Baker-Polito Administration Partners with United Way to Launch Summer Step Up Program for Young Learners

May 6, 2021

BOSTON – The Baker-Polito Administration, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, is awarding United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley up to $10 million to launch a Summer Step Up program focusing on young children who are entering school for the first time or who have had little in-person learning experience due to COVID. Beginning this summer, the funding will offer technical assistance and in-kind support for the expansion or enhancement of existing summer programming focused on addressing the needs of the youngest learners in approximately 50 communities and school districts.

As families with young children addressed a variety of needs and challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment in the early grades in the Massachusetts public school system declined during the 2020-2021 school year. The new Summer Step Up program will support opportunities over a two-year period to re-engage families and accelerate children’s learning and readiness by providing their children with a substantive in-person learning experience prior to the resumption of school schedules in the fall.

“We are pleased to be supporting school districts to expand vital summer services to our state’s youngest learners.  By partnering with United Way and community organizations, more children throughout the Commonwealth will be offered the opportunity to make up for lost time prior to starting school in the fall—maximizing the critical summer months to accelerate learning,” said Commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy of the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.  “Research continues to show that a strong foundation in the early years sets students up for long-term academic success, like high school and college completion.”

The goals of the Summer Step Up program include creating, extending, or enhancing in-person summer experiences in collaboration with community partners for young children who have had limited access to in-school experiences due to COVID-19 pandemic.  School districts will receive support from local and national experts to provide tailored materials that support high-quality in-person learning experiences that are aligned to school district goals and provide resources to community partners to support school entry goals.

“The Baker-Polito Administration and the Department of Early Education and Care recognize that remote learning has brought in a whole new set of challenges for children and families, particularly those in communities that were disproportionately hit by COVID-19,” said Bob Giannino, President and Chief Executive Officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “Now, more than ever, young children need academic, social and emotional support over the summer months to engage in learning and prepare for a full return to classroom settings.  We hope this will build an infrastructure for innovative community collaborations that began during COVID and improve coordination across support services for young children and families as communities recover.”

The program will focus on identifying and engaging Massachusetts families with young children in the early grades that were eligible to enroll in Massachusetts public schools in the 2020-2021 school year, but either opted out of school district services, withdrew throughout the year, or had limited engagement with remote offerings provided by the public schools.

Funding is available to support community collaborations in meeting the goals of the Summer Step Up Program. United Way will award funding to local and national partners to support the efforts of the Summer Step Up program and will provide on-the-ground technical assistance and overall project management for this initiative. United Way staff will work closely with community leaders to convene partners, design the programs, and provide facilitation, coaching, and technical assistance.

Communities can adapt curriculum currently used in the local district or work with national and local technical assistance partners offered through the Summer Step Up program to focus on school readiness skills for young learners such as:

  • Classroom expectations and routines, typically a large focus in the early grades as students are introduced to the school environment;
  • Fostering social-emotional skills, especially in preparation for the resumption of in-person learning with peers;
  • Early literacy, including exposure to culturally relevant books and developmentally appropriate writing activities; and
  • Early math, including hands-on and play-based activities.

The technical assistance providers will develop materials that will be used to create or enhance high-quality summer learning experiences for young learners, provide professional development and technical assistance to community teams, and develop or support data collection and tools to inform ongoing quality improvement efforts and assess child progress.

School district leaders should complete the district interest form to express interest in applying to participate in the program and to provide some baseline information. A member of the United Way team will follow up after receiving the survey information to begin planning for the summer.  For more information, contact Sarah Link, Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Massachusetts Bay, at or 617-624-8155.