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Simran Chadha is a third-year student majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders in the School of Communication at Northwestern University. She is a member of the class of 2017 and plans to matriculate to the Feinberg School of Medicine after graduation as part of the Honors Program in Medical Education. This summer, Simran interned as a Summer Teaching Fellow for Breakthrough Collaborative, Greater Boston.

After finishing a challenging year of organic chemistry as part of my pre-medical coursework, I was more than surprised to find out I would spend the duration of my summer teaching even more chemistry to middle schoolers. For me, education, teaching, and chemistry were never in the “ten year plan”. However, with the help of SIGP, I was able to explore education as a newfound passion in the form of working as a Summer Teaching Fellow for Breakthrough Collaborative in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Breakthrough Collaborative is an educational non-profit organization that provides a supportive and rigorous summer program for underserved students across the country. Breakthrough has a two-pronged mission, one, to excite and engage students otherwise unsupported by American education systems, and two, to give college students interested in education a real and challenging exposure to teaching as an occupation. Practically, this fellowship manifested itself in the form of long 7 AM – 6 PM work days, followed by late nights of lesson planning to teach two classes, of seven students each, the scientific method, atoms, elements, and acids and bases, among countless additional topics.

I spent my summer honing my skills in working with and teaching younger students with a team of approximately thirty other college-aged teachers. Beyond this, I was exposed to the crucial intersection of social justice and education in my classroom, daily. The Breakthrough student body is comprised of students of color, students receiving free and reduced lunch, single parent households, and potential first generation college students. My students’ backgrounds played a considerable and undeniable role in their performance in classroom settings. Working near a major city, in a summer filled with politics flying surrounding police brutality, I learned how to make Breakthrough a space where students could engage with the world around them in an academic way. We planned events outside of the classroom that allowed students to explore concepts of gender, race, and identity, and engaged students in topics relevant to them and their history. While I worked to make my chemistry class as applicable to the real world with experiments, I also created spaces for dialogue about ongoing world issues and helped students express themselves in constructive ways. I watched as students wrote persuasive essays about Black Lives Matter and performed poems about larger systems of oppression. Breakthrough fostered a safe community where students studied relevant topics and were enthusiastically supported by a teaching staff that genuinely cared. My late nights of work were filled with not only lesson planning, but also text messages and phone calls from students struggling with homework, who I then supported and advised even after work hours. Breakthrough was more than summer school – it was a community.

Leaving this experience, I have discovered new directions I want to take my future career. While I still hope to become a physician, I am sure I want to work with younger children, and explore the intersection of social justice with medicine. Further, my relationships with students this summer have inspired me to pursue mentorship opportunities with younger students in my local community. Overall, SIGP afforded me an unforgettable summer of learning, caring, and teaching.