What is special about teaching at Breakthrough?
After recently returning for my third summer teaching with Breakthrough Miami, I realized that I forgot how amazing my students are. As I awaited the summer Academic bootcamp for middle school students, I was experiencing my own at Smith College: up to my ears in endless papers, reading, studying, and sometimes a few days without interaction with anyone except professors and peers in the classroom. my Breakthrough experience can become distant. While working this hard, I forget the hard work done by our students to prepare them for the best high schools in the city that will prepare them to attend the best colleges in the nation and become the brightest young leaders of their generation. On days like today, I am reminded of the excellence of our students, the Breakthrough scholars with whom I am privileged enough to work.
As incoming sixth-graders, they get the opportunity to visit local businesses on Career Day at Breakthrough- hospitals, law firms, advertising agencies, and non-profits. Today, I went with a group of students to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, one of the foremost paralysis research centers in the world. The students witnessed many things- a young boy their age learning to walk again after a car accident when he was only five, the advice and mentoring from a former New York City policeman who was paralyzed at age twenty-one (the age of many of our teaching interns) because he was not wearing a seatbelt in his automobile, and even the transplant of nerve cells in a live rat. As we were on the way back to school, the six students who visited the Miami project with me had many questions and even more ideas to contribute. They wanted to know, at ages ten and eleven, how they could get involved in their community to help people like those who work with the Miami project. As one young student described these ideas, she said: “It is never too young to do something you want to do. Even though I know I want to be a vet, I know I can’t do it without graduate school. But I do know I could give food for the animals at a shelter, and in a few years, I can volunteer there.”
When we got back to school, and other students were sharing their career day experiences, I heard similar sentiments about being able to volunteer at an orphanage if one wants to become a pediatrician, or at an after-school tutoring program if one wants to become a teacher. And, these students, these scholars, are learning early on what kind of education they’ll need—aside from a good heart and a history of service—to make a contribution in their community and to the world. They understand the obligation they have as brilliant students that come from under-resourced and under-served communities. They are confident, at age ten, of their purpose and goals. I know now I will not need to be reminded of their integrity, excellence, or drive.