At the core of all learning is the fundamental connection between teachers and students. Teaching isn’t always easy or predictable, and the disruptions of the past year -- with COVID-induced remote learning -- have made the endeavor even more challenging.
But teachers have always found ways to make it work -- especially Horizons teachers, who return year after year to create innovative, student-driven curriculums and inspire a love of learning. Horizons teachers spent their Spring 2020 semester adapting to new ways of teaching, and in summer, brought a remarkable level of energy, thought, and heart to their Horizons “virtual classrooms,” keeping learning joyful and working hard to connect with students during an unusual year.
Each year, Horizons National honors outstanding educators with the Lyn McNaught Teacher Award. Named for the talented former Executive Director of Horizons at New Canaan Country School (and first Executive Director of Horizons National), the award recognizes teachers who have excelled in Horizons’ classrooms by providing exemplary opportunities for young people across the country. This year, these awards have additional meaning.
When schools began to close in response to the COVID-19 crisis this spring, it was difficult to predict what the future would hold for Horizons. How long would school doors be closed? What would the remainder of the school year look like for Horizons students and families? How much learning loss were Horizons students experiencing? What basic needs were going unmet?
Horizons programs across the country connected with their families right away and many made quick adjustments to provide meals, help with remote learning technology, and virtual tutoring sessions to help students with schoolwork. As it became clear that Horizons' six-week, in-person summer programming would have to be very different in 2020, our Network leaders came together to consider the best ways to engage students remotely while still maintaining the strong community that makes Horizons so special.
Will our nation’s K-12 students be back in school this coming fall? We all hope so. In the midst of a global pandemic, many school districts across the country have shifted to remote learning, online classes, pass/fail assessments, and other ways to continue teaching students when school facilities are closed. What will that mean for the fall semester? How will students, teachers, and families catch up from all they will have lost to the COVID-19 pandemic?
As you might expect, some districts are better equipped than others to handle this kind of disruption. The “opportunity gap” between under-served students and their more affluent peers, already deep and persistent, is widening rapidly as more and more students are learning at home and are at risk of falling further behind in their studies. It is the epitome of inequity to provide mandatory classes that can’t be accessed equally. This situation is tough for everyone, but students from under-resourced communities are once again at a real disadvantage.
Some are calling for schools to remain open, or re-open, in the summer. This would prevent a nationwide learning loss of several months. But, with uneven homeschooling for most of a semester, youth in under-resourced communities are going to need much more than that. They are going to need individualized intensive academic and social health support.
Organizations, including ours, have built and refined exactly these kinds of programs for decades, and the results have been significant. Students don’t fall behind academically; in fact, most move ahead. The solution is a mix of targeted education focused on helping every child succeed. The CARES Act is a rare opportunity for states and districts to direct educational funding to leverage this expertise for their students who need it most.
When we emerge on the other side of this situation, where will we find ourselves? Students from every community will have a lot of catching up to do. Districts will not be able to do it alone. We encourage funders and decision-makers to partner with summer and out-of-school learning programs who have a proven track-record of narrowing achievement gaps so we all can make the path to academic and life success a far more equitable one.