Horizons at Brooklyn Friends School
On a September afternoon, Ian Foster Jones sits behind a piano at the Brooklyn Friends School, a private school in downtown Brooklyn. The group of tiny children who stand rapt before him is a picture of New York’s melting pot—different classes, races, and ethnic backgrounds.
Only about half these children are students at Brooklyn Friends, but each is a member of this school’s afterschool program thanks to the Horizons National Student Enrichment Program. For 40 years, Horizons has battled the “achievement gap” between low-income and middle class students. Its programs, hosted by independent schools, keep public school students sharp and active.
Horizons co-executive directors Taunya Black and Rachel Webber say both the summer and afterschool programs benefit the public and private school students.
“It’s about showing both groups of kids that there is more to the world than what you see when you walk out your door,” says Black.
When starting up the program, Horizons approached dozens of independent schools in New York City, but Brooklyn Friends, with its Quaker mission to serve the wider community, was the only one to sign on. When they began soliciting for support to help fund the effort, the Brooklyn Community Foundation was the first to step up with a grant in 2008.
Each year a new group of Kindergartners come in. They will continue through eighth grade, partaking in academic and extra-curricular activities to stem learning loss. Children from public schools adjoining Brooklyn’s Farragut, Ingersoll, and Whitman public housing communities take swimming lessons, participate in a variety of visual and performing arts, and visit the city’s cultural institutions.
They go to school better prepared to learn. They also learn about themselves. The program is about access to opportunity. “It’s about exposure to the world beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic,” says Webber, “to figure out where their talents lie.”
The Brooklyn Community Foundation continues to help make that happen with a $10,000 grant this year.
“Because we grow exponentially, we need funders that are able to commit over the long haul,” says Black. “Having them in our list of funders speaks highly of us.”
That afternoon in Jones’ chorus class, the Horizons and Brooklyn Friends students are distinguishable only by the uniforms that the public school students wear.
Jones starts into kid-friendly version of the hit song “Party Rock is in the house tonight.” His enthusiasm seems to melt barriers of race, class, and experience. The dozen tiny students wave their hands in the air and sing, “Party Rock is in the school tonight, and everybody’s gonna ave a good time!”