First Lady Jill Biden arrived in New Haven on Wednesday and saw some hope on the “horizon” to help kids catch up after falling behind academically during the pandemic.
Biden met some future teachers, astronauts and architects at the newly expanded Horizons summer program, housed at Albertus Magnus College, to help K-3 kids learn during academic recess.
Dozens of New Haven youth showed FLOTUS and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona the wonders of the Horizons program, which was the couple’s first stop on a multi-state “learning journey” the leaders organized to highlight summer programs funded by the American Rescue Plan aim to help students to catch up on lost ground in their studies and in society.
For the past two years, according to Albertus President Marc Camille, the Horizons program has provided tuition-free summer enrichment for K-3 students — and served as a employment opportunity for Albertus students and alum to lead the daily program. The Horizons program keeps students busy inside and outside of the classroom with activities like reading sessions, Lego, and swimming lessons.
Horizons has worked in multiple locations to address student learning disabilities for the past 25 years. With the ARP-funded expansion of Horizons into Albertus, the program now has 11 locations statewide. A total of 5,700 students took part nationwide last year.
Mayor Justin Elicker and Governor Ned Lamont welcomed Biden and Cardona to New Haven and accompanied them on a tour of the program.
“These students don’t have that summer slide,” Cardona said, thanking the dozens of local teachers and high school counselors who help run the program.
Biden and Cardona visited two classrooms of children during Wednesday’s tour.
In a room, tables of four students each read a book with a school counselor. The walls were adorned with signs welcoming Biden and Cardona and posters that read “Open your mind, open a book.”
The students read the books Isch by Peter Reynolds Jabari jumps by Gaia Cornwall and The magic but by Angela DiTerlizzi.
Some students sat next to Biden and Cardona and read pages from the books to demonstrate their reading level. The students informed the visitors about what happened on the first pages of the books.
In another classroom, the students worked with Legos. Students show Biden, Cardona, Elicker, and Lamont their builds of hibachi restaurants, cars, and “crazy houses.”
During a short recess program, teachers read to a group of K-2 students and performed Simon Ways.
First-year Horizons teacher Danielle Gayle said what she enjoys most is helping her second graders improve their math skills so they can confidently enter third grade. “I am very happy when they are hopeful,” she said.
In his remarks to the group, Biden emphasized the importance of support programs like Horizons to help students learn from gaps.
“You guys are catching up with all of our kids in the most fun way,” Biden said of Horizons.
The students shared with Biden their favorite activities in the program, including math, reading and swimming.
Horizons students receive a pre-test to see areas that need work and a final assessment to identify improvements. The program found that, on average, students progressed 6 to 10 weeks in their reading level.
The Albertus program currently serves 46 New Haven students free of charge. Horizons National CEO Lorna Smith said she expects program enrollments to grow to at least 100 over the next year.
Bryce Rose, age 6, has been on the Horizons program with Albertus for the past two years. His mother, Jacqueline Taylor, told Jill Biden how the program has made a difference for her son.
Taylor said she’s seen her son’s interest in studying improve significantly since last summer. The program also helped Bryce gain more confidence in his swimming.
Last summer, Taylor, who lives in New Haven, was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to send Bryce to a summer program because “everything is so expensive.” She was specifically looking for affordable swim lessons for Bryce, and a friend suggested she do so planning to try Horizons.
“It has everything, this is the right place,” said Taylor. “We just love it, me and my kid.”
Taylor added that as an Albertus grad completing her last two semesters of a masters program, she is excited for her son to have the experience of being on a college campus.
Bryce said his favorite things to do are swim and play with Legos at Horizons. When he grows up, he wants to be an astronaut, a police officer and an ice cream seller.
This story was originally published by the New Haven Independent on July 20, 2022.