Ole Miss camp strives to better underprivileged students

One Oxford summer camp is working to improve Mississippi’s education ratings, starting with youngest students.

Located on the Ole Miss campus in Kinard hall, the Horizons summer camp focuses on overcoming poverty by building students’ confidence in areas such as reading comprehension, writing, physical education and swimming.

Students can attend from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and are selected through a referral process that begins with teachers at their respective schools.

The program has been striving to improve knowledge retention for the past five summers.

“My favorite part of the program is forming relationships with students while working to prevent summer regression,” said Beth Parker, a teacher at the camp.

Without programs like Horizons, the equivalent of one month of overall learning is lost during the summer months. It can take, on average, six weeks of schooling in the fall to recover these losses.

Elizabeth Mulherin, a reading specialist who teaches at the camp, says the students are tested at the beginning of the program to determine their reading level. From there, the instructors work one-on-one with students to ensure improvement.

“We take small groups and work on things we saw lacking in their reading skills, spelling skills, fluency skills and speech production,” said Mulherin. “We do our best to improve them so over the summer they don’t lose any of the skills they’ve learned in their basic school year.”

Goal-setting is also an important aspect of the Horizons program. Students are required to set personal goals for the summer, and in turn, instructors provide the group with attainable goals to reach.

For Charlotte Lowe, a teacher at the camp, the biggest goal for the summer is improving her students’ reading skills.

“This summer, I want them to improve on their reading, even if they’re at a different level than their best friend next to them,” said Lowe. “I want them to feel like they improved and they learned something and are more confident.”

Through Horizons, students have experiences they might not have outside of the program. Swimming is a core part of both the national organization and the local organization. At least three days a week, campers receive swimming lessons from lifeguards at the Turner Center. For some students, the lessons could save their life one day.

“My favorite part is swimming, because I like to do flips,” said Precious, a second-year camper at Horizons. “But the first day, I was scared because I thought I was going to drown. I didn’t know the techniques, like how you have to move your arms and legs at the same time. My hardest part was the arm movements.”

The camp recently introduced chess to students. The game is thought to increase test scores by as much as 10 percent, when compared to the scores of students who do not play chess.

“My favorite thing I’ve learned in Horizons is the chess thing we’re starting to do, because I didn’t know nothing about chess,” said Genesis, a fifth-year participant.

The Horizons program focuses on underprivileged students, so learning these skills not only encourages academic growth – the activities and academic exercises are also designed to build self-confidence among participants. Participants say Horizons helps them feel more prepared for the upcoming school year and makes them more social, because they see their friends from Horizons at school.

Lowe said the structure of the program fosters an inclusive environment for participants, where everyone is on the same level regardless of academic or economic backgrounds.

“Some of these kids at Horizons, they don’t have the same opportunities as other kids their age,” Lowe said. “They could look at it in so many different ways, but they don’t necessarily think that they are underprivileged or have a disadvantage at all. They still want to learn, and they know that they still have opportunity, too.”