Horizons at Warner’s Inaugural Kindergarten Class Graduates

Horizons students sitting on steps

Horizons at Warner summer enrichment program opened its doors in 2010. Its inaugural class of kindergartners has graduated—and they’ve beaten the summer slide in the process.  
Of the original 15 kindergarten students, who were initially recruited from John James Audubon School No. 33 in the Rochester City School District, 13 were still attending nine years later. They attended the first summer, and have grown with Horizons since the very beginning.
Now those kids are rising high school students, part of Horizons’ class of 2018 that has graduated this summer.
Janiah Bedell, who has attended Horizons every year, now is a 14-year-old at Rochester Prep High School.  “It feels great to be here every summer since the beginning,” Janiah says, “and to see Horizons' growth, not just population-wise, but through the opportunities it has provided to us over the years.”
On August 14, Horizons teachers, leaders and directors joined these students and their families at a reception to celebrate the end of another great summer—and to give special recognition to the very first class to complete all nine years of the summer programming on the University of Rochester’s River Campus.
The first cohort of kindergarteners enrolled in Horizons in 2010 when it was housed at The Harley School for its first summer.  The high-quality summer program then moved to the University of Rochester’s River Campus, where it was held in the Drama House for two summers while the students watched the Warner School’s new home, LeChase Hall, being built. 
“So many good memories come from the Drama House,” remembers Horizons student Julissa Loucks, who was enrolled in the first cohort of kindergartners from School No. 33.
A favorite memory of Julissa’s from the beginnings of Horizons has been the shout-outs.
“In the early years, we would form a huge circle, where both the teachers and students would give shout-outs to each other,” she remembers. “Whoever got a shout-out would run around the circle receiving high-fives from everyone.”
Nine year ago, Julissa was a very articulate girl—and still is today. Her mother, Edith Muniz, enrolled her in Horizons at Warner, following the recommendation of her kindergarten teacher who also acknowledged Julissa’s many strengths.  
“I was looking for a place where my Julissa could spend time with other kids like her because she was so articulate,” explains Edith. “I needed her to be someplace where she could express herself, form healthy relationships, and make new friends.”
Back in 2010, when Janiah’s mother, Victoria Jackson, was looking to get her oldest daughter into a program that would keep her mind sharp over the summer months, she learned about Horizons through an informational piece.

“I jumped on it and have been locked in ever since,” says Victoria who has also enrolled her two younger daughters Jayla, 7, and Jasmine, 8, into the program. “My middle daughter has been learning about whales as part of a project this year, and has been so invested in all stories about whales. She has even taught me things that I didn’t know. Horizons keeps them engaged and wanting to learn more.”

