Program Profile: Horizons Combines Innovation and Consistency to Build Confidence

This summer, students at Horizons get to experience summer learning in a hands-on way. Located at Dedham Country Day School, this Boston Summer Learning Community partner provides 132 students in Pre-K through seventh grade with safe, healthy, and learning-filled summers. While it has always been dedicated to preventing the “summer slide,” Horizons is taking on a new challenge of incorporating project-based learning (PBL) to keep kids’ brains moving.

“For the first time, we have implemented a project-based learning environment at every grade level,” Caryl Lattoff, Executive Director of Horizons, said. “We believe PBL significantly enhances learning by building stronger relationships, including peer-to-peer, teacher-to-student, and teaching teams.”

These projects are tailored to the students’ grade levels, increasing in complexity as the students mature—all the while incorporating math and ELA instruction in innovative ways. This gives way to a wide diversity of project subjects ranging from animals to economics.

Pre-K students learn about plant and animal life cycles through gardening; kindergarteners gain vocabulary and math skills by learning about family structures; and first graders construct a non-fiction book, hatch a dozen chicks, and build a replica of a bird’s nest. Second graders use engineering knowledge of simple machines to create individual arcade games for the Cardboard Carnival at the end of the summer; third graders explore the way structures have evolved over time in a study of structures and buildings; and fourth graders enjoy toasted marshmallows fresh from solar ovens they construct themselves as part of their study of energy. Fifth graders utilize knowledge about social justice to create a mini-society, sixth graders compile ideas from major world civilizations to create their own perfect civilization, and seventh graders tackle financial literacy—a subject many adults are not well-versed in.

In the midst of all of these exciting projects, students are provided with two healthy meals each day and receive swimming lessons. According to Lattoff, swimming is “a fundamental life skill that builds confidence” which then transfers over into academic learning.

One particular factor that sets Horizons apart from other programs is its consistency in students’ lives. Youth return each year for 10 summers, a major commitment for families that undoubtedly creates a tight-knit community between youth and staff. Each year, students return to Horizons to a family that has grown together through the years and connects young people who may not have otherwise known each other. For this reason, Lattoff describes the program as “a life-changing intervention” for students.

“Horizons is the constant, the count-onable program [with] fun-filled learning and world experiences most often otherwise inaccessible to them,” Lattoff said.