Editor's Note: This article is written by Chanel Roberts and originally published by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
Much like the name implies, Horizons Unlimited Christian Academy has shown that when children, parents, community members, and education professionals come together to create a greater impact, the possibilities can be endless. Founded by Bethlehem Bible Church, Horizons has been serving families in Sarasota's Newtown Community since 2003. After recognizing that about 90% of their families were on subsidized tuition support, Horizons decided to expand their services to include a supportive environment that would put families on a path to educational success and economic security.
Horizons partnered with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County to establish a pilot program called O3: "Our School, Our Families, Our Community" that would be focused around the Community Foundation's two-gen approach, working with both children and their parents simultaneously to increase the overall quality of the early learning experience for students and create new pathways and economic supports for parents.
Through this partnership, the program made a number of implementations to ensure that the school provided a more strategic approach to addressing the needs of their families, such as:
- Designing a computer center with a dedicated instructor to teach basic functions and familiarize students with its uses in state testing that is required in preschool and beyond.
- Working with elementary professionals to select computer programs designed to increase kindergarten readiness skills and reduce summer slide.
- Providing economic support, Adult Learner scholarships, workforce development opportunities and tuition scholarships (including cost-free, 2-gen enriched summer programming) so parents could pursue their dreams of higher education and career advancement.
- Increasing opportunities for professional development by various state training organizations in which Horizons staff obtained more than 40 new certifications.
Now in its second year, the pilot has demonstrated that family engagement, community support, and the two-gen approach play a vital role in increasing the success of any program. We're proud to report parents of O3 have already gone on to obtain degrees in nursing, become first-time homebuyers, and small business owners. Even more exciting is that because of the commitment to academic excellence, their students were more prepared for Kindergarten than non-Horizons students. In fact, Horizons was only one of two VPK programs in Sarasota County to be assigned a VPK readiness score of 100 by the Florida Department of Education for their 2016-2017 graduating class. The program is growing, and we can only look to greater things on the horizon!
"Given the chance to learn, even children living in poverty can transform their lives." - Linda Ferdinand, Director of Horizons Unlimited Christian Academy