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Horizons at Friends School: A discussion with Abby and Veronica

Thursday, September 28, 2017
Veronica (left) with Horizons students this past summer 

Horizons at SFFS Executive Director Abby Rovner has a new colleague in the Horizons office this year. Veronica Oberholzer, an AmeriCorps VISTA whose role is to focus on capacity building, will help Horizons grow as an organization. Below, Veronica and Abby share some of the exciting things happening in their office this fall.

Veronica: How about we start by explaining what Horizons at SFFS is?

Abby: Yes! Horizons is a free six-week summer learning program that’s housed at and fiscally sponsored by SFFS. We receive lots of generous in-kind support from SFFS, but we rely on donations and grants from the community to fund the program. Horizons serves low-income public school students from the Mission District who are referred to the program by their teachers. Because their families don’t have the means to send them to camps, tutoring, and special programs during the summer, students like ours are disproportionately impacted by summer learning loss, which research has shown to be a major contributor to the achievement gap.

Spending six weeks each summer reading, exploring, and learning at Horizons has a significant impact on our students’ skills, confidence and school success: this past summer, instead of losing ground, they gained an average of 3.8 months in literacy and 1.4 months in math! Horizons’ children enter the program the summer after they complete Kindergarten, and they return year after year through 8th grade. In 2018, Horizons will serve 85 K-4th grade students, and each summer we’ll add a class until we have 153 K-8th graders on campus every year.

Veronica: One of the students I worked with advanced from the 3rd to 44th percentile on his literacy test from the beginning to the end of the summer — I was so happy!

Abby: Yes, every summer we see incredible growth in our students, not just academically but also socially and emotionally. As we enter Horizons’ fifth year, we hope our new website conveys the program’s powerful impact on the children and families who participate. You can check the site out here to see tons of beautiful photos and great videos of Horizons’ students and teachers in action!

Veronica: Every so often I enjoy going back to the website and looking at the pictures of our kids, like the one of them performing for their parents at our annual “Back to Program” night — they were so proud! I can’t wait to see them again in November, when we have our first Saturday family event at Slide Ranch. We’ll have five other events throughout the year – family learning activities that are great opportunities for our families to stay connected.

Abby (center) and Horizons kids with special guests 

Abby: I love our families! The majority of them live in our neighborhood and working with them has been one of my favorite parts of running this program for the past four years. I consider parents essential partners in the work we do and Horizons’ families involve themselves in the program in a wide variety of ways. At the end of every summer, we ask for feedback from parents and guardians and we use their input to inform the program’s design for the following summer.  

Veronica: The results of the survey were so uplifting. Parents really confirmed how much their kids love our program. I definitely saw that this summer, when the kids would run through the front gate with huge smiles each morning.

Abby: Horizons summers are magic and we’re so grateful for the resources, time, and talent that many members of the SFFS community have shared to support the program.

Just one final note, I want to let all of our readers know that I would love for them to reach out to me at if they have any questions or would like to learn more. They can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to glance at our new website!