Spending time with horses is helping students at Lincoln Middle School transform their lives as they learn the leadership and life skills they need to be successful academically and at home.
“We learn to help the horses and then when we go home, we can help people there and help people at school,” said Graciella Hernandez, seventh-grader.
Once a week, sixth- and seventh-grade students at-risk of dropping out of school leave the classroom to brush, bathe and run horses through a program called the “Open Door Project. “ The project, funded through a $20,000 Pharos Fund grant from the Bohemian Foundation, began three years ago as a partnership between Lincoln Middle School, an International Baccalaureate School, and equine assisted life skills coaches Pia Jansen and Jill Cantor Lee.
Lincoln school counselor Jose Sandoval said the Open Door Project gives students a chance to incorporate leadership skills they learn by working with and caring for horses into other parts of their lives, including in the classroom and in their home life.
“This program is specifically for our students who are at risk of dropping out of school,” said Sandoval. “I can say that one hundred percent of these students are walking away as better human beings because of what they’re able to reflect upon with the horses.”
He believes the program has completely transformed these students who were once falling behind and are now on the path to a brighter future. “This year something magical has happened … They’re just new and improved kiddos!” Sandoval said. “These kids could’ve said no to equine but they said yes, so that tells me they do want to better themselves. I’m very proud of them.”
In addition to caring for the horses, the students are given weekly challenges both individually and in groups. “What comes out is their leadership skills … you get to see the individual characteristics and group dynamics played out,” Sandoval said.
“We are leaders with the horses and when we come back to school, we are leaders there,” agreed seventh-grader Juan Gomez. “Not followers!” added Jesus Vargas, another seventh-grader.
“I’m looking forward to going next week,” said seventh-grader Jerry Avendano.
Through the Open Door Project, local businesses may sponsor the students by hosting a lunch, hanging a picture of them on their wall, and sending the message that they are important members of the community. Anyone in the community can get involved, according to Sandoval. Community members and businesses can help through funding, volunteering in the building, sponsoring a student and more.
For more information about the Open Door Project, contact Sandoval at Lincoln.