With hard work and a lot of creativity, Horizons at EA faculty and students embraced the challenges they faced amidst a global pandemic. In keeping with its tradition, the Horizons program continued to deliver a valuable learning environment for young Horizons students by redesigning its lessons for remote instruction.
"The core of Horizons has always been the in-person experience at The Episcopal Academy. Traditionally, our students would take the bus from the North Philadelphia and Lansdowne areas each day and arrive on EA's campus," explained Horizons at EA Executive Director Courtney Delaney. "We decided on a blended learning program that aimed to provide resources at home as well as daily virtual learning."
This summer's six-week program took place June 22 - July 31. Program leaders kicked off the summer by distributing "Horizons at Home" boxes to all 116 students via school bus.
The learning kits included a Kindle Fire tablet with customized learning software, which allowed teachers to host daily Zoom sessions. "We rented a school bus and on June 16 and 17 we successfully delivered 116 Horizons at Home boxes to our students! They were long days, but seeing our students and families in person was an amazing experience," said Mrs. Delaney.
The boxes also included, art supplies, a KIWI STEM Kit, yoga mat and jump rope, academic workbooks, Horizons T-shirt, a mask, and grocery gift cards. "Our Horizons at Home boxes and remote learning curriculum were thoughtfully planned in order to ensure that Horizons at EA was fulfilling its mission to provide academic and enrichment opportunities regardless of our actual educational setting," shared Program Director Rowena Lesher.
"Yaaaay! Louis got his package and he is so excited! Thank you Team Horizon. We love you and are going to miss you all," shared Louis' mother.
"These were Anthony and Sean's favorites," explained another appreciative mom. "Chocolate and a jump rope! Mine was the gift card to Giant. Your organization is amazing."
In an effort to better understand the needs of families, Horizons at EA started planning for an alternative summer scenario in March. "We sent surveys and asked about the current online learning situation in their schools, their access to devices and internet, their possible food insecurity, and their general health and well-being," said Mrs. Delaney. "We approached this with the knowledge that some of our students would be able to participate in a synchronous learning, but that for some, especially who may have parents who are essential workers, that an asynchronous option would provide greater flexibility."
Each day, Horizons teachers offered live Zoom sessions and also uploaded recorded lessons to a remote learning website. "While the program focuses on teaching core curriculum subjects like Math and English Language Arts, Horizons provided countless other opportunities for learning and growth this summer," said Mrs. Delaney.
"Our K-8 Teachers would be live on Zoom with our students in a 30-minute block between 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. We were so grateful to our Horizons supporters for their pop-in visits and 'read alouds.' Our middle school students also enjoyed a panel discussion by the Black Resource Group at Aqua," shared Mrs. Lesher.
"This summer we are on an app called Raz-Kids," explained 4th grader Stephanie. "The app helps me read better and have a better understanding of the stories when I answer questions. I love this app because reading, writing, and math are my favorite subjects."Students worked weekly with a counselor on social emotional learning and mindfulness with the Headspace app and RULER curriculum on their Kindles. They also participated in enrichment classes in French, origami, drama, STEAM, art, and PE.
Episcopal students volunteered during the remote program. Many participated by recording their own lessons. "One of the core components of our Horizons Program is our robust Upper School volunteer program," explained Mrs. Lesher. "The strong connections our Horizons students and EA Upper School students create summer after summer are key to the social and emotional growth of our Horizons students. We were so fortunate to still maintain that 'connection' virtually. Many former and new volunteers submitted video recorded lessons around a variety of topics like cooking/baking, music, phonics, and literature."
"We were so impressed with two of our rising seniors, Ashley Lederman and Will Semmer, as they actually came up with this idea on their own and pitched it," explained Mrs. Delaney. "They planned meetings with the Horizons volunteers and did such a great job providing content on our website."
Throughout the summer, Horizons teachers continued to surprise students and families by dropping off pizzas, cookies, books, and gift cards. "Recognizing our students and families for their daily efforts and participation during this anomaly was one of many ways to show our appreciation for their continuing commitment," shared Mrs. Lesher.
"On the final day of the program, board members, staff, and teachers traveled to the 12 graduating 8th graders' homes for a graduation parade," said Mrs. Lesher. "Graduates were celebrated with cheers and were presented with backpacks, a special Horizons 2020 sweatshirt, a leadership pin, personalized poster and yearbook, and a cake."
"I appreciate you and your team so much," shared the mother of Rayshid. "I can't say it enough. This is the best family we have been a part of in a long time."
"Everyday I am grateful for Horizons and what you all have done for us. Thank you so much," reflected Adrian's mother.
Seven of this summer's 12 graduates started in the program as Kindergarteners when Horizons at EA began in 2013.
One hundred sixteen students in Kindergarten through 8th grade took part in Horizons at Home, along with 19 staff members and 30 volunteers. This summer marked a fully matured Kindergarten through 8th grade program and the first graduating class.
Written with the assistance of EA Communications intern Julia DePillis '18.