What a wild ride!

March 1, 2010

Hey Breakthrough!

Wow, I guess people really do respond to deadlines…

On Thursday afternoon, there were 876 applications submitted through our online system. At the application deadline of 5:00pm PST today we had received 1932 applications. This is 167 less than the total we had at the application deadline last year. Mindblowing.

As I look out over the next few weeks, I want to send a huge burst of energy and focus to our incredible Site Directors who will be reading through application after application, interviewing candidates over the phone, in person and on Skype and generally wearing themselves to the bone in order to build the strongest team possible to lead our students in our summer academic bootcamps.  Good luck, Directors!

And, speaking of good wishes: I want to send some to our applicants. Thank you and good luck!  Thank you for committing yourselves to this application process, to the premier pre-professional teaching internship in the country and to Breakthrough’s vision:

At Breakthrough, we envision a day when all children will have equal access to excellent educational opportunities and enthusiastic teachers committed to students’ educational success.

We can’t wait to welcome the class of 2010.


A few from Saint Paul, NOLA and Minneapolis…

August 26, 2009

Saint Paul…

We were discussing the ending to “Twelfth Night” in my class, particularly why the ending is so different from the traditional comedies of the time and the “happily ever after” endings we see so often.  A student asked why Shakespeare would make the ending different.  I encouraged the students to think about why he might do this.  One student responded, “Because Shakespeare is awesome!”  While I was hoping for a deep comment about representing true human nature or something that took significant thought after my probing question, I couldn’t exactly complain when the other students agreed and asked me to recommend more plays written by Shakespeare.  I didn’t have a choice but to recommend some of my favorites.

And New Orleans…

A young man in my fourth-period sixth grade math class stayed behind every class to help me clean the board, even though it meant being late for lunch. He was a star–by no means a mathematical wizard, but over six weeks I watched his confidence grow. Reserved, even resentful for the first two weeks, he became engaged when he found he could be successful. Math was only hard if you tried to do everything at once. Step by step, it was so much more manageable. So we did things step by step, and we played games so he forgot that he was reinforcing those critical fractions and decimals skills. At the end of the summer, I wrote each of my students a letter, and when the bell rang for the last time, four out of the five students dashed down the stairs to lunch, waving big goodbyes as they went. But not this young man. He sat in his chair and suddenly, without warning, broke into tears. His first summer with Breakthrough had had such a tremendous impact on him that as his last class ended–my math class–he cried at his desk. I was shocked that at my impact and the impact of this rigorous academic program on the life of this wonderful youngster.

And Minneapolis…

A student who had never done a research project before was investigating Andrew Jackson and the removal of the Cherokee from their traditional lands. She was reading a speech by Andrew Jackson and a document from a website about the Trail of Tears published by the Cherokee Nation. She called me over to tell me that her two sources said different things, so one of them must be wrong. Her question led to a very important discussion on source bias, and I could see in her eyes the moment when she put the pieces together and understood that information needs to be evaluated based on who it comes from. This one moment made me realize that I actually am having an impact on the educatios and lives of my students.


A couple of jewels from the post-summer survey narrative responses…

August 25, 2009

I’m underneath a mountain of data trying to get reports back to site directors from the annual post summer teacher survey. As I was downloading and quickly checking for edits on some narrative responses from teachers from various sites, I ran across a couple that I wanted to share out. I’m sure there will be more to come; here’s a quick taste from Miami…

I just graduated from college in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Advertising/Public Relations. Throughout my entire college career I was not completely satisfied with my major, but dealt with it in order to obtain my degree. Once I graduated I was as a lost as to what I should do because I did not want a job that I would not be completely happy in. However, after working with the Breakthrough program I have decided to pursue my post-graduate degree in Education and hopefully becoming a principal of a middle school. I have never been so sure about something in my life as I have fallen in love with education and more specifically the education of underserved youth. This has been life-changing and has allowed me to set long-term goals and plans that will make me happy in the future.

And from Houston…

When I began college, I was a bit disappointed by the low maturity and underdeveloped passion/ activism of many students in my class.  Participating in Breakthrough this summer was so refreshing because the student teachers I met were the ones I thought would be so abundant in college.  Our director chose the most phenomenal, mature, and supportive staff ever! I learned so much from both the seasoned teachers, mentor teachers, dean of faculty, dean of students, program director, and even the first year teachers.

And from Atlanta…

When we decorated our room during orientation, my colleague and I made a quote board for our students. We intended this to be one of many ways students could feel ownership of the classroom physical and emotional space. Throughout the summer, each student eventually decided to share a life lesson or philosophy, whether self-authored or discovered.  One student’s quote particularly resonated with me, despite—or perhaps because of—its colloquial feel: “The world needs changing and I’m the cashier.” Breakthrough truly has a progressive mission. College students become engaged in and committed to society because they see the fruits of their labor, and our empowered students are endowed with confidence in their future.


