Friday / June 14

Three Truths for Summer School: Refining Our Plans  

This blog is part two of a series, read part one here 

“We have to think beyond learning loss. We have to also ask ourselves, ‘What was gained? What did we learn?’ We need to quickly shore up areas where support is needed and to keep moving forward. We can’t remediate our way out of this. We need to prioritize our way out.”  

We ended Part 1 of Slow and Steady Summer School Planning with the above words from Meg Lee, Director of Organizational Development at Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS). If you haven’t read it already, read it here and learn more about a summer school program that leverages the power of the Three Truths framework:   

  1. Preparing students for our changing world   
  2. Infusing the science of learning and human development into our schools  
  3. Ensuring deep, systematic equity for all children to thrive.  

In this follow-up post, we describe how FCPS approached the design of their summer school program and provide actionable steps for leaders and educators to leverage the Three Truths as you implement your own summer school program. 

Grounding Summer School design within the context of our changing world, the science of learning and human development, and systemic equity. 

The Three Truths Framework provides three lenses through which to base decisions on curricular and pedagogical choices – including summer school. The most impactful decisions lie at the intersection of the three truths, as shown in the figure below. 

Figure 1: The Three Truths Framework  

Source: Three Truths for the Future of School by Julie Jungalwala and Julie Stern, book forthcoming  

At FCPS, the goal of their summer program is to help students reconnect with learning and with each other. Why is this important? For several years, FCPS has been working towards an evidence informed school system grounded in mind, brain education research. As they approached the design of their summer school program, the science of learning and human development was the touchstone that informed all of their decisions. Leading with this truth, they knew that academic gains rely on getting the brain ready for learning first – and that requires addressing the social-emotional needs of the learners first.  

The district also has an Equity Office that provides training, materials and support for teachers to have uncomfortable conversations and to honor different perspectives. The team in this office reached out personally to many students, inviting them to participate in the summer program. This work is grounded in cultural proficiency and it began in 2016. Over the last six months, two new specialists were added to the Equity Office team. The team has gotten bigger because the need is so great.  The cultural proficiency journey, at its core, is a personal one – and it requires dedicated resources and support. 

Teachers and administrators at FCPS are continually seeking ways in which to make the curriculum relevant to students’ interests, strengths and the opportunities of an ever-changing world. The summer school program incorporates this focus across all grade levels, for example; the STEM focus at the elementary level includes planning for students to create solar bots and catapults. The design weaves many of the skills and habits of mind needed to thrive in an unknowable future (a reality in which we have all had a crash course in the last fifteen or so months), and enables students to develop critical skills such as learning to learn, executive functioning, and creative problem solving. 

What about the adults? The majority of whom have experienced a year+ of personal and professional upheaval? Parameters were put in place to alleviate the stress of planning and facilitating the program. The district recognized that too often teachers are asked to do additional work, with no additional compensation. They secured funding to compensate those teachers who volunteered and who wanted to participate in summer school. Those volunteers are the teacher leaders who are the key people in alleviating the stress on the teachers who are teaching. The district also offers MSDE Continuity of Learning credits so those teachers can move up the salary scale and the district continues to work with the union to offer additional incentives.  

FCPS is taking an holistic design approach to its summer program, with much of the curricula and pedagogical choices residing at the intersection of the Three Truths Framework. 

Reflecting on Your Program 

As you reflect on the design of your summer school program, think about where your program falls on the below continuum. Then, consider the action steps you can take in the next section.  

Figure 2:  Summer School Reflection Rubric  

  Off-Track  Approaching  Leading 
Our Changing World  Our summer school program emphasizes memorization of existing knowledge and skills without regard to promoting life-long learning and adaptability.  


Students are not asked to transfer their learning to new situations.  

Our summer school program has some aspects that promote life-long learning and adaptability, such as integrating passion projects, digital literacy, or harnessing students’ lived experiences into coursework.  


Students are rarely asked to transfer their learning to new situations.  

Our summer school program clearly promotes and emphasizes life-long learning and adaptability, with an emphasis on fostering curiosity, collaboration, and a passion for learning.  


Students regularly transfer their learning to new situations.  

Science of Learning and Human Development  Our summer school program looks a lot like previous year’s summer school programs, without much thought given to the emotional impact of the past year.   Our summer school program reflects  some aspects of what we know about how young people learn and develop, including helping children and adults to socialize and process the events of the past year, reflect on the positives, and build habits of resilience.    Our summer school program clearly reflects knowledge from the science of learning and development because it systematically helps children and adults to socialize and process the events of the past year, reflect on the positives, and build habits of resilience.   
The Time for Systemic Equity   Our summer school program mostly passes down the habits and ways of being of historically dominant power structures.   


Diverse cultures, perspectives, narratives, and ways of being are not considered on a large scale.   