Horizons at Warner is part of the free Horizons National academic and summer enrichment program, which has served urban children from both low-income communities and public schools in the United States for 54 years. The University of Rochester was the very first college campus to join this national network of high-quality summer learning programs designed to help a population susceptible to the so-called “summer slide”—the tendency for kids to lose ground academically over a long summer break. 
Instead of experiencing summer learning loss, Horizons at Warner students gain an average of two to three months in math and reading skills each summer and return to school in the fall with greater enthusiasm for learning. 
Horizons has since moved to the Warner School’s Raymond F. LeChase Hall, where it continues to be housed today. It gives students, from kindergarten through ninth grade in the Rochester City School District, the opportunity to attend a daily, tuition-free program for six weeks over the summer that blends high-quality academics and sports—especially swimming—on a college campus.
Nine years since Horizons opened its doors, the inaugural group of students has gone on roughly 50 field trips, explored nine themes, honed their reading and math skills, and become confident swimmers.
Horizons students learning about animalsToday, Horizons continues to bring urban children to River Campus every summer for high-quality summer learning experiences. Rochester has become their summer classroom as they have experienced every museum and art gallery, visited parks and the zoo, and explored the Genesee River and neighborhoods.
The leaders of Horizons encourage families to commit to a full nine summers of the program, which serves rising kindergartners through ninth-graders. Horizons at Warner has both an attendance rate and retention rate of 95 percent. And, according to Horizons at Warner Executive Director Lynn Gatto, students have returned for nine consecutive years because they want to be a part of the program.
“My children would not be happy if I enrolled them in another summer program,” says Victoria. “Janiah’s core group of friends since she was five has created a lifetime bond from this program. They know me, I know them, and we all know the families. We’re all a part of the Horizons family.”
Now, Janiah wants to be with Horizons for as long as possible.
“I love it here,” she says. “I’ve met so many great people. I used to just sit around the house during the summer. Horizons provides so many opportunities for all kids to learn, have fun, and hang out with friends.”
Another example of one such devoted student is Cori’Ahn Grayson, who also began Horizons in 2010 as an inaugural kindergartner.
Back in the summer of 2016, Cori’Ahn attended only one-sixth of the summer program. His poor attendance disqualified him from re-registering the following summer. In 2017, on the second day of Horizons, Gatto received a Facebook message from Cori’Ahn, pleading to come back and promising not to miss a single day. Gatto relented with the caveat that he would not be allowed to return even if he missed one day of Horizons that summer.
Since then, Cori’Ahn has been at Horizons every single day.
Gatto reflects back to the last day of Horizons that year when she complimented Cori’Ahn on how proud she was of his commitment to the program.
“He disclosed with me at the time that he moved to the other side of town, several miles from Horizons’ pick-up and drop-off location,” explains Gatto, an associate professor who also directs the elementary teacher education program at Warner. “He was spending his own money to pay for RTS bus rides to and from his house and the drop-off point, which meant he was waking up very early and returning home late every day in order to attend Horizons. This speaks volumes about the strong desire our students have to be a part of Horizons.”
This year’s six-week summer enrichment program started July 9, allowing over 155 students to enjoy another summer of academic, social, cultural, wellness, and recreational activities, with special attention to strengthening their literacy and math skills. All of this connected back to the program’s overarching theme this summer of “Amazing Animals.” Past themes have included “Rochester’s History,” “Inventors,” “Architecture,” and “The Genesee River,” among others. 
As students grew up over the years, their work has never gone unnoticed.
Jacqueline Houston, another Horizons student in the inaugural cohort of kindergartners, was awarded a Scholastic Award from the Landmark Society of Western New York in 2014 for the project she completed as part of the “Architecture” theme that summer.

All have made progress, not just academically, but socially along the way. Parents continuously praise Horizons’ commitment to building children’s social skills.
Janiah has formed lasting core friendships and relationships through the summer program, her mother notes.

2018 Horizons First Day“It’s not just the relationships that she’s formed with friends, but also with the same committed teachers who return year after year,” Victoria explains. “You don’t forget that and the impact it has. The same caring people who have your same best interests at heart are working with you every summer.”
For Julissa, her mother explains, Horizons at Warner introduced her to many skills that she has been able to practice throughout the years here.  
“She has learned skills here that you would typically expect your child to obtain in college,” says Edith, also sharing that Julissa blogs regularly and is in the process of writing a book online. “She has gained and practiced these skills at Horizons first and has since brought them to School of the Arts (SOTA),” where Julissa enrolled as a seventh grader and has since continued to hone those valuable skills.
At Horizons, Julissa has bonded with teachers and students over time. And she is already imagining what life might look like as a high school student at SOTA.
“I’ve made friends through Horizons who’ve stayed by my side the entire time,” says Julissa, reflecting on the social skills she has gained here. “I feel like I will know how to guide myself through the social part of high school.”
Like many others, Julissa and Janiah hope to continue to be a part of the Horizons at Warner family, either as a volunteer or a paid employee.
Once Horizons graduates are in high school, they may come back as paid TAITs (Teacher Assistants in Training), a new job skills program that launched in 2016. Additionally, 15 Horizons alumni have returned this summer to work for Horizons full time.  
And, on average, 97 percent of students from Horizons affiliates across the country graduate from high school, according to the Horizons National website.
 “Actually, I really didn’t know how lucky Julissa was to be one of the first to start Horizons in kindergarten,” her mother shares. “It’s such a blessing. She has become such a well-rounded young lady.”

(585) 275-0777; (585) 278-6273 (cell)

Tags: elementary education, Horizons, Horizons at Warner, Lynn Gatto