A county summer program that serves about 60 homeless high school-aged kids will undergo some changes this year.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D), along with representatives from the Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership (SHIP) of Frederick County and Frederick County Public Schools, announced Thursday that the New Horizons Academy will be hosted at Frederick High School starting July 1.
The program, which lasts five weeks in the summer, has historically been held at multiple high schools. SHIP Executive Director Ed Hinde said the change would help from an operational standpoint, and that students will also be taught by FCPS teachers rather than in a virtual learning environment.
Hinde said the State Department of Education is the primary funder of the program, providing roughly $80,000 this year. The county awarded $40,000 through its community partnership grants and the city of Frederick added about $18,000, Hinde said.
Hinde said students in New Horizons can complete four core classes — two English 12 classes, environmental science and modern world history — along with life skills training and other skills.
“At 15, 16, 17 years old, not having that adult support, many of them are pretty much on their own, and that’s the real concern,” Hinde said.
Gardner and Hinde both said that instability — not knowing where they might be sleeping at night or where their next meal might come from — is a major concern.
Dana Falls, FCPS director of student services, said the partnership between the school system and SHIP is invaluable.
The New Horizons academy is important not just because of the course work, Falls said.
“Giving them that chance during the summer to really work on educational goals, but also life skills and building the capacity for them to do greater things in their life,” Falls said. “It’s not just about taking classes, it’s really about building relationships with people, making those connections that will go well beyond the summertime.”
At the news conference, Gardner highlighted some statistics about homeless students in the county. In total, 828 students left a class last school year because they didn’t know where they’d be sleeping that night and 150 students have no adults taking care of them.
Gardner said that many of these students may be bouncing from couch to couch, or have somewhere to live temporarily, but it’s important that they receive an education to become productive members of the community.
She commended the organizations that collaborated to create the New Horizons Academy program. One example, she said, is the YMCA of Frederick County, which offers summer camp so high school students don’t have to take care of younger siblings.
“I think in the long term for our community, I think it helps to have more functioning adults, more successful adults, and really a brighter future for our community,” Gardner said.