Program provides kids enrichment opportunities

BRIGHTON — Raheem Dehaney returns to The Harley School every summer to volunteer with the Horizons summer enrichment program.

As he led a tour throughout the Clover Street campus on July 12, Dehaney looked at the first- and second-graders working on the garden and remembered fondly how he had helped plant the garden when he was a student with the program.

"We started the garden," Dehaney said. "It’s grown a lot. … But it’s nice and peaceful."

The Horizons program offers academic classes that focus on reading, writing and math to low-income city students in grades kindergarten through 8, explained Luis Perez, Horizons’ executive director. Students also receive instruction in swimming, art, music, cooking, health and physical education, tennis, and gardening. The Harley program is an affiliate of Horizons National, which currently serves 2,000 students in summer enrichment programs across the country, said Kelly Mattox, an advancement associate with Horizons National.

The local program seeks to prevent the summer brain drain and close the achievement gap for city students, Perez said during a presentation July 12. Two certified teachers oversee each grade level along with classroom assistants like Dehaney.

As a child living off Joseph Avenue in the northeast area of Rochester, Dehaney said that he didn’t spend much time outside in his neighborhood, so he enjoyed all the new opportunities through Horizons including learning tennis, which he also grew to love.

The program also helped boost his academic skills, which led to his attending Bishop Kearney High School, from which he graduated in 2009. His success story continues as he is a now a pre-med student at the University of Buffalo.

Dehaney chuckled when he thought back to how he did not want to come to Harley when his dad told him about Horizons, but after the first week he would get up early to get ready to attend the program.

"It helped me break out of my shell," he said.

Students like Dehaney also are evidence of Horizons at Harley’s high retention rate, Perez noted. Most new students are siblings or register because they have heard about the program from other families, he said.

City students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and are accepted into the program, which currently enrolls 132 students, he explained. The program also targets students who are falling behind in their grade levels, Perez noted, and the program also partners with other universities to provide staff training. This year, 40 tutors from SUNY Geneseo are working with students.

In recent years, Perez also has worked diligently with other staff members to conduct home visits during the school year to ensure students return to the program, he added.

Barriers to coming back include such personal upheaval as deaths in the family, a health crisis or having to move, Perez explained. In the Latino community, there’s often a level of mistrust that the home visits have helped alleviate, he said.

Now in its 17th year, the Harley program serves as a good example of a private school fulfilling its public purpose, said Mattox.

"This year, Horizons at The Harley School boasts a very impressive 98 percent retention rate," Mattox added. "This retention rate is a result of their commitment to family involvement and community outreach. One of the cornerstones of Horizons is our commitment to building community and Harley really stands out in their continuous efforts to reach out to families."

The number of students enrolled in Horizons programs will continue to grow as additional sites are added such as the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education. Nazareth and Monroe Community colleges also are testing pilot programs this summer.

The 11 MCC-Horizons students enrolled at the kindergarten level were being housed at Harley as a host site before moving to the MCC campus next summer, Perez said.

The Horizons at Warner program does not use grade levels as Harley does, said Lynn Gatto, Horizons at Warner’s executive director. Instead, the program has 62 students who are in kindergarten, first, fifth and sixth grades from John James Audubon School 33 and Henry W. Longfellow School 36.

Nearly all the first-graders in the program, which is in its second year, started as kindergartners last year, a pattern Gatto said she hopes to continue as the program grows.

While the UR does not sponsor the program, the university provides many in-kind donations such as use of computer labs, classrooms, the library and the dining hall, with food provided by Foodlink, Gatto explained. Fifteen graduate students from the university’s Warner School of Education also volunteer with the children, she said.

"It’s giving them a ton of college exposure," she said. "They’re beginning to feel very comfortable on campus. But by the same token, it’s nice for people at the college to see all of these minority kids on campus. They (children) associate themselves with the UR. You hear them talk like it’s their school."

The Horizons at Warner and Horizons at Harley programs — both of which take place over six weeks in July and August — are now part of the newly created Greater Rochester Summer Learning Association through the efforts of the Harley program’s board of directors, said Conger Gabel, chair of the board’s members at large.

"You can talk about it (achievement gap), but only when you come here do you understand how powerful this program really is," he said. "All of a sudden, other institutions are getting encouraged to do it and are stepping up to do something about the crisis in the achievement gap here in Rochester."

The program has made a huge difference in the life of Tatiana Colon, said her mother, Diana Colon.

Twelve-year-old Tatiana has been able to maintain her reading at grade level ever since entering the Horizons at Harley program, Colon remarked. She will enter eighth grade this fall at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School on Clifford Avenue.

"It has helped her a great deal," Colon added. "(The program) keeps her reading and active. They do swimming and tennis and she is learning about healthy eating."

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