Our summer school program has some elements of equity built in, such as: 

  • prioritizing strong relations and social emotional learning 
  • creating learning environments filled with safety and belonging 
  • rich learning experiences to build student agency 
  • the intentional development of positive habits mindsets, and skills 
  • systems of support for vulnerable populations to offer tailored support 
  • specific ways to promote and honor diverse perspectives, narratives, and ways of being 
The leaders and implementers of our summer school program intentionally and systematically question assumptions and interrogate structures and habits with the purpose of promoting equity and providing all students experiences that are tailored to their unique potential for learning and developing. 


Time and resources are dedicated to ensuring that all students, and particularly  our most vulnerable or historically marginalized populations, experience summer programming intentionally designed to provide for strong relationships, environments filled with safety and belonging, rich learning experiences, the development of habits, skills, and mindsets, and integrated systems of support.  


Diverse cultures, narratives, and ways of being are comprehensively incorporated into our summer school program.  



Action Steps  

Now that you’ve reflected on your current plans, here are some action steps and concrete ideas to move closer towards the leading section of the continuum. Hopefully these will spark some ideas for quick ways to upgrade your summer school plans.  

Figure 3: Action Steps for Summer School Enhancement  

Truths   Possible Action Steps   Might Look Like 
Our Changing World  
  • Promote collaborative learning  
  • Build in passion projects  
  • Curate wonder and curiosity  
  • Harness students’ interests 
  • Foster learning transfer to new situations so students see relevance of their learning 
  • Teachers supported with discussion protocols, cooperative learning strategies  
  • Students learning in and with nature or in maker spaces  
  • Students are invited to ask their own questions 
  • Pop culture, current events, hands-on materials harnessed in learning  
  • Build literacy skills through students’ favorite games, tv shows, movies, songs, etc.  
  • Provide teachers with support to foster learning transfer  


Science of Learning and Human Development  
  • Provide PD to educators and school staff on the relevant findings of the science of learning and development 
  • Use protocols to help students and adults process the events of the past year  
  • Build and leverage structures for strong relationships between and among adults and students to engage brains and bodies in the learning process  
  • Journaling, art therapy, and mindfulness to reflect on the events of the past year 
  • Resilience building activities  
  • Dance, yoga, & sports systematically built into the day  
  • Use structures such as advisory and mentoring to build strong relationships that support learning and development 
  • Train teacher leaders to support all other educators with infusing the science of learning and development into their practice. 


The Time for Systemic Equity  
  • Tap expertise in this area for summer school enhancement  
  • Prioritize  low-income students, students with learning differences, English language learners and other populations to provide wrap-around supports 
  • Consult with local experts for advice on culturally-affirming and culturally-competent  ways of pursuing equity 
  • Students reflect on and harness their knowledge and experiences to set goals for the upcoming school year 
  • Bring in multicultural leaders, community members, artists, musicians, writers, artisans, and experts to expose students and adults to more expansive ways of thinking, being and thriving 
  • Constantly and systemically communicate and learn from young people, families, educators, and other stakeholders to understand how the summer school experience is going in order to continuously improve programming as well as inform planning for the upcoming school year 
  • Provide mobile hotspots, technology support, meal services to vulnerable households  

We hope these ideas provide insight and inspiration into how we can harness this moment in time to build the type of schools our children deserve. We also want to acknowledge the incredible difficulty the present moment poses for school leaders and teachers, and we thank you for your commitment to our young people and our communities. May we also recommend that school leaders and teachers find their own personal support and strategies to process the events of the past year. Together, and with care, we will see our way out of the lingering fog of COVID, and build school systems that are stronger than ever. Stay tuned for more from us on how the Three Truths Framework can help busy leaders and teachers navigate today’s complex world.  

Authors’ note: We’d like to thank Joaquin Tamayo from SoLD Alliance for his contribution to this post.  

Written by

Julie Stern is an internationally recognized teacher trainer, keynote speaker, curriculum designer, and author. She partners with schools around the world in transforming teaching and learning to meet the needs of the 21st Century. Her work centers on empowering students to transfer their learning to unlock complex problems in order to create a more just, healthy, and sustainable planet. She is the creator of numerous tools to help teachers harness research as we design schools for the future, including the Making Sense of Learning Transfer professional learning series from Corwin Press. Julie is a social studies teacher, a James Madison Constitutional scholar, and author of Tools for Teaching Conceptual Understanding, Secondary and Tools for Teaching Conceptual Understanding, Elementary, both published by Corwin Press.

Julie Jungalwala is a coach and advisor to school leaders, educational institutions, and foundations whose mission is to shape the future of K-12 education. She has over 15 years experience building effective learning environments that unlock human potential and enable organizational culture to adapt and grow during times of change. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Future of Learning, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping transform the factory model of education. Projects include working with school leadership and teacher teams to reimagine curriculum and pedagogy, researching the current state of the K-12 transformational landscape, and coaching school and district leaders. Julie has worked with a diverse range of clients including public schools, independent schools, public charter schools, and educational philanthropic organizations.

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