Define “academic rigor.” Tell a story about when you pushed a student to achieve beyond what they thought they were capable? If you’ve just started the summer, tell us how you set a high expectation for academic rigor for the summer from the outset?
At the end of last summer, I described Breakthrough as the hardest thing I had ever done, and the most rewarding. Halfway through this summer, I am constantly reminded of that statement. Breakthrough truly is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do; there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do for our students. At the same time, there is nowhere else I’d rather be because the smiles and excitement on our students’ faces as they grasp academic concepts and enjoy learning makes all the nights of staying up late to finish lesson plans, or to plan an activity for class the next day worth it.
This past week at school, students in my 8th grade Social Studies (Global Issues) class were spending one day learning about poverty. From the start, this seemed like a lofty goal. How was I going to help ten students from West Philadelphia, many of whom are living in very real poverty themselves, understand that poverty is also a global issue? And that being poor in other countries looks very different than being poor in the United States? Throughout the class, we discussed the idea that the world has a finite number of resources, and that some countries are using more resources than they may need resulting in inequitable distribution. At the end of the discussion, we did an activity called Silent Web; students could write comments on the board and draw lines connecting their comments to those of their classmates. I will never forget what one student, Z, who had been very quiet during the rest of class, wrote on our web. To answer the question “What is the relationship between rich countries and poor countries?” he said, “The world is a community, but we’re not acting like it.”
I was blown away. Before going into this lesson, I had thought that it would be nearly impossible for my students to be able to walk away with an understanding of global poverty after just one 55 minute class. But in one sentence, Z had gotten everything I had wanted them to understand and more from the lesson. His maturity and insight was incredible; it is that kind of inspiration that has kept me at Breakthrough for a second summer. The bottom line is that I teach at Breakthrough because I have gotten the chance to meet some of the most inspiring and intelligent people I have ever known. Without Breakthrough, our students may not be able to get the support they need. They may forget that they love learning, they may struggle through school, they may have teachers who teach by rote memorization. But with Breakthrough, their academic lives are full of color. They are challenged to go higher and learn more. Their decisions to rise to this occasion make every exhausting day, a rewarding one.