Horizons Atlanta focuses on providing tuition-free summer enrichment programs to children from underserved communities. This summer, the program will target Drew Charter School students for the seventh year.
“We are really specifically targeting those kids [who] need us the most and would otherwise fall through the cracks if our program wasn’t there,” said Alex Wan, executive director of Horizons Atlanta.
Students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch and are performing below grade level are the students that Horizons Atlanta recruits. The group recruits rising first graders and works to build their learning skills until the students are rising high school freshmen.
“It’s not a come-to-us-for-one-year-and-then-we’re-done-with-you-program,” Wan said. “We’re going to stay with you for eight years and make sure that you’ve maintained the learning skills that you’ve picked up.”
The program is part of the Horizons national organization and has been around for 50 years. It is designed to provide literacy and STEAM education during the summer to 990 students in the Atlanta area at nine host institutions. For DeKalb County, Drew Charter students will spend the summer at Georgia Tech.
The students also are taught to swim during the six-week program. According to Wan, drowning rates are three times higher for minorities than for the general population.
“It seems like a really easy problem to solve,” Wan said. “A lot of them don’t have access to a pool or access to instruction.”
“I think they love coming to the program because it provides a safe place,” said Sirocus Barnes, Georgia Tech program site director. “They are learning but not in a traditional way.”
Along with swimming and STEAM instruction, students are taught how to code. Last year, Georgia Tech introduced a social and emotional learning program called RULER. The program focuses on students and teachers being able to recognize and express their emotions properly. Students visibly identify their emotions throughout the learning day on a classroom board for everyone to see. Georgia Tech will continue the program this year.
According to Barnes, the program resembles Georgia Tech’s culture of academic rigor. Students are tested at the beginning and end of the summer to track academic progress.
“They don’t realize they’re learning,” Wan said. “They just see it as a fun six-week experience where they’re doing work and they’re having fun but they don’t reflect back on actually learning. But they recognize when they go back to school in the fall that they haven’t experienced the summer slide and forgotten information.”
According to Wan, summer slide is a loss of students’ academic abilities over the summer due to not having access to enrichment programs. Wan said that two to three months of education loss could push a student back six months and teachers have to reteach concepts at the beginning of the school year.
“What we have found is that our kids advance up to three months in math and literacy after attending our program,” Wan said.
Students also take weekly field trips to places such as Delta Flight Museum, Georgia Aquarium and Six Flags.
As well as getting rising ninth-grade students prepared for high school, Wan and Barnes said exposing students to a college campus─where students are able to interact with staff, faculty and college students─is also getting the program participants ready for college.
“The students feel like they are going to college already,” Barnes said.
“We’re doing what we can to close the learning gap,” Wan said.
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