I am a 2022 graduate of Horizon School in the Desert Sands Unified School District.
Horizon affords students a quality education comparable to comprehensive high schools, while allowing us flexibility in our schedules. The school provides education for students from kindergarten through high school.
I transferred to Horizon School in March of 2019, and little did I know how it would be such a benefit one year later when the world of education changed for all students due to COVID.
During my first year, there were 15 teachers, two in K-8, two in what is called opportunity, one for Vista Special Education, nine in high school, and one counselor. All students had weekly appointments where we attended three one-hour labs in English, math and science in small group settings and saw our elective teachers one-on-one for about 15 minutes.
This format is why many students choose to attend Horizon School. We are able to receive instruction that is more appropriate to our needs.
At the beginning of this school year, Horizon School looked very different. Our teaching staff increased from 15 to 35. We added 20 new teachers in grades K-8.
Horizon School is now the district’s “virtual academy.” Our students in grades K-8 are completely virtual, and our high school is at least 90% virtual. Horizon is the home to a variety of the programs that service the increased enrollment.
The programs go beyond classroom instruction. Teachers and counselors, really the entire staff, work with students who need help with issues they are facing in school or at home. The adults at our virtual school teach us, but they are also there for us in so many ways.
The transition to virtual has been an ever-changing task. With the help of the DSUSD technology department, it has been a success.
Our teachers have become pros on Zoom. Yes, sometimes they are still muted, and so are we. But our teachers have embraced technology like Google Classroom, an interactive learning platform called SeeSaw and more.
They can use “doc cams” to display materials, “huddle cams” to broadcast from a classroom and the lightboard technology “eGlass,” which lets students see both a teacher’s face and something they write.
Our students have also been able to take part in the McCallum Theater education online series Mommies and Muffins, visits to College of the Desert and field trips to the Palm Desert Civic Center.
We also continue to host drive-through semester award assemblies to congratulate all the honor roll students, encourage students to excel in school. A bonus is that parents really enjoy seeing their kids being honored for their hard work.
During distance learning, many families discovered that they enjoyed the flexibility that online learning provided them. All students need to attend class, but at Horizon all they need is WiFi and a Chromebook or tablet that DSUSD provides.
Students could be at home, at their grandparents’ house or even in a car. Parents became more involved in their child’s education. As the rest of the district transitioned back to in-person learning, many families decided that Horizon School independent studies was the place for them.
This has allowed parents to have a greater exposure to the teaching that is going on, as many of them are close at hand when we, the students, are in class. But it hasn’t made it any easier for them to understand our “new math.”
Horizon School is important to me because the school and faculty help me better prepare for my future with independence and strength. I now feel more confident and prepared for my future, because I was given the tools to solve the problem, prioritize, and manage my time to make certain that all my assignments are completed as required and challenge myself not just in the classroom but at home, too.
The variety of classes and opportunities Horizon School has given me helps me all around become a better student and person. Going into college during the pandemic can be tough, but because I attended Horizon School, I feel confident that I can work efficiently and stay on task through online learning.
I hope DSUSD will continue to support Horizon School’s independent study virtual program and our other programs.
MeKenna Falk is a 2022 graduate of Horizon School and served as one of the student members of DSUSD’s Board of Education.