Summer Bloggers 2009 :: Julia Clark ::

July 30, 2009

Julia Clarkjulia clark
Breakthrough Miami
Smith College

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.


Summer Bloggers 2009 :: Emily Spooner :: Academic Rigor

July 30, 2009

Emily Spooneremily spooner
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia – St. Joe’s
Tufts University Class of 2011
8th Grade Social Studies and 8th grade Writing through Literature

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.


Summer 2009 Bloggers :: Nadila Yusuf :: Academic Rigor

July 27, 2009

Name: Nadila Yusuf nadilayusuf
Breakthrough Site: Providence Summerbridge
Subject Teaching: Eight Grade Literacy
School Attending/Year:  Wheaton College 2011 (Norton, MA)

Define “academic rigor.” Tell a story about academic rigor in your classroom.

When I think of academic rigor I think about the teaching goals of Summerbridge/ Breakthrough.  One teaching objective at Providence Summerbridge is for the teachers to combine academic rigor and creativity within the lessons we develop. When Andrew Mallone, a formed SB teacher and a current Teach For America Corps Member, came to speak during our orientation he explained to us the tension between academic rigor and academic creativity. That is, academic rigor can be shaped around the standards in a school, or around the state education requirements; sometimes that hinders the teachers capacity to deliver a fund, exciting and engaging classroom activity. I define academic rigor as a challenging academically enforced lesson: a lesson in which the key points of the lesson like grammar and vocabulary are just taught for the reason they have to be taught.

I have already passed week 4 at Providence Summerbridge and I have learned that academic rigor is challenging to instill. I understand that concepts, vocabulary, grammar, essay skills are important and are at the core of the lessons I create with my team teacher but rigor needs to be shaped into something more then just RIGOR. At Providence I have learned that it is important to keep the rigor within the lesson but to make sure the rigor is an invisible part of the lesson and the creative piece of a lesson is on top of the academic piece. What I mean by this is when my team teacher and I taught complex, compound, and simple sentences by using a word web and a game of SB Grammar. During this lesson my team teacher taught the rules of complex, compound, and simple sentences and then he made the students create a word web of different vocabulary words from Macbeth on the board. The game worked like this: we set up teams and then passed out signs that said COMPLEX, SIMPLE, and COMPOUND. There are two pieces to this game. First, the teacher says a sentence out loud and the students need to pick whether it was a compound, complex or simple sentence.Second, the teacher asks the students to use up to three vocabulary words from word web on the board to create a complex, simple, or compound sentence. This part of our lesson was successful. The students learned how to differentiate the sentences and practices making their own sentences by using vocabulary from the text. What is interesting about this lesson is that we created a lesson that was academically rigorous and was a difficult concept to understand but we made sure our students stayed engaged and were able to understand the concepts in a creative way.


Summer Bloggers 2009 :: The Light Bulb!

July 16, 2009

Name: Briana PittariBriana Pittari08
Site: Breakthrough Philadelphia–St. Joseph’s University
Subjects: 8th Grade Social Studies (Global Issues) and Creative Writing Elective
School: St. Joseph’s University 2010

Prompt 3: Please describe a recent “light-bulb” moment; every teacher has had this experience. You work with a student day after day and there seems to be one point that the student continues to struggle with. You change up your strategy, use new vocabulary, employ various media to get your point across. And then, bam! The light goes on and your student has made that BREAKTHROUGH. You have impacted that student forever.

My light-bulb moment for one of my students came through  a social victory, not necessarily an academic one.  During the first week of program, one of my normally bubbly yet extremely shy students was completely withdrawn and disengaged. Pulling her aside, she expressed her displeasure in receiving “health education”as we talked about HIV/AIDS (our UN issue this summer) because it was information she already knew. I explained to her how at those moments where she feels she is more advanced than the rest of the class are the moments where I need her to participate the most. Besides, if she just sits in the back of the class in high school, I explained, her teachers are not going to see the beautiful and intelligent girl I see.  At that moment, that light bulb clicked on. Her demeanor immediately changed after this chat.

I’m not sure whether this light bulb moment came as a result of a shot of confidence, or because my student finally realized that she is not only in charge of her learning, but leading others in reaching those high expectations in my classroom. In either case, the glow in her eye and excitement to learn in my classroom has been invaluable. Ever since this day, my student cannot keep her hand from flying in the air to comment or participate. My student is also more open about her struggles, her triumphs, and everything in between, and is more aware of the power she has as she walks into my classroom. Every day, I see my student grow not only as an academic scholar, but a leader among her peers.