Horizons is a summer program for students entering Pre-K through 8th grades. Located at Dedham Country Day School, Horizons is dedicated to providing students from low-income families with summer enrichment and opportunity.
Project-based learning facilitates staff cooperation with one another, as well as quality staff-student and student-student relationships.
Recruiting staff from Boston and Dedham public schools is useful because teachers will be familiar with the demographic of students they work with.
Passion for teaching, commitment to students, ability to manage a classroom effectively, and ability to adapt lessons to students’ needs are traits of a quality teacher.
When faced with a staff issue, providing sufficient support to the staff member is critical in working through the problem.
Q: How does staff work together to support each other?
A: Our staff teams work together really well in the classroom, and I think project-based learning really helps that relationship. We also have weekly staff meetings, and we work with each other to figure out who’s going on what field trips.
We have two teachers in every classroom as well as an academic coordinator who looks out for the academic outcomes, we have three reading specialists who come in for part of the day and they pull kids out of the classroom in the morning when they need extra support in grades K-4.
When we have a behavioral issue that requires that a child leave the room, sometimes another staff person will take that child. If a behavioral issue turns into having to meet with a parent, we invite the lead teacher, sometimes the social worker if she’s available, and me to meet with the parent and the child. What is very clear to me is that we’re all here for the kids, so if there’s stuff going on, we are here to get that child to work within the boundaries of Horizons and produce the result, no matter what they’re used to doing elsewhere.
Q: Where do you recruit teachers from?
A: Horizons aims to get teachers from public school settings because they’re the most familiar with the population that we serve. We do have a couple from Dedham Country Day, but they have experience with this population in other ways.
Q: Are there specific things that you look for in teachers? Of course, you want them to be good with kids, you want them to have a good teaching record…
A: I do a phone interview to gage their interest, but the in-person interview is critical for me to see their passion and their abilities and what they have done before. I look for the sense of commitment to the children and the sense that they know how to manage the classroom. Classroom management, in our case, is really really important. When you’ve got two-thirds of a class operating below grade level and your goal is to move them ahead two to three months in skills in math and reading in the course of six weeks, that’s pretty high stakes. You know that you need to hire somebody who can make their way through the classroom, be able to work with their assistant in the best way, and adapt to change.
Q: If you’re noticing patterns of a problem with a particular staff member, how do you address it?
A: We’re only six weeks long, so we want everyone to be happy but doing their part. I don’t press the point unless there’s a big problem. I haven’t had major problems with a staff member, with the exception of a time when someone was just a wrong fit for us. You just have to manage through the six weeks, and you try to find other ways to support that teacher in that classroom.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a great staff member or teacher?
A: Being a “yes.” Having the student’s input, being able to assimilate that information, and then throw it back out in a structured form that makes a curriculum for a six-week program—that’s a great teacher. We have those who can adjust to whoever is in the classroom. You might get your roster but you don’t know who your kids are until you’re with them, so that takes something. That’s skill. The ones who are able to adjust whatever they’re thinking to whatever is going on in the room, the interests and needs of the children, are probably the greatest teachers.
Horizons is a public-private partnership located at Dedham Country Day School. Students are encouraged to return to the program each summer between Pre-K and 8th grade, which builds a strong community among youth and staff. Students enjoy academic learning, field trips, and enrichment activities through lessons structured around project-based learning. Horizons also teaches all students how to swim—an important, confidence-boosting life skill.