The mission of Horizons Atlanta is important to me (Christina Ward) in various ways. I come from a low socioeconomic background in which many of the students in the program are as well. It is important that these students not only continue gaining knowledge throughout the summer, but to also broaden their own horizons. Many students cannot afford such opportunities on their own and Horizons Atlanta most definitely tries its best to eliminate barriers that hinder students from being left out having a vigorous, adventurous, and academically challenged summer.
Please describe any growth you observed in a Horizons scholar that you observed during your term of service.
At the Horizons Atlanta with Purpose Built Schools site, one student in particular who never got in the swimming pool and dreaded going each week. However, towards the last week, one of the assistant teachers promised a special treat for the student if he did well in the pool. The student went swimming and went back to the program with joy just as the teachers celebrated him for conquering his fears. This moment alone showed how teachers are often students biggest supporters.
What was your favorite programmatic element at Horizons Atlanta with Purpose Built Schools?
I personally enjoyed the concept of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Mood Meter. We teach social and emotional learning at Atlanta Public Schools in our special Education Department. I think this activity helps guide positive behaviors and reinforce positive behaviors. It also allows teachers to communicate with students about the emotions they may be feeling and why they feel how they feel. The continuous method of checking up on they mood meter helps teachers find alternative ways for happiness so that each child choosea good mood on the meter by the end of the day.
Describe something you observed during summer programming that affirms Horizons Atlanta’s mission.
Horizons Atlanta summer enrichment program does a great job at trying to close achievement gaps. One student was a third grader who lack the ability to read fluently. However, with the constant practice of sight words to build phonemic awareness, he began to grasp the concepts of letters and the formation of words at a much faster pace than perhaps what he presented at the beginning of the year program which boosted his confidence in reading.
What is something people may not know about Horizons Atlanta that you think we should share more broadly?
I think more people and supporters should find out more about the Horizons Atlanta 100% Club so that more students can attend financial free.
How did you personally grow during your term of service as a Horizons Atlanta AmeriCorps VISTA member?
Being an part-time Summer AmeriCorps VISTA this summer, I was able to grow professionally. I networked with many teachers and discussed my plans as a future teacher. Some teachers gave me resources for teaching and they also volunteered to help me during my student teaching process if needed I also learned more skills on classroom management through observation.
After spending ten years in DeKalb County public schools, I relocated to a private school in Buckhead for my high school years. My private school experience was starkly different from that in public schools, as I had ostensibly unlimited resources at my disposal, instructors who were not overstretched and could therefore focus on the specific needs of individual students, and scores of counselors, advisors, deans, and admins who were always available for counsel. Towards the end of high school I accepted an offer to attend Georgia Tech on a scholarship. Little did I know, this would expose me to somewhat of a mélange of my public school and private school experiences - one for which I was very well prepared.
Unfortunately, most students don’t have the ability to switch from public to private school on a whim, even when such a move is clearly necessary. While my parents weren’t planning to send me to a private high school, I was fortunate in that they made the sacrifices necessary to facilitate my move. For those who aren’t as fortunate, however, options are few and far between. Summer and afterschool programs like Horizons Atlanta exist to supplement academic programming for students whose options are more limited. I knew of programs such as Horizons prior to my summer internship with the program, but it was not until I immersed myself in my work with Horizons Atlanta as a volunteer that I realized the scope and potential of supplemental enrichment programs.
I happened upon the internship somewhat serendipitously, as I was planning to spend the summer between my graduation from Georgia Tech and my start date at Deloitte Consulting doing anything but “work,” but meetings with peers and mentors who were already involved with Horizons Atlanta led me to seek and commit to a summer of volunteer work. My summer experience with Horizons Atlanta has included front-line activities like serving as a Mystery Reader (which I strongly recommend to anyone looking to get involved), visitors days at several of the nine programs operated under Horizons Atlanta, and other events, as well as more behind-the-scenes tasks including: customer relationship management and website revamps; fundraising initiatives; building relationships with donors, board members, and other members of the Horizons universe; and event planning. I have seen firsthand just how much value Horizons Atlanta contributes to its community - and I couldn’t be more excited about both the organization’s future and my continued engagement with Horizons Atlanta.
As my summer experience at Horizons Atlanta comes to a close, I cannot help but picture the countless smiling faces I’ve seen on students, volunteers, donors, board members, and everyone else involved in any way with Horizons Atlanta. It is my sincere hope that I can continue to give back to this smile- and opportunity-creating organization as I transition into my job at Deloitte Consulting.
Thank you for an incredible summer. I hope and firmly believe that it is the start of something much, much bigger!