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Celebrating our Lyn McNaught Teacher Award Winners

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The cherished Lyn McNaught Teacher Awards, named after the first Executive Director of Horizons National, honor teachers who have excelled in Horizons classrooms and created exemplary opportunities for young people. Each year, a committee of past winners and Horizons National staff hand-select up to four teachers to win this award, m making it a prestigious honor among Horizons educators.

We are honored to introduce this year's Lyn McNaught Teacher Awardees!

Donya Amer is a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Horizons at Ashley Hall (SC)! Donya's classroom has a calm and joyful energy, where students thrive academically and emotionally. She creates a safe, close-knit community where students feel empowered to take risks and be themselves. Donya empathetically supports students with a strong understanding of trauma-informed practice. She discreetly differentiates support, boundaries, and consequences based on the needs and experience of each student, all while maintaining an equitable classroom environment where all students feel equally heard. Similarly, Donya is highly respected by her colleagues, and is known for jumping in to support them whenever possible. They consistently turn to her for advice, an extra hand, curriculum ideas, encouragement, or a good laugh. To so many of Horizons at Ashley Hall’s students, Ms. Amer is “their person.”

Vernita Davis is a 6th grade teacher at Horizons at St. Richard's Episcopal School (IN)! When she began at Horizons at St. Richard's in 2022, 6th grade was known as "that class." But, Vernita never believed that was true, and she loved the students from day one. Continually implementing restorative practices into her class routines, she opened her classroom as a space for healing and empowerment. She charged her kids to question the world beyond the walls of the classroom, and through coaching and support never allowed them to fall short of her high expectations. Fast forward to the next summer, and Vernita’s one request was to work with the same group of students. Within two summers, the cohort went from “that class” to “this family.” The now 8th graders are deeply engaged and contributing leaders who seek to better themselves, the Horizons program, and their world.

Rakeila Manning is the Site Supervisor at Horizons Savannah (GA)! Rakeila, affectionately known as Ms. Rocki, is deeply committed to the ideals of youth development and the values of Horizons. Ms. Rocki began working at Horizons Savannah in 2014 as a co-teacher. For the next three years, she taught 5th grade at Horizons, and took project-based learning to a whole new level. From what we understand, alumni still talk about how much they learned during her “Amazing Race” approach. In order to get to the next clue, students solved complex math puzzles, painted Eiffel Towers, and completed cooking challenges. And, they possibly set off a fire alarm or two in the process. There was always joy and camaraderie in her classroom. In 2018, Ms. Rocki became Site Supervisor. As the leader of a large team of teachers, co-teachers, and specialists, she has created a culture of mutual respect between faculty and leadership, and an inclusive environment that welcomes students and families. One long-time Horizons teacher said, “as a leader…[Rocki] is compassionate, supportive, and helpful to all that have the privilege of knowing her. She treats everyone with the same respect no matter if they are a student or teacher. I love working on her team, and would follow her anywhere."

Sarah Velez is a pre-kindergarten teacher at Horizons at CT State Norwalk (CT)! Sarah has been with Horizons for the past six years, primarily as the head pre-k teacher, but her work can be seen throughout the summer program and extends throughout the year. Approaching everything through a social-emotional learning (SEL) lens, her classroom is warm and inclusive, and she creates a safe and joyful place for Norwalk’s youngest students and their families to begin their Horizons journey. On the other end of the spectrum, Sarah also mentors students in the High School Program, volunteering her time to help one of their 9th graders navigate the academic and social challenges of high school. Additionally, thanks to Sarah's insights, caring nature, and tenacity, SEL After School was created to support kindergarteners and first graders post-pandemic. Throughout the school year, students come to campus for sessions to continue the work of understanding and identifying emotions, being kind community members, and building confidence.


Congratulations to all our Lyn McNaught Teacher Award winners, and thank you for all you do for Horizons!


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