Thousands of Kansas families connect with free learning experiences

In six weeks, CPPR helped bring the Sunflower Summer program to fruition

During the summer of 2021, children and families from all counties in Kansas participated in the Sunflower Summer program. The program clocked more than 71,000 free visits to museums, zoos, historic landmarks, and more. The program reimbursed venues for the visits, providing $780,421 in revenue.

In late April, an educator advisory committee, which included former Kansas Teachers of the Year, was tasked by Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson with identifying ways to utilize national relief funding to support summertime education enrichment. The group pointed to the loss of student field trips due to the pandemic and proposed utilizing these resources to pay admission for families to visit venues and participate in enrichment activities across the state. The group believed this would encourage ongoing learning during the summer and provide opportunities for social-emotional interactions among children and adults. The concept was a hit from the beginning. The program not only connected Kansas families with summer learning, it also supported more than 70 Kansas attractions that were negatively impacted during the pandemic.

Though everyone embraced the concept, the feasibility of creating the program in less than two months was challenging. Refining the program, coordinating with venues, developing an app, and sharing the program with Kansans was a herculean effort. Cue the University of Kansas Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR). Bringing Sunflower Summer to fruition was a natural fit for the team. As part of their work, CPPR specializes in helping organizations and communities dream up and implement big ideas, conduct research, and create programs that improve the lives of children and families.

Janine Hron, CPPR research project director, designed and developed the project and along with the CPPR team, coordinated closely with Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), The Governor's Office, Kansas Children's Cabinet and Trust Fund, app developer SLCKET, Kansas Department of Tourism, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Greenbush Education Service Center, and 70+ venues.

“We were excited to partner on this program and bring it to all Kansans,” said CPPR Director Jackie Counts. “Creating Sunflower Summer was a natural fit for us as we understand what families need, have the technical and communication expertise, and enjoy great relationships. This project demonstrated what happens when we take risks and dream big.”

Diversity Equity and Inclusion plays a role in app creation

Recognizing the diversity of our state, the team baked in a variety of features to help ensure all Kansas families—irrespective of their financial situation, location in the state or family status—had access to enriching summertime hands-on learning experiences. A few of these features include:

  • Paying for accompanying adult tickets. The original concept only included paying for student tickets. Paying for adults, too, helps ensure families with low income can take advantage of the enrichment opportunities in their communities.
  • Spanish version of the app. Though creating the app in two languages was a challenge in such a short time, offering a Spanish version was vital to opening the program to more Kansas families.
  • Ability to transfer tickets to other adults. The transferability of tickets honors the diversity of family and childcare situations. It allows children to visit venues with not only their legal guardian, but with other family members, out-of-school providers or friends of the family.
  • Including venues across the state. Frequently rural communities don’t have access to programs and opportunities in their area. Sunflower Summer made sure to include experiences in all six regions of the state.

“The Sunflower Summer program was a home run for the state of Kansas,” said Denise Kahler, KSDE director of Communications and Recognition programs. “It was so gratifying to see the parents’ social media posts showing their students’ learning in action. The program did what we wanted it to do. It created rich opportunities for summer learning between students and caring adults, while helping to support these amazing Kansas attractions.”

About Sunflower Summer

The Kansas State Department of Education’s Sunflower Summer July 1 – August 15 program helped children stay engaged in learning throughout the summer months while spending quality time with family members and friends touring some of Kansas’ greatest attractions – all for free.

More information and a frequently-asked-questions section are available at

This project is developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, #S425U210002, as part of an award totaling $553,723,455, with 0% financed with non-governmental or non-federal sources. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.