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Building Equity: Amplify Summer Learning Toolkit

The Building Equity: Amplify Summer Learning Toolkit provides methods for libraries to engage every child in high-quality summer learning, emphasizing strategies to center equity, executing effective STEM program design and targeting middle school youth.

Breaking from school during the summer can provide today’s youth with incredible opportunities for growth and continued learning. As an integral part of the educational ecosystem, public libraries’ summer learning programs play a crucial role in reaching all children, offering spaces, resources and programming to enhance students’ lives and increase the likelihood of future success.

The Building Equity: Amplify Summer Learning Toolkit provides methods for libraries to engage every child in high-quality summer learning, emphasizing strategies to center equity, executing effective STEM program design and targeting middle school youth. In partnership with the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), ULC issued a Statement on Summer Learning in 2022 for public libraries to deepen access and equity in both what and how summer programs are offered. Click here to read more and pledge to drive deeper equity and broader access for all youth in your community.

Building Equity: Amplify Summer Learning Toolkit

  • Eship Toolkit Icons Touching Edges Eship Toolkit Icon Step 5 I. Making Summer a Priority

    Research shows when schools are on break, learning stops. This makes summer a pivotal period that can result in deleterious learning loss and increases opportunity gaps for children. Public libraries, as essential centers for summer learning, offer reading, STEM and a variety of learning opportunities open to all. Click here to learn more about how libraries are serving their communities during the summer.

    1.1 Recognize Summer as a Critical Period

    Build knowledge and understanding regarding summer learning loss and its impacts on student outcomes. Click here to read about summer learning loss, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for information on the demonstrated impacts of learning gaps, including high school graduation and college entrance rates.

    1.2 Understand How Systemic Barriers are Magnified in Summer

    Build an awareness of the inequities and opportunity gaps that typically increase during the summer months. Click here for data on regional, racial and economic barriers and their influence on post-summer student outcomes. Click here for additional insights about the demonstrated disparities in summer learning loss between low-income and higher-income students.

    1.3 Establish Summer Learning as a Top Library Priority

    Include summer learning in the library system’s planning. Identify key personnel to lead summer learning initiatives, including a program director. Set annual summer program goals that drive a continuous cycle of evaluation and quality improvement. Ensure program sustainability by seeking multiple and diverse funding sources. Create staffing patterns that allow branch staff to conduct robust summer learning and outreach. Library leadership should declare summer learning as a key initiative both internally and in public messaging.

    1.4 Transition from Summer Reading to Summer Learning

    Expanding what we offer and what we count as learning in summer is at the basis of pivoting from summer reading to summer learning. While many libraries are opting to call this suite of programs and opportunities Summer at the Library, it is still important to move toward counting active learning like 21st-century skills found in STEM. These include, but are not limited to: collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, information management, effective use of technology, career and life skills and cultural awareness (click here for more information). This deepens equity by welcoming diverse learners into our libraries.

    Counting STEM as a track of learning increases our youth’s access to critical skills essential for future-ready learners while at the same time welcoming non-reading youth into our programs.

  • Eship Toolkit Icons Touching Edges Eship Toolkit Icon Step 4 II. Building Equity in Summer Programs

    Due to the history of U.S. public libraries, they have not been universally considered a trusted space. Centering anti-racism goals is key to ensuring a successful library summer learning program, improving its reach, impact, diversity and inclusivity, all earning the right to be called a trusted space by all. This process should be strategic and intentional at all levels of the library. Click here for more information about anti-racism strategies and work for public libraries.

    2.1 Establish and Foster Cultural Competence

    Study cultural competence, or cognitive, affective and behavioral skills that lead to effective and appropriate communication with people of other cultures, and implement training for anyone engaged in summer programming. Click here to learn about the value of cultural competence in the education system, including detecting biases, implementing equitable behavior management and fostering engagement. Click here for strategies to bake cultural competence into educational environments, including representation, language usage and book selection.

    2.2 Engage Trusted Messengers

    Seek to understand trusted and respected individuals, organizations and other entities in your community, and engage them in your work. Click here for general information about trusted messengers in American culture today. Click here for details about understanding your audience as a path to identifying trusted messengers.

