POCOMOKE – A local organization that serves low-income students will pilot a new program site in Worcester County this summer.
In April, Horizons Salisbury announced it would change its name to Horizons Delmarva as the organization moves forward with plans to pilot a new Worcester County site in Pocomoke.
“Being on the Eastern Shore we didn’t want our growth to be restricted to one area,” Executive Director Joe Laque said. “With the name Horizons Delmarva came a full expectation of continuing to grow and continuing to serve more students.”
Since 2003, Horizons Salisbury has worked to close the income-driven academic achievement gap in Wicomico County. The nonprofit serves nearly 200 low-income students annually with year-round academic connections and an intensive six-week summer learning program, which takes place at Salisbury University and The Salisbury School.
After almost two decades of focusing solely on Wicomico County, the organization announced it would be piloting a third site in Worcester County this summer. Along with the planned expansion to Worcester, a transition to the new name Horizons Delmarva was also announced.
“Seeing the positive impact and results we were having, we wanted to expand the reach of our program,” Laque said. “We met with the Worcester County Board of Education, and in that initial meeting they said, ‘We know about the Horizons program, we know what you do, and we want you here.’”
Laque said school system officials identified Pocomoke as a potential third site for the Horizons program – as 70% of the student population participates in the free and reduced meals program – and Glad Tidings Assembly of God offered space to the organization. He said he is optimistic the nonprofit will have some semblance of a program in Worcester County by the projected start date of July 13.
“The biggest thing causing issues now is the current state of affairs with COVID-19,” he said. “We are planning three different alternatives, a full program, a hybrid program where the first half is virtual, and a fully virtual program. Right now, that’s our biggest holdup, what the program will even look like this summer.”
Laque said the summer program includes interactive lessons in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), swimming lessons three days a week and cultural experiences through off-site field trips. A child typically starts at Horizons the summer before entering the first grade and returns year after year through ninth grade. After that point, high school Horizons students are eligible for a summer internship where they are exposed to a variety of career options.
“Studies show a strong correlation between students from a low-income background and poor academic performance …,” Laque said. “One of biggest contributing factors to that is what’s known as the summer slide. Without access to family vacations, summer camps and engagement, that continued learning isn’t taking place.”
Laque said the Horizons summer learning program focuses on preventing and reversing that summer slide. He said participating students gain two to three months of reading and math skills each summer, and 96% advance to college or other post-secondary training.
“I absolutely love the work that we’re doing here in Wicomico County,” Laque said. “We’re making a real difference with our students performing, on average, an entire letter grade better than their peers throughout the academic school year and having a 99% high school graduating rate. Seeing these powerful results made me want to expand our impact and reach even more at-risk children.”
This year’s inaugural Worcester County class will include 15 first graders. The Horizons summer learning program will begin at the conclusion of the school system’s summer program.
“The students that go to their summer program are going to be the same demographic the Horizons program focuses on,” Laque said. “So we are delaying the Horizons program start date in Worcester County so these students can transition from the Worcester County program to the Horizons program.”
Laque explained the summer program will include day-long educational opportunities with a 4-to-1 student-teacher ratio, transportation, and food services. The registration fee is $60 per student.
“It’s a six-week summer learning program that is virtually no cost to the parents,” he said.
For more information, or to help support the Horizons program, visit www.horizonsdelmarva.org.
“We estimate our program costs us $1,500 per student a year to provide the services we provide, which is a small price to pay for keeping a child on the right path and impacting their lives forever …,” Laque said. “As we continue to grow, we look to the community for support to make that impactful change. The more support we get, the more we can support.”