Tag Archives: Christina Whittaker

Horizons Limitless For GFA

It’s a long way — by every measure except physical distance — from Greens Farms Academy to the Bridgeport public schools.

But for nearly a quarter century, the elite private school has bridged those gaping academic, financial and resource gaps.

Thanks to the time, talent and energy of GFA staff, students and parents — and the enthusiastic participation of their city counterparts — a strong, productive partnership links Beachside Avenue and Broad Street.

Christina Whittaker — executive director of Horizons GFA — describes it succinctly: “a pre-K through college, outside of school, tuition-free enrichment academic program for Bridgeport students.”

Enjoying the Greens Farms Academy campus.

Horizons is a national program. Greens Farms Academy is one of 60 affiliates.

It’s hard to imagine a more active or far-reaching one than theirs.

From a modest start 24 years ago, Horizons GFA has grown to a 3-pronged, year-round effort, with over 330 current participants.

The pre-K through 8th grade program runs primarily in summer. For 6 weeks, nearly 200 youngsters spend Mondays through Thursdays at GFA. Mornings are devoted to academics, and a social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum developed at Harvard especially for the school.

Learning in the morning …

Afternoons are devoted to activities like sports, swimming, cooking, gardening and dance.

Fridays are for field trips. Popular destinations include the Connecticut Science Center and Mystic Aquarium.

… and a Friday visit to the aquarium.

Parents apply Horizons before their children enter kindergarten.

“Because they are with us for 16 or 18 years — through college — we want to make sure it’s a good fit,” Whittaker explains. “We learn about their hopes and reams.”

The application process includes interviews. The application form is in English and Spanish

In high school, each Horizons participant is paired with a “coach” — a Bridgeport public school teacher, counselor or social worker.

Once a week at Horizon’s Bridgeport office, they work on the Harvard-designed SEL curriculum, and whatever else the student needs, like help with a school project or job application.

Content-specific tutoring is available too, along with college counseling.

Horizons also offers special workshops: transition to high school for 9th graders; career exploration for sophomores; SAT preparation junior year, and FAFSA/scholarship information for seniors.

High school graduation.

Horizons has a 100% high school graduation rate, and 100% post-secondary enrollment. Two-thirds of students go to 4-year colleges; one-third enter community college or vocational training programs.

The summer after graduation, students take part in a transition-to-college workshops.

Once in college, students check in monthly with Horizons staff. They cover 4 areas: personal well-being, academics, finances and “employability.”

The goal is for all students to have a job, or be in grad school, within a year of college graduation. Horizons’ first “class” graduated in 2020. They, and the classes after them, all have 100% success rates.

Proud college graduates.

Horizons is “a very strong community,” Whittaker says proudly. “Once people enter, they tend not to leave.”

Two alums have become program coaches. One teacher has been involved for 20 summers.

Whittaker herself is a former Horizons volunteer. She started as a GFA middle schooler.

Christina Whittaker

That experience sparked her passion for education. After college, Christina taught at Bridgeport’s Harding High School, and worked in Horizon’s summer program. In 2018 she joined Horizons GFA full time. Now she’s the director.

She is inspired by the “results, commitment and partnership with students and families. I’ve known some of the students since 2012. It’s been so great to see what they’ve accomplished.”

Greens Farms Academy’s contributions to Horizons are profound. They provide full use of their campus each summer, and some Saturdays during the year. GFA staff and parents serve on the board and committees. Many students volunteer too.

All funding is private, through donations and grants. This year’s budget is $1.85 million.

There are 2 major fundraisers: a golf event (upcoming June 5 at the Country Club of Fairfield) and fall gala (November 17 at The Knowlton).

After years of quietly supporting Horizons, GFA wants more people to know about the program. Visitors are welcome on select days in July; click here for details.

Nearing the quarter-century mark, Greens Farms Academy’s Horizons — and the horizons of scores of Bridgeport students — are limitless.

(To learn more about Horizons GFA, click here.)

(“06880” covers all Westport schools, public and private. Your help helps us. Please click here to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you!)

Bright Horizons, for these children.