    2.3 Prioritize Authentic Co-Design

    Study the concept of co-design, or the participatory approach to designing solutions in which community members are treated as equal collaborators in the design process, and embed it into your programming. In other words, involve middle schoolers who represent the demographics of your service area in your program design process. Click here for more information on serving the Latinx community through co-design.

    2.4 Respond to Community Needs

    Use data and communication with community members to identify needs before acting on them.

    Do not assume. Ask the community what their needs are, listen and actively respond. Click here for more information about authentic co-design.

    2.5 Center Anti-Racism Efforts

    Directly name anti-racism as a goal (as opposed to less specific terms such as “racial equity”) and work to identify, address and dismantle systemic racism in the library. Click here for case studies and more detailed guidance on anti-racism in public libraries.

  • Stem Toolkit Icons Touching Edges Eship Toolkit Icon Step 7 III. STEM Program Design

    As engines for workforce development, race and social equity, technology access and lifelong learning, public libraries occupy a unique space in actively fostering stronger STEM education outcomes in their communities. For additional research, the Building the STEM Workforce: Quickstart Toolkit, a precursor to this toolkit, provides strategies for short-term changes that can help libraries accelerate their progress as STEM equity leaders.

    3.1 Center Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

    Study NGSS’s Three Dimensions of Science Learning, which form standards and combine to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time. Work to frame summer programming around this national standard for STEM learning. Click here to study the basic cross-cutting concepts. Click here for well-organized and vetted resources to help translate STEM concepts into implementable lessons and activities.

    3.2 Pair STEM and Literacy

    Integrate literacy learning into STEM programming to support overall computational skills and reinforce other skills that are needed by thriving adults. Click here for detailed suggestions on weaving reading and writing skills into STEM lesson planning.

    3.3 Center Play

    High-quality interactive learning supports cognitive and social-emotional development. Click here for more about successful models that incorporate play at the library.

  • Eship Toolkit Icons Touching Edges Eship Toolkit Icon Step 3 IV. Middle School Youth

    Understanding the developmental stage of middle schoolers is crucial to developing engaging summer programming. Through age-appropriate programming, creativity and approaches such as Positive Youth Development (PYD), libraries can positively impact early adolescents.

    4.1 Focus on Positive Youth Development

    Study and implement the PYD approach, engaging youth through constructive activities, treating them as equal partners and generally fostering a positive environment. Ensure that the PYD approach is a throughline in all summer learning activities. Click here for more information about the PYD approach including training resources. Click here to explore more in-depth resources about the connection between PYD and justice prevention. Click here to explore training offered by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to develop deeper expertise in PYD.

    4.2 Study Adolescent Brain Development, "Ages and Stages"

    Along with physical changes, adolescents experience cognitive changes as well. It’s important for those who work with teens to encourage them toward independence where they understand the ways in which their brains are developing and take advantage of those changes in a way that leads to future success. Click here for more and see also and NIH.

    4.3 Find the Children Who Need You the Most

    Examine community data and perform a community needs assessment, focused on data points related to economic outcomes such as school performance and median household income. If available, explore data disaggregated by zip code to precisely identify neighborhoods of need. Work to target summer programming and outreach to serve children in these neighborhoods. Click here for a repository of publicly-available economic mobility data points. Click here for zip code level information about opportunity for children in any given zip code. Click here for an overview of building a community needs assessment as a public library.

    4.4 Implement Hart's Ladder of Participation

    Study Roger Hart's Ladder of Children’s Participation, which describes eight ascending levels of decision-making agency, control and power that can be accorded to children and youth by adults. Integrate this framework into your programming from conception to execution. Click here for more background and information about Hart’s Ladder of Participation. Click here to learn more about strategies for utilizing Hart’s Ladder of Participation to assess library engagement.

  • Eship Toolkit Icons Touching Edges Eship Toolkit Icon Step 6 V. Example Resources

    Execution of an effective summer learning program requires significant planning and program design. Members of ULC’s Building Equity: Amplify Summer Learning cohort have contributed sample resources that may provide you with a starting point.

