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Horizons in Dedham helping underserved children prevent 'summer slide'

Posted by Natalie Feulner  August 14, 2012 10:50 AM

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Students at Horizons in Dedham. View more photos by clicking here.

For the past six weeks, Horizons, a program for underserved Dedham and Boston elementary school children, has been working to prevent "summer slide" and give students math and reading help they need to succeed once school resumes.

Meredith Laban, director of the Dedham Horizons program, helped jump-start the program four years ago when it had only 16 children. Now, there are more than 75 pre-kindergarten through rising fourth grade students learning everything from math to swimming and playing the violin.

"It's so nice to see the growth every year especially because the children come in as preschoolers and where they are a few years later going into fourth grade,'' Laban said.

In four years, the program will be fully formed and have students up to eighth grade. But for now, each classroom is busy practicing journal writing, math, and participating in field trips on and off campus.

"I always felt like summer was a wasteful time for kids so it's great to see them come and get to experience so much," first grade teacher Qiana Rudek said. "It's school but it's different than school."

Two professional teachers and a high school volunteer are in each classroom with about 17 students each. Students work on academics in the morning, have a family-style meal at lunch, and all take swimming lessons.

The pool is a highlight for many and an additional way for the program to serve students who may not otherwise learn to swim.

"It's not just the reading and the math," teacher Patricia Hicks said. "Every child needs some extra curriculum."

In order to participate in the program, students must be referred by a teacher and qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Most students need extra help with reading and math and many come from families with adults who don't speak English.

Bumni Oyedeji, 9, a student from Hyde Park, said she's been coming to Horizons since she started kindergarten. Over the years, she's come to love the extra work in the summer and said this year especially, she's ready for the school year.

"We do a lot of tests and we still get graded, but whenever I do well on my test it makes me think that I'll succeed in fourth grade," she said.

One of the many projects students completed this year was building a box city. Bumni said she and her friends learned about making models to scale through their creation of a paper treehouse.

Other students like the kindergartners learned about shapes which were then pasted onto cereal boxes and formed the paper city's many buildings.

While the program doesn't usually accept additional students unless one leaves, Laban said it will add another pre-kindergarten class next year, pulling students from Dedham and Boston preschool programs.

For more information about the Horizons program visit http://www.dedhamcountryday.org/horizons.cfm.

Natalie Feulner can be reached at natalie.feulner@gmail.com.

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