we’ve learned from our seven-year investment in summer and after-school programs in California.

Pausing to look back is an important part of understanding how to move forward. Now that the Children, Families, and Communities Program’s seven-year investment in summer and after-school learning has come to a close, we are actively digesting the lessons we’ve learned from our work, and we would like to share some of the key takeaways with our partners, grantees, and funders. The Foundation continues to invest in after-school programs for school-age youth in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties through the Local Grantmaking Program.

Our evaluation partner, Informing Change, has just released its final evaluation of our summer strategy. This evaluation is designed to be most useful to leaders in the expanded learning field in California. Through this work, we have also learned how a time-bound investment that adjusts along the way can stimulate currents of change in California.

Here, reflecting on this comprehensive report, Children, Families, and Communities Program Officer Justina Acevedo-Cross and Evaluation and Learning Officer Olivia Deich take a moment to share their thoughts about what we have learned.

Why did the Foundation think expanded learning was an important issue to tackle?

Justina: For many school-age children, summer can be a time of unstructured days, a patchwork of care, isolation, boredom, and hunger. Through the Foundation’s work strengthening the after-school field, we learned that if we hoped to see after-school programs sustain student gains in academics and social-emotional development, it was impossible to ignore the three summer months when students were out of school and experiencing “summer learning loss.”

Although the after-school field had achieved rapid program expansion, many programs were not taking advantage of additional state funds to offer summer programming, and the quality of summer programs that were offered was uneven with no common standard for what made a great experience for kids. We saw that expanded learning—the combined term to signal after-school, summer, and interim session learning—was a compelling opportunity for California. If we strengthened the quality of programs while simultaneously getting more education leaders to champion summer learning, more kids across the state would benefit.

Summer learning was a time-bound strategy. How did that impact how you structured it?

Justina: From the onset of the strategy, we have been building it knowing that we will exit and we’ve been transparent with grantees and partners since day one that the investment would end. Catalyzing impact over a seven-year period meant making deeper investments in field building, individual organization capacity, peer collaboration, and the development of tools and resources. We also supported relationship building and coordination across the state—structures we hope will outlast our investment.

How did some of the key partners you worked with strengthen your strategy?

Justina: We learned a great deal about creating and deploying a strategy that includes building a statewide field and finding the best ways to work with multiple organizations and state and local agencies. Our grantees and our evaluation firm, Informing Change, were architects of the strategy with us and informed the initial design as well as suggested adjustments along the way. The story of our summer learning strategy is available in a recently released report, Seven Years of Summer: The Story of the Packard Foundation’s Catalytic Investment in Summer Learning in California.

How did the landscape of expanded learning change in California thanks to the work of your grantees?

Justina: The report reveals that California now knows what a high-quality summer learning program should look like. Thanks to our grantees in the field and efforts by California Department of Education, there is now also a stronger network of technical assistance providers and better availability of support for programs across the state. Plus, through the Summer Matters Campaign, our grantees have effectively raised awareness of the problem of summer learning loss and solutions to address it.  This is all great news for the future of expanded learning in California.

Why is conducting an evaluation like this one by Informing Change important?

Olivia:  One of the most important questions for our Foundation is, “How are we doing?” After all, we are working to steward the legacy of resources left to the Foundation by David and Lucile Packard toward the greatest possible good. We care not only about what grant funds accomplish—in this case, what they can do for after-school and summer learning—but also about how we do that grantmaking, engage with grantees, and improve over time. This evaluation and others like it give us (and our partners) a clear picture of how we are doing, and ways we might consider adjusting to make even more progress.

Who can learn from this final evaluation?

Olivia:  We are excited to be sharing this report because so many different audiences can learn from it. Our grantees and other stakeholders who work with young children and school systems every day can read about the positive value summer and after-school learning adds to a child’s development. That’s especially important to us not only because it expands the base of support for this crucial work, but also because we hope that others can build upon the investments we were able to make.  At another level, there are important lessons in this report for our staff and for other grantmakers—lessons related to systems building, stakeholder engagement, and how it is possible to be a catalyst for change with a time-bound grantmaking strategy.

What’s next?

Olivia: We believe that openly sharing what we’re learning can generate value for our grantees and drive impact in our fields. We seek out opportunities to share what we are learning, to co-create insights with our partners, and to use these insights to inform and galvanize change in our fields. So although we have come to the end of our time-bound investment in expanded learning, we look forward to engaging others—our grantees, additional funders, professionals and leaders working with children, and other stakeholders—around this evaluation to ensure that others can help build upon our grantees’ accomplishments.