A Cautious and Optimistic Return to Classroom Learning-Horizons For Homeless Children

A Cautious and Optimistic Return to Classroom Learning

Horizons’ classrooms are open again. The COVID-19 crisis has affected our staff, community, and the families we serve. As we welcome students back to our learning centers, we’re looking toward the future with optimism and enthusiasm. We are ready to get back to some of the things we do best, providing dynamic in-person early education opportunities to children experiencing homelessness provided alongside comprehensive family support.

Horizons has taken every precaution to ensure that our children, families, and staff will be returning to the safest environment possible. In compliance with guidelines from the state and local authorities, new policies have been enacted to make Horizons a safe place where the children we serve can return and once again, thrive. We will continue to monitor changes and ongoing guidance to ensure our policies continue to support the health and safety of our entire community and reflect up-to-date safety guidelines.

In preparation for reopening, much has been done to ensure the safety of our students and teachers. Classrooms have been reconfigured to maintain social distancing, rigorous cleaning protocols and schedules have been developed, mask wearing for staff is mandatory and new pick up and drop off procedures have been established to limit physical contact.

A handwashing bulletin board in Roxbury

While the “new normal” will include many health and safety procedures, what has not changed is our high-quality program designed to mitigate the impact of trauma on children experiencing homelessness. Many of our families have struggled with job loss and food insecurity over the past few months, and our team is ready to respond. Our teachers are hard at work building routines that will foster social-emotional skills, children will have access to mental health services, and we’ll be providing a nutritious breakfast, lunch and snack every day.

 “The children we serve have been through so much these last months, and we have much to do to help get them back on the right track,” said Sheila O’Neil, Executive Director, Community Children’s Centers & Family Partnerships. “Our teachers are ready to re-engage in their classrooms so parents can return to their personal and professional endeavors, knowing their child is being nurtured and loved.”

Horizons’ CEO, Kate Barrand, and Sheila O’Neil, greeted staff on their first day back.

Recognizing that many parents were feeling apprehensive about their child’s return to school, the team at Horizons created a video for families, in both Spanish and English, to

highlight what parents can expect and the measures Horizons is taking to keep everyone safe


Program Director, Jayd Rodrigues shares new safety measures in this parent video.

In finding ways to support our families during this time, we have also taken steps to ensure that our staff feel supported and safe as they come back to work. Providing time to train our employees on new safety protocols and keeping the lines of communication open between staff and leadership, our team is coming back to work feeling confident and ready to take on this new challenge. They were welcomed back onsite in advance of the first day to prepare their classrooms and acclimate to the new protocols, making sure that the details were worked out before children were on the premises. Centers were opened on a rolling basis with limited hours, allowing for a gradual re-acclimation for both families and staff. On the very first day at each center, teachers were greeted with a socially distant celebration of their return complete with a red carpet and clap-in as they entered the building.

“Our teachers have stepped up in more ways than one,” said Jayd Rodrigues, Horizons’ Center Director. “They’re ready to get back into classrooms and continue making meaningful connections with their students in the safest ways possible. Making their first day back fun was a simple way we could convey our gratitude for the work they do each day.”

Staff received a first day welcome back bag including new Horizons’ t-shirts designed just for them.

Horizons’ Family Advocates have been working with families throughout the pandemic and have been instrumental in helping assess which children would be returning to school and the families for whom circumstances have changed.  As school reopens, they anticipate being able to return to working with families to ensure they’re getting the resources and opportunities they need to help their family prosper.

Stay tuned as we continue to share updates as our staff and families adjust during this unprecedented time. As so much around us has changed, we’re focused on one thing that hasn’t; Horizons’ commitment to the families we serve.

This piece was written by Rachel San Giacomo, a regular contributor to Horizons’ blog.