School's In For Summer

First Lady Michelle Obama brought summer learning loss to the headlines in June with her “Let’s Read. Let’s Move.” campaign. And at the same time, the Warner School employed a summer learning loss method of their own: Horizons, a six-week summer program aimed at giving city students meaningful, hands-on learning experiences while boosting confidence that took place June 28 through August 6.

An affiliate of the national non-profit called Horizons Student Enrichment Program, Warner’s Horizons program is one of 18 in the country, and the second in Rochester. The first in Rochester began 15 years ago at The Harley School in Brighton, where Warner temporarily held Horizon this summer.

“We recruited 16 kindergartners and 17 fifth graders from School 33,” says Lynn Gatto, a Warner doctoral student, adjunct professor, and executive director for Warner’s Horizons program. “Horizons’ programs generally begin with only a kindergarten class, but we wanted Warner students to have opportunities to participate. And since many are secondary education graduate students, we wanted to have an older group of students, too.”

Warner plans on adding two grades every year until they have kindergarten through eighth grade, so next year’s classes will include grades kindergarten, first, fifth and sixth.

Though the Harley School hosted Warner’s two classes this year, next summer’s program will be housed on the University of Rochester campus. The relationship between Warner students and city students will be symbiotic, as Warner students will reap the benefits of hands-on work in the classroom with seasoned educators, and kids will reap the benefits of being marinated in an environment of academics, creativity, and encouragement.

Caitlyn Schrader, a master’s student in the teaching and curriculum program, described it this way: “I haven’t had much experience in the classroom, but I have never heard of one that runs quite like this one. It is pretty amazing. These, without a doubt, are not classic classroom lessons, yet life-long lessons. The idea of learning for not just the here and now, but for the future is also something supported by the program. Teachers continuously encourage kind words and ask and teach the students to recognize their peers as positive attributes to their classroom, families, and school communities.”

Horizon Consistency is another key of Horizons. Students return to the program every summer, creating a community that supports children over the years and encourages long-term academic success and emotional well-being. And with Gatto at the helm, the children are sure to thrive.

“Lynn is the best elementary teacher with whom I have worked,” says Joanne Larson, chair of the teaching and curriculum department at the Warner School. “She exemplifies the theories and practices we teach at Warner. Everything I know about how to enact social practice theories of literacy and learning in practice, I have learned from Lynn.”

In talking with Gatto, her humble words mention little of her methods. For her, it’s all about the kids.

“I view my role as constructing an atmosphere where children see themselves as valuable to the process of learning within the classroom,” says Gatto, who was a teacher in the Rochester City School District for more than 30 years, a winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, a New York State Teacher of the Year, and Disney’s American Teacher.  “We really scaffold learning and thinking. There is an emphasis on choice, a concept that is liberating to children who are used to a traditional school day.”

Though Horizons has an extensive list of long-term goals—including experiences in new cultural practices; space for Warner students to work with kids from underprivileged backgrounds; and lessons to increase confidence — Gatto says their first year has already brought success.

“One little kindergartner couldn’t spell or write his name on the first day of the program,” she says. “In fact, he identified every letter of the alphabet as ‘n.’ After two-and-a-half weeks, he could spell and write his name and was even copying sentences from books.”

And a fifth grader wrote in her journal: “At Horizons this summer, I learned to share more often, help other people, make more friends, make up with people I had problems with in school, do yoga, get much better at swimming, and lower my stress level. I’m healthier and happier!”

Tags: Horizons, Lynn Gatto