By John Burton
RUMSON – When it comes to her work with the Horizons student enrichment program, Lore Macdonald just doesn’t talk the talk – she truly walks the walk.
Macdonald, a Rumson resident, who co-founded the program at Rumson Country Day School 18 summers ago, previously served as the board president and is still a member of the board. She was associated with Horizons, a national program, in New Canaan, Conn., before it was established in Rumson. Last week, Macdonald was recognized for her dedication to the program when she was named a New Jersey Hero last week by first lady Mary Pat Christie.
“It does give me profound joy,” Macdonald said of her involvement with the program. “It is something that I’ll leave this world knowing I did a little bit of good, I had some impact on the lives of a lot of people.”
The Rumson Horizons program, one of 33 programs across the country and one of two in New Jersey, is a six-week program July through mid-August for at-risk children, primarily from Red Bank. Aimed at allowing the kids to continue their education and remain engaged, it is a fun, activities-filled way to learn while off from school.
The idea, said Lori Hohenleitner, the program’s executive director, is to combat what educators have labeled “summer slide,” during which students out of the classroom for the summer lose educational ground. Studies show that it can be particularly true for low-income students, who haven’t the same opportunities as their wealthier counterparts to remain engaged when school is out.
“It does help them go back to school without having lost much,” Macdonald said.
The program has had about 2,000 children participate over the years, with 125 students enrolled this summer, according to Robin Schemen, president of Horizon’s Rumson board and a member of the program’s national board.
The program is open to children who have completed kindergarten and allows them to be part of the program up until the summer after they complete eighth grade. Horizons, which costs $50 for the six weeks, is available to students who qualify for free or reduced cost lunch programs in their public schools.
The program uses a hands-on approach to teaching, tying lessons with projects the children take on to realworld circumstances.
“Everything is very hands on,” Schemen said.
Along with that, kids have a chance to go to the Community YMCA, 166 Maple Ave., Red Bank, where they get to swim or take swimming lessons just about every day.
Swimming is not simply a recreational outlet, Hohenleitner stressed. “We feel if kids learn confidence in the pool, not only is that a life skill, but they’re also able to translate that to the classroom.”
For Macdonald, the program offers so much to the children and their families that is “so obviously successful … It really is a no-brainer.
“This is wonderful for kids, because it’s a different kind of learning experience,” she said.
Macdonald’s appreciation for what the program has meant to many and her experience goes back a long time. The Horizons program began in the 1970s at the New Canaan Country School, New Canaan, Conn., where Macdonald grew up and was a student. In the late ‘70s she spent a couple of summers working as a teacher for the program and began her firsthand experience with it. When the program was first proposed for the Rumson Country Day School, she strongly supported it and involved herself in establishing it, working with staff and students and serving as board president for 13 years.
“I think I did a little bit of everything,” since the summer of 1996, when it started, she said.
“She spearheaded the program,” said Chad Small, Rumson Country Day’s headmaster. “She remains its heart and soul.”
Macdonald, who married just six days after graduating college and raised four children, all going to Rumson Country Day, sees the promise in the children who have been involved in the program. “It has been a rewarding experience for me,” she said. “Getting to know the children and the families, for me was huge.”
It also has been a great experience for board members and those who have volunteered, she said. “They really take away a lot.”
Another nice part is still having a chance to see some of the students – who go to high school and beyond – talk about their experiences and what it meant to them. “I’m just goofy enough that they remember me,” she joked about running into former students. But she added, “I love it. They always say hello and tell me what they’re up to. It’s a nice feeling for me.”
The next chapter for Macdonald and others associated with the program is to continue it for the high school years. She believes the idea of extending education into the summer is something that goes beyond just the Horizons program and should be adopted by more schools and districts.
“It’s just a smart thing to do,” she said.
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