Horizons at Warner is the First Horizons Affiliate to Be Housed on College Grounds

Summer school has earned a bad rap over the years, but not every kid who attends school in the summer does so resentfully. Take, for example, the elementary and middle school students attending class for the first time at the University of Rochester's River Campus as part of a national summer enrichment program that is expanding to the Warner School of Education. The new program will host six weeks of academic, cultural, and confidence-building activities from June 28 through August 5 to help counter the "summer slide"—or loss of academic skills—and keep students excited about school.

An affiliate of the national non-profit called Horizons National Student Enrichment Program, Horizons at Warner is one of 22 from across the country serving more than 1,800 children from low-income families, the second in Rochester, and the very first Horizons affiliate nationwide to be housed on a college campus. All other Horizons affiliates are currently housed at independent K-12 schools. The first Horizons affiliate in Rochester began 15 years ago at The Harley School in Brighton, where the Warner School piloted Horizons last summer.

Horizons at Warner, a partnership with the Rochester City School District, will serve 65 students from Rochester City Schools who have just completed grades kindergarten, first, fifth, and sixth. About three-quarters of the students are from John James Audubon School No. 33 and one-tenth of the students are from Henry W. Longfellow School No. 36, with the rest coming from other city schools.

The Warner School plans to have the children and Horizons grow together, with two new grades added each summer, until the program eventually serves students between kindergarten and eighth grade. The program is designed to allow the new kindergarten class each summer to attend for nine successive summers of meaningful and authentic learning experiences.

The full-day program will run daily, providing students with an outlet to continue learning outside the traditional classroom and to engage in hands-on educational enrichment in various subject areas, like math, reading, social studies, and literacy. Horizons also will include weekly field trips built around this year's theme, "Change over Time—The Genesee River," daily swim instruction, and hobby groups that include sewing, cheerleading, yoga, track and field, overnight camping trips, organic gardening, and other activities that tailor to students' interests.

While all students tend to lose academic skills over the summer, research has shown that the effect is more pronounced in children from families and communities that have a lower socioeconomic status. Horizons at Warner is meant to narrow the achievement gap among students from lower-income families and their peers, particularly after summer vacation.

Executive Director Lynn Gatto, who also teaches courses in the elementary education program at the Warner School, said that the most important aspects of the program are keeping children safe during the summer and avoiding the summer breakdown by giving students opportunities to learn in a non-traditional school setting—an approach that distinguishes Horizons at Warner from other Horizons affiliates.

"It's still learning, but it's more comfortable and relaxed with a more hands-on, non-traditional approach," said Gatto, "and children get to learn in multi-age classrooms, which help them to develop social skills. This approach to teaching gives students a voice and choice in what they learn and allows them to be focused on learning in non-traditional ways."

There is no pressure for students to participate. They are a part of Horizons at Warner because they want to be. "After my first summer at Horizons I help more, I have more friends, I'm more caring, and I listen more," said fifth-grade student Briona, who is returning for this year's program. "I even like writing now."

Classes are led by 10 paid certified teachers from the Rochester City School District, with support from Warner graduate students who volunteer their time as teaching assistants. City students are not the only ones who benefit from the program. Warner master's students, who are studying to become urban educators, gain hands-on classroom time with K-8 students and seasoned teachers, and city teachers get to be the type of teacher they want to be.

"Horizons opened my eyes to the benefits of multi-age learning and further solidified my appreciation for the need for natural authentic learning opportunities," said Rosalie Ortiz-Andino, a Horizons teacher who also teaches in a fourth-grade bilingual classroom at Henry Hudson School No. 28 during the school year. "It is a tremendous asset to Rochester. City students and teachers are extending their understanding of themselves and their world in extraordinary ways."

Horizons at Warner also includes a strong family component that offers a school-year science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Saturday program for students who join the program. Graduate students from the Warner School also hold interactive parent workshops so that parents can gain insight about their children's learning habits and find ways to support them. Parents have shown significant interest and involvement in the program.

One parent said, "I love Horizons. It really helped my kids understand how important school is."

The Wilson Foundation and the Feinbloom Foundation have funded the program, providing more than $30,000 this year. In addition, Horizons at Warner is funded through private donations from local corporations and individuals. Aside from a one-time $25 registration fee, the tuition is free, with students also receiving free meals and transportation.

Founded in 1964, Horizons National has become a network of 22 program sites representing 10 states in the nation. On average, Horizons students tend to improve three months in reading skills each summer and are far more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than they would be without the strong foundation support from Horizons. To learn more about Horizons National, visit www.horizonsnational.org. For more information about Horizons at Warner visit http://warner.rochester.edu/horizons or contact Lynn Gatto at (585) 739-1168 or lynngatto@rochester.rr.com