Core Values

Breakthrough believes education is a time for celebration.
If “achievement” and “excellence” characterize Breakthrough’s academic mission, then “joy” and “laughter” symbolize the in-between moments that make our program unique. We make learning fun, bring students and teachers together through laughter, and strive to make Breakthrough a safe space where children can’t wait to come back.

1. Mission-Driven Programs:

We are a dual-mission program:

All middle school students who attend Breakthrough will enter and thrive in rigorously academic high schools or high school programs/tracts, and attend a four year competitive college. This mission for our younger students is unrelenting, uncompromising, and inviolate. All of our students are smart and capable of academic success. The road may be easier for some than others, but the basic goal will not be compromised. Summer sessions start our students on this journey, but it is the work of the school year program that is often where the students get to individually address their skill gaps – gaps that if not bridged will keep the students from thriving in the best high schools in this country.

For our high school and college-aged teachers, we offer experiences, counsel, and access to information that will lead them into a life-long interest with education. For many, this will involve teaching and administrative careers. We believe that high school and college students can be excellent teachers and leaders if given substantive experience, counsel from wise and mission-drive mentor teachers, and information about career paths in education. By hiring high school and college students, we trust in their abilities, curiosity, and desire to give the very best to our students. We maintain our high expectations of excellence, and support them both in their moments of triumph and defeat. Directors create an environment in which our teachers can learn, grow, and lead while being immersed in the joys and challenges of being an educator in a mission-driven program. They will make a different in the lives of our students. The mentoring and vision they give the younger students help them want to achieve in the best schools in this country.

2. Belief in the Power of Achievement:

All who work in Breakthrough need to believe in the power of achievement. To do so, many of us have to look at the socio-economic realities as well as the gender, class, and race biases that too often affect the way we think and the way that people have to live. When these realities and biases remain unchallenged for either ourselves or others, we keep our neediest and brightest students from “breaking the cycle of the disadvantaged.” It is all too easy to buy into this as the reason why all our kids can’t have the very best academic options open to them. At times, we must all confront our own sense of complacency, our own sense of social justice.

3. Superior Academic Options for our students:

We want superior academic options for all of our students at the entry points of both high school and college. For our middle school students, we prepare, support and encourage them to enter and thrive in academically challenging high school programs. Each student and family needs to know that the strength of their high school programming is critical to their growth as a student. We expect our high school students to take four years of college preparatory math (hopefully starting in Geometry or Algebra 2 in ninth grade), four years of the same foreign language, at least three years of lab science, four years of college-preparatory English as well as challenging classes in social sciences, art, and physical education. We expect our students to take AP/ IB courses, to understand the importance of achievement tests, and to take college-going exams (PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc.) starting in their sophomore year. To achieve this goal, we mentor our students and their parents well so that they can chart their journey into college with intentionality.

4. Needs-Responsive Programming:

Breakthrough is a needs-responsive program. Breakthrough is a place where students can be in constant dialogue with teachers, mentors, and program staff. We advise our directors to know all of their student’s names before they arrive on campus for placement tests and interviews. Programs are expected to build a support system for students that meet their needs and grow with them. Many of our students are already excelling, and simply need acceleration and mentoring to stay on course. Teachers must work hard to earn students’ trust and meet their needs, with directors being the keepers of the relationships with their students, and the constant in their mentoring over the six year period that the students are with us.

5. Bridge the Skill Gap:

Our time with students is short; students who are behind have to work doubly hard to gain the skills to meet their goals and excel. The School Year Program (SYP) is an extension of the summer but especially focused on the academic road for students with skill gaps in math, in expository writing, and in reading skills. The summer staff writes an intentional Student Success Plan (SSP) at the end of each summer which guides the directors as they start their school year program in the fall. Preparation and planning at each level in this program needs to be intentional, focused, and rigorous because of our time constraint, and because this is a program and not a school. Furthermore, if we tell our students that their road may be difficult, we must also recognize that the road for our young teachers must be as difficult: the hard work is a part of the experience for everyone involved.

6. Nurture Confidence :

When students make a compelling speech, argue an interesting point in a debate, or bring a school project to life in a classroom presentation, they are often judged as smart. Students who are judged as smart usually feel smart; feeling smart nurtures confidence. We believe that gaining public speaking acumen is imperative for all of our students. Each is worthy of having a public voice, and is fully capable of improving and polishing verbal communication skills and public presentation skills.

Therefore, these skills must be taught in Breakthrough. We, the program staff and young teachers need to always model excellence in each announcement, each skit and each public comment. By teaching the art of public speaking and public presentation, we help students feel successful and become successful. We help them to move in wider and wider circles and help them to dream more easily about the opportunities that await them.

7. Honor the Individual:

We honor the life of the individual child and celebrate the time we get to work together. We are each born into our lives – we often don’t start creating our own paths until we reach middle school. We need to respect the child’s life as it is: respect the parents and guardians; understand the economic realities of their daily life; understand the culture of the neighborhood and the student’s sending school. What is, is! Breakthrough helps students develop the skills they need to overcome whatever obstacles they may have, provide resources for their success, and built on the strengths with which they enter the program.

At the same time, when a teacher or a member of the program team leaves Breakthrough and moves on, it is hoped that each cherishes the memory of their time with the students just as the students cherish their memories of the program. Keep an ear to the ground on how we can continue to help and inspire our students even as we move away from the program. Keep in touch with the program in meaningful ways: we honor the lives of others by little deeds. We need not save lives; better we enhance those whose lives intersect with our own.

8. Model Success:

Teachers at Breakthrough model success, kindness, empathy, intellectual curiosity. It is the kindness and the helpfulness our young staff models that help students grow both as students and as individuals. Therefore, help our teachers become wonderful mentors and life coaches; help them to have a positive spirit. Empathy, too, is a skill that needs to be taught – it is not an inherent attribute. These attributes are life-long skills that provide a positive foundation for relationships and interactions, and must be embodied by all who are role-models for our students.

9. Embrace Criticism and Self-Reflection:

Criticism at Breakthrough is welcome and so is holding on to high standards! The program is too short not to be steeped in integrity and ethics; mediocrity must be addressed. Along with criticism comes an open door policy at Breakthrough. Classrooms and all meetings are always open to visitors, be they educators or parents. We must all embrace change if that change better helps students achieve and grow. Welcoming feedback and holding ourselves accountable helps us to remain true to our mission. Take the time to reflect what you are doing, how you are teaching, and how you are modeling the values of the program.

10. Celebrate Excellence:

Make Celebration at the end of summer a celebration of excellence. To celebrate well, we must all be masters of the mission of this work. If we are not, Celebration can skitter off track rather than be an event that is meant to showcase excellence for the parents and the wider community of Breakthrough.

Celebrate at Celebration: you, your students, their parents and guardians, the directors, the master teachers, the homestay families, the volunteers. All deserve this time together. The parents will be proud of their students and they will be proud of the young teachers who taught their children so much. Directors and Celebration Chairs must work together to oversee and check each aspect of this key event. This is an evening for others – it is not a talent show or a review of skits; it is an event where the hard work shines, people talk, and a community comes together. There is no right way to do this event; know your strengths and understand your weaknesses and give your audience the best of the best.

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