The journey from Horizons to college

 

If you think of Horizons as mainly a summer program for young children, you may not realize how much Horizons does to ensure students pursue their educational goals in high school and college and develop a lifelong love of learning. Meet two students who attended Horizons at Colorado Academy—and found their future. 

Andrea Hernandez-Perez 

The only regret Andrea Hernandez-Perez has about her time with Horizons at Colorado Academy is that it wasn’t long enough. But even though she wasn’t accepted into Horizons (which starts in Pre-Kindergarten) until Middle School, the program focused on low-income students changed her life, she says—starting with the application process. 

Comparing it to college admission standards, Hernandez-Perez says that prospective students are first tasked with writing an essay about a real-world issue. They then undergo an interview process before acceptance into the nonprofit program that includes six intensive weeks during the summer and six “Super Saturdays” during the school year. 

“I wrote about global warming’s effect on our ecosystem,” Hernandez-Perez said. “Imagine a 10-year-old writing that.” 

But as all Horizons students are taught, she knows she can do anything she puts her mind to, and Hernandez-Perez went on to graduate from the Denver Center for International Studies and now attends the University of Denver on a nearly full-ride scholarship. She’s poised to reach her long-set goal. 

Finding her passion 

“My family emigrated here from Mexico to give us a better life, so I always thought that going to college would be the way to repay them. And I want to have a better life,” says Hernandez-Perez, who learned English at school and inadvertently found her passion. 

Majoring in Spanish and double minoring in Leadership Studies and Chinese at DU, Hernandez-Perez hopes to be a translator, something she fell in love with in the Horizons program. “The Horizons program showed me that I really like to help people,” says Hernandez-Perez, who was an intern with the Horizons Pre-K students last summer, mostly translating for parents and students. 

“Seeing how much of a difference the program made and that I made in helping the parents understand it really opened my eyes to what I want to do.” 

Feeling at home 

A self-proclaimed introvert, Hernandez-Perez said being in the Horizons program, interacting with varied grade levels, helped her learn how to communicate well with all different ages and backgrounds. Even though she was nervous coming in at an older age, she was taken aback by the warmness of the Horizons community. “I felt welcome from the second I stepped on the CA campus.” 

Hernandez-Perez spends her free time listening to foreign music to help learn multiple languages, from Korean to Italian. A first-generation college student, she sees herself with a really good job, traveling internationally one day, and helping take care of her family. She says she doesn’t know what life would have been like without Horizons. “I think I’d be lost. I will always be grateful for the opportunity that I was given.” 

Omar Romero-Preciado 

Omar Romero-Preciado at his graduation from high school.

Omar Romero-Preciado at his graduation from high school.

They taught him English and how to swim. They instilled a love of math and showed him that learning was fun. They gave him opportunities that changed his life. But the most important thing Omar Romero-Preciado learned from Horizons at Colorado Academy was the value of human connections. 

Now a Freshman in accounting at Regis University, a dream come true for the son of Mexican immigrants, Romero-Preciado took a break between classes, reflecting on his “unforgettable” summers with the Horizons program. The six-week nonprofit program serves about 150 low-income students from Pre-Kindergarten through high school and includes six “Super Saturdays” during the school year. 

A second home 

“Horizons was not just a program that I went to every summer; it was a second home,” says Romero-Preciado, who learned about true caring from his Horizons “family,” especially when he lost his father in high school. “When I was going through that hard time, it wasn’t even during summer, but they all came out to my house. That really shows what kind of program it is.” 

Although he had many mentors, including teachers and volunteers, he had one teacher who stood out. “I liked that ever since I was in elementary school, he was someone I could always talk to and confide in. He never gave up on me and always told me that I was going to do big things. I actually had brunch with him not that long ago,” Romero-Preciado says, adding, “Horizons friends are friends for life.” 

A college boost 

While his mom provided his main inspiration, encouraging him to make a better life for himself, Horizons kept his dream of college alive, Romero-Preciado says. “I felt like the teachers really played a big part in my pursuing a college education. Even the volunteers were college graduates, so getting a one-on-one perspective from them really helped me.” 

From a Spanish-speaking home and in Spanish-only classes in elementary school, Horizons propelled Romero-Preciado’s education by helping him become proficient in English years before his non-Horizons peers. He graduated from the Denver Center for International Studies, becoming the second person in his family (behind his Horizons-schooled sister) to graduate from high school. 

While the Horizons enrichment program, which includes everything from music and art to science and math, was rigorous, Romero-Preciado says teachers make the academics fun. “And I like the way they focus on the whole student.” Romero-Preciado bolstered his resume with his volunteering time at Horizons, helping in the younger classes when he was in high school. 

“Horizons gave me a new window on life. They taught me that life’s about connections, that connecting with different people really opens doors for you,” says Romero-Preciado, who has become the first person in his family to attend college. “Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without Horizons.”