On city visit, Biden sees gap closing
First Lady Jill Biden came to New Haven on Wednesday and saw some hope in the “Horizon” for helping children catch up on schoolwork during the pandemic.
Biden met with future teachers, astronauts and architects through the newly expanded Horizons summer program housed at Albertus Magnus College to continue teaching children in kindergarten through 3rd grade during school vacations.
Dozens of young people from New Haven showed the FLOTUS and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona the wonders of the Horizons program, which was the couple’s first stop in a multi-state “learning tour,” leaders hosted to highlight American Rescue Plan-funded summer programs that aim to help students make up lost ground, both academically and socially.
For the past two years, said Albertus President Marc Camille, the Horizons program has provided K-3 students with tuition-free summer enrichment — and served as an opportunity to employment of Albertus students and alumni to direct the daily programming. The Horizons program engages students inside and outside the classroom with activities such as reading sessions, building blocks and swimming lessons.
Horizons has worked to address student learning loss in various locations over the past 25 years. With the ARP-funded expansion of Horizons to Albertus, the program now has 11 sites statewide. A total of 5,700 students participated nationwide last year.
Mayor Justin Elicker and Governor Ned Lamont welcomed Biden and Cardona to New Haven and joined them for a tour of what the program has to offer.
“These students don’t have that summer slide,” Cardona said while thanking the dozens of local teachers and high school counselors who help run the program.
Biden and Cardona visited two classes of children during Wednesday’s tour.
In one room, tables of four students each read a book with a school counselor. The walls were decorated with signs welcoming Biden and Cardona and posters reading, “Open your mind, open a book.
The students read the books I am by Peter Reynolds Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, and The Magic Encore by Angela Di Terlizzi.
Some students sat next to Biden and Cardona reading pages from the books to show their reading level. The students caught up with the visitors on what happened in the first pages of the books.
In another class, students worked with Legos. Students show off their builds of restaurants, cars and Hibachi cars “wacky homes” in Biden, Cardona, Elicker and Lamont.
During a brief intermission program, teachers read to a group of K-2 students and played Simon’s Way.
Horizons Grade 1 teacher Danielle Gayle said she most enjoys helping her Grade 2 students build their math skills to confidently move into Grade 3. “I get a lot of joy from their hope,” she said.
During his remarks to the group, Biden stressed the importance of supporting programs like Horizons to help students learn from the gaps.
“You catch up with all of our kids in the most fun way possible,” Biden said of Horizons.
The students shared with Biden their favorite activities in the program, which includes math, reading and swimming.
Horizons students receive a pre-test to see which areas need work and a final assessment to see improvements. The program has found that, on average, students improve their reading level by 6 to 10 weeks.
The Albertus program currently serves 46 New Haven students, free of charge. National horizons CEO Lorna Smith said she expects enrollment in the program to grow to at least 100 next year.
Bryce Rose, 6, has been in the Horizons program at Albertus for two years. His mother, Jacqueline Taylor, told Jill Biden how the program made a difference for her son.
Taylor said she has seen her son’s interest in learning improve significantly since last summer. The program has also helped Bryce gain more confidence in his swimming.
Last summer, Taylor, who lives in New Haven, worried that she couldn’t send Bryce to a summer program because “everything is so expensive. She was specifically looking for affordable swimming lessons for Bryce, and a friend suggested she try Horizons.
“It has everything, it’s the place to be,” Taylor said. “We love it, me and my child.
Taylor added that as an Albertus alumna completing her final two semesters of a master’s program, she is thrilled that her son will experience being on a college campus.
Bryce said he enjoyed swimming and playing with legos the most at Horizons. He plans to be an astronaut, policeman and ice cream man when he grows up.