If you look at childhood photos of Girls star Allison Williams, you're likely to see her reading books to a row of stuffed animal pupils. "I always say I'm an education enthusiast," Williams explains. "I feel really lucky about the opportunities I got. Filling my brain has always been my No. 1 priority." So it's no surprise that she's committed to making sure everyone gets the same chances that she did. As an advocate and ambassador for the learning-focused nonprofit Horizons National, Williams brings attention to what's called the summer slide. "The lack of school engagement for low-income students during summer vacation can be detrimental to their education," Williams says. "Kids whose families can't afford enriching summer experiences or camp programs tend to lose ground over the summers, although the curriculum assumes they'll continue to grow."
In July and August, Horizons runs six-week programs on high school and college campuses for pre-kindergarteners to 12th-graders so they can avoid a decline in academic momentum. "Over the course of five years, those summer breaks can cause children to fall behind two years," Williams says. "But Horizons erases that learning loss and puts students about two months ahead in reading and math when they get back to school in the fall."
Williams with a Horizons student for the charity's National School visit at the Philip's Academy Charter School in Newark, N.J.
How She Got Involved
Her mother chairs the national board, but Williams also went to school with Horizons students at New Canaan Country School, in Connecticut; she saw firsthand how transformative the program was for her classmates. "One of the craziest inequities I can imagine is the circumstances you're born into determining what you can make of your academics," Williams says.
Why It Matters
The classes empower students to develop new skills and overcome fears. Williams is especially impressed by the mandatory swim lessons. "Water is something many students are afraid of," says Williams. While swimming might seem like recreation, it can be valuable for alumni. "We had one girl who got a job as a junior lifeguard when she was 15, which meant she had an income," Williams says. "Another alum got a full swim scholarship to college. Once kids realize they can conquer the deep end of a pool, they gain confidence in other areas."
What You Can Do
Ask schools in your community to host a summer program, or donate at horizonsnational.org/support. In lieu of a wedding registry for her 2015 nuptials to entrepreneur Ricky Van Veen, Williams asked her guests to contribute to the organization and used the funds to open a Horizons chapter in Austin, Texas.