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Key assists: Horizons benefits from caring community members

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette The Tiger’s Lounge, in the Horizons Alternative School, provides students with a study place, leisure activities, and a safe, secure environment in which to talk with with fellow students.

MOHAWK — When Horizons Alternative School opened in 2005, it was for students who were struggling, who had given up and simply left school, or students in at-risk environments. With all of these students, elevated stress levels occurring outside of the school contribute to lower academic achievement, higher dropout rates, and a host of other negative impacts detrimental to the student.

To assist the students at Horizons achieve their academic potential, Barb and Paul Horton have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as a fair amount of their personal time to the Horizons School and its students.

Principal Joel Asiala has seen the results of the Hortons’ efforts and care.

In addition to their monetary donations, which has done a lot for the school, they have donated their time, for which no monetary value can be placed.

“That’s extremely beneficial to us,” he said, adding, the proof is in the pudding.

“We’ve definitely dropped in stress rates, increased in attendance, increased in class completion rates, and will we be updated soon on our completion rates, but COVID is creating havoc right now.”

Asiala said with all the pieces the Hortons have put into place at the school, the students feel comfortable in the facility, and academic achievements on all levels have increased, despite all other odds.

“The kids still come in, and when they come in, they come in with their laundry,” said Asiala. “They’re ready to talk. They’re ready to go through things. They’re learning life skills, lessons. They use the new weight room that we have because of all this, they take showers — it’s just amazing.”

Retired Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw Schools Superintendent Darryl Pierce said he and the Hortons began discussing Horizons more than a decade ago.

“We were looking at doing stuff even 10 years ago,” he said. “Then, time goes by and stuff like that, but there’s more to the history than just two years ago with the Hortons.”

Discussions had included building a small store down the road from which students could sell items made in class, and a number of projects that Pierce said demonstrate the number of years the Hortons have been considering what could be done for the school.

Another example of the Hortons’ concerns for the well-being of the students is the Tiger’s Den.

The Tiger’s Den is a student lounge, named for Pierce, whose nickname is Tiger. The lounge is equipped with a pool table, a ping-pong table, three couches, a flat screen TV equipped with a video game console. The lounge is a room in which students can study in a relaxed atmosphere, de-escalate stress levels, and for students to talk through difficult issues or environmental situations.

Several local organizations contributed to the furnishings of the den, including the Portage Health Foundation.

The school’s rooms, such as the laundry/shower facilities, student lounge, and other features should distract from Horizons being a Type I school, with graduation and course requirements the same as Calumet High School. Upon graduation, students receive a Calumet High School diploma.

However, in considering the needs of the attending students, Horizon’s staff is committed to providing students a high-quality education, and preparation for the world beyond high school, delivered through alternative methods. To achieve this goal, the curriculum, teaching style, and assessment is individualized, flexible, customized and personalized to accommodate the variety of strengths and learning styles that our students bring to school with them. Yet, while catering to the individual needs of the whole student, Horizons places emphasis on providing a challenging, solid education held together by core academics, such as writing, reading, math, science, and social studies – and enhanced with courses and activated designed to round out and offer both enriching and practical life experiences to our students.

The faculty, staff, and students function much as a family does, the CLK website states.

“The atmosphere in our program is oriented toward fostering acceptance, a sense of belonging, and responsibility for ourselves and others. It is in this caring environment that students in grades 9-12 are invited to take advantage of the opportunity for a second chance to learn, earn credit, and graduate.”

With all of that in mind, the Hortons have become dedicated to the school, developing personal relationships with the students, donating several hours per week visiting them at the school, contributing large amounts of money to increasing and improving the opportunities the students can have to prepare for the world they will face.

“I’ve always been interested in education,” said Mrs. Morton, “and in people becoming something bigger and better than what they are. And so, that’s how we got started. We call (Pierce) Tiger, because of (Michigan Technological University) hockey. I know him from way back.”

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