    Examples and Instructional Materials for Field Trips

    - Lexington Public Library: Back to the Roots Field Trip Descriptions

    - Lexington Public Library: Field Trip Learning Objectives

    - Lexington Public Library: STEAM Powered Program Permission Slip

    Memoranda of Understanding

    - Boston Public Library: MOU (redacted)

    Mission Statements

    Harris County Public Library: Summer Learning Mission Statements

    Pima County Public Library: Tween Services Team Mission

    Program Goals

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Summer 2023 Goals

    Program Schedules

    - Milton Public Library: Program Plan & High-Level Schedule

    Marketing Materials

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Discover Summer 2.25-Inch Button

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Discover Summer 8.5x11 Display Sign

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Discover Summer 8.5x11 Poster Characters

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Discover Summer Bookmark

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: Take and Make Template

    - Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library: This Summer Learn About Fillable Signs

    - Lexington Public Library: Social Media Flyer

    - Lexington Public Library: STEAM-Powered Flyer

    Target Audience Recruitment

    San Mateo Public Library: Target Audience Worksheet

Glossary of Terms

This glossary provides definitions of select terms included in the toolkit that could be interpreted broadly or need clarification. These terms may be helpful to share with your library’s summer program team. We share them believing that developing a common vocabulary is important, and are defining them based on common usage within the context of this work rather than the strict dictionary-provided ways.


Amplify - To heighten awareness of, shine light on, bring expanded attention to

Authentic Co-Design

Authentic Co-Design - Intentionally and honestly engaging a larger community, particularly those with whom the potential program is being designed, before moving past an idea to any next stage. Formally, authentic co-design refers to a six-step process beginning with exploring readiness to collaborate and building a shared understanding to implementing agreed upon actions and evaluating progress. (See Authentic Co-design - a framework for solving complex issues with communities)

Crosscutting Concepts

"Crosscutting concepts" refers to the Next Generation Science Standards. Crosscutting concepts include:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and effect
  • Scale, proportion and quantity
  • Systems and system models
  • Energy and matter
  • Structure and function
  • Stability and change
Cultural Competence

Cultural Competence - Being aware of your own cultural beliefs and values and how these may be different from other cultures—including being able to learn about and honor the different cultures of those you work with. (See Child Welfare Information Gateway)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary core ideas - Have the power to focus K–12 science curriculum, instruction, and assessments on the most important aspects of science. To be considered core, the ideas should meet at least two of the following criteria and ideally all four:

  • Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing concept of a single discipline;
  • Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
  • Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technological knowledge;
  • Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication.

The term "Disciplinary Core Ideas" comes from the National Science Teachers Association.

Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind - Refers to a set of 16 life skills identified through research as necessary for people to meaningfully and effectively engage in society at large. They include:

  • Creating, imagining and innovating
  • Listening with understanding and empathy
  • Questioning and posing problems
  • Gathering data through all senses
  • Applying past knowledge to new situations
  • Persisting
  • Thinking Flexibly
  • Metacognition (thinking about your thinking)
  • Finding humor
  • Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • Taking responsible risks
  • Striving for accuracy
  • Remaining open to continuous learning
  • Responding with wonderment and awe
  • Managing impulsivity
  • Thinking independently

The "Habits of Mind" are created by The Institute for Habits of Mind and Arthur L. Costa.

Hart's Ladder of Youth Participation

Hart’s Ladder of Youth Participation - Provides 8 steps to help organizations move from dictating what provision of youth services looks like to actively engaging youth in all decision-making.


Inclusion - At its best, inclusion is made part of policies that drive the practice of ensuring all people and all groups are included in planning and activities at all levels in organizations and communities; that all voices are given a platform to be heard, especially those that have been historically silenced or sidelined.

Science and Engineering Practices

Science and Engineering Practices include:

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating and communicating information
Trusted Messengers

Trusted Messengers - Community members who are trusted, who have gained respect based on their ongoing role within the community as someone who can be trusted; those who should be approached and asked before programs are designed.

Declaration of Democracy

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant number LG-250115-OLS-21.