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How This Educational Nonprofit Works to Close the Gap for Low Income Students

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Photos courtesy of Courtney Delaney | Horizons at EA

Even in the midst of a pandemic, Newtown Square’s Horizons at EA maintained its mission this summer.

Instead of welcoming 116 students to Episcopal Academy’s Newtown Square campus in June, the Horizons at EA team rented a school bus the week before classes started and hand-delivered “Horizons at Home” boxes over the course of two days.

“They were long days, about seven hours each, but seeing our students and families in person was an amazing experience,” says Courtney Delaney, Horizons at EA’s new executive director.

Horizons is a national summer enrichment program that aims to close the opportunity gap for students of lower socio-economic backgrounds. These academic summer programs are tuition-free and held at independent schools and colleges throughout the country. Horizons at EA launched in 2013, partnering with the Frederick Douglass Mastery Elementary School in Philadelphia and more recently the Ardmore Avenue Elementary School in Lansdowne.

Typically drawing over 100 attendees, participating students take classes, play games and interact with dozens of high school volunteers. This year, due to COVID-19, EA’s campus closed for all summer programs, but that didn’t stop Horizons from moving forward, albeit with a new plan.

That included lots of online learning, while still being conscious of each student’s needs. That’s where the “Horizons at Home” boxes came in. Each box was tailored to a student’s grade level and included items like art supplies with step-by-step instructions, books, KiwiCo STEM kits, yoga mats and an internet-enabled Kindle Fire. There, students could access Zoom classes and learning software for reading, math and science, which they’ll continue to use throughout the school year.

Zoom lessons ranged from traditional subjects like language arts and math to physical education, STEAM, French, art and drama. Knowing not every student would be able to participate synchronously, teachers created a variety of pre-recorded lessons that could easily be accessed at the student’s convenience.

High school volunteers, including Ashley Lederman and Will Semmer, also created pre-recorded lessons. “When I found out we were going virtual, I definitely wanted to find a way to still connect with the kids and have the kids be able to see the faces of the volunteers that they typically see every day for the six week program,” says Lederman, who has been volunteering for more than five summers. “Everyone worked so quickly to adapt to such an uncertain situation—it was really amazing. I was really happy to see how much work everyone was willing to put in.”

While Interaction was mostly limited to screens, the Horizons’ team still found ways to get some face-to-face time. Certain reading and activity goals were rewarded with prizes at the end of the week and teachers and counselors dropped off pizzas, grocery gift cards and other prizes in person, while maintaining social distance.

When the program drew to a close at the end of July, the team held a graduation parade past the North Philadelphia and Lansdowne homes of their 8th grade graduates. Thanks to donations, each graduate was presented with gifts like a backpack, leadership pin, Horizons sweatshirt, personalized yearbook, poster and a graduation cake.

“What a wonderful group of supporters to add to the joy that Horizons brings,” says Brennetta (last name withheld), a mom of two current students. “[I’m] hoping next summer is normal, but we are just extremely grateful for the whole experience.”