Breakthrough Collaborative’s mission is to launch high-potential, low-income middle school students on the path to college while inspiring high school and college students to pursue careers in education. It carries out this mission at 38 sites across the country. I applied for the site in Manchester, New Hampshire, which allowed me to commute from home (though the program does offer free home-stays to out-of-town teachers). Breakthrough’s “students teaching students” model made the program stand out. Applicants do not need previous teaching experience to be accepted, and teachers go through a rigorous eight-day training to ensure that they are prepared to teach. Because the age gap between the students and the teachers is relatively small, the students really do look up to the teachers as role models, which gave me a chance to make an even larger impact in students’ lives.
At Breakthrough, my primary responsibility was teaching two sections of 6th grade biology. I worked with a team of 2 other biology teachers to prepare our lessons. Although we were given a curriculum to work with, each week we made extensive revisions of the lesson plans and accompanying materials. It was a joy giving my 13 students their first taste of a real science class. My favorite—and most nerve-wracking—day of teaching was the day we performed a lamb heart dissection. My students were so brave and mature about it! I was impressed, especially considering that I didn’t do my first dissection until I was in 9th grade, and even then, I was terrified!
As a Breakthrough teacher, I had several other duties beyond my biology classes. Every teacher offers a 2-week long extracurricular, which gives students a brief exposure to areas they might be interested in exploring further later on, such as sports and languages. I got to teach Italian, in which I discovered that I enjoy teaching languages almost as much as I love learning them. On our last day, we had a feast, which involved me bringing in a lot of Italian food and the students having to “order” it using what they had learned in Italian. The hardest part about the extracurricular was that I had to design everything—lesson plans, worksheets, powerpoints—from scratch.
Each Breakthrough teacher also serves on a committee (I was head of the Team Events committee) and acts as an advisor to 3 students, working with them during an advisory period on developing non-cognitive skills and setting goals. Each day concluded with a faculty meeting that could take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours. All total, I spent about 60 hours a week at school, kept working when I got home, and went to bed around 9:30 or 10 so that I would have enough energy to wake up at 5:30 the next day and do it all again. It was exhausting, but there were moments every day that made it worth it. Breakthrough is an incredibly strong, supportive community unlike anything I’ve experienced before. And as someone at Breakthrough once said, now that I’ve found it, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to recreate that type of community wherever I go.
Laura Stoughton is a rising junior pursuing a major in cognitive science, a minor in musicology, and the Integrated Marketing and Communications certificate. This summer, she was a teacher at Breakthrough Manchester in New Hampshire.
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