By: Reagan Kimzey
Breakthrough Houston Teaching Fellow, SJS Summer 2022

Breakthrough Houston (BTH) was everything I could have ever wanted as a student. The idea of a “Growth vs. Fixed” mindset, which BTH bases its academics on, was something I had never encountered before. I grew up being told that I was intelligent enough, until I began high school and found myself struggling in subjects such as Chemistry and Geometry. Suddenly, I was being told the opposite. During BTH training and in practice, I learned some of the psychology behind this, and how much words can impact our perceptions of our abilities. My natural response to my students struggling in science classes this past summer would’ve been, “Gosh, I suck at science.” But now I find myself approaching the subject with a more positive view and I tell my students, “I wish I had had the opportunity to learn these skills when I was your age, you can do it!”

In addition to its progressive educational values, the BTH community itself is unmatched. The Teaching Fellows (TFs) at my site were so incredibly close, spending 9+ hours a day together and still hanging out on the weekends. Teaching while learning bonded us together, and so did our daily routines of doing cheers, showing vulnerability through our morning visions, and even messing up the order of that day’s afternoon All School Meeting. I not only see the effect of this community in us, but in our students as well. My friends, Johnny and Xitlali, are both returning TFs, and I can see how much the kids they taught in previous summers constantly gravitate toward them and update them about school and their lives. 

BTH also does a great job in involving everyone in education. We strive for open communication with parents through parent-teacher conferences, as well as ensuring we are available for direct correspondence whenever they may need us. We work with the schools they attend year round; a principal from some of the students’ middle school actually came by and brought treats for the kids! More than that, though, the kids have the opportunity to be  directly involved in their own education. We ask for their feedback, what is or isn’t working for them, and how we can all improve. They are aware that their teachers are learning just as much as they are, and this communication fosters trust, honesty, and reflection.

BTH provides Teaching Fellows with a curriculum to follow as we craft our course’s lessons which is so helpful as first time teachers. The lessons are tried and true, and we are welcomed to adapt them to our and our students’ needs. This flexibility is so welcome, as it allows us to try different activities. A lot of the curriculum is worksheet-based, which works  really well for some kids, but not for others. I found success when I invited my kids to move around and interact with the room. The opportunity to let the kids interact with each other using different supplies and visuals was so exciting. 

My biggest success this summer was hosting my Socratic Seminars with my 7th grade reading class. Having the opportunity to share ideas regarding literature, politics, or even personal experiences while in a safe space is something that everyone – especially middle school-aged kids – need. My kids were shy at first, unsure of how to participate and prompt each other without guidance. After hosting between 4-6 seminars this summer, my students grew so much. Our last socratic seminar was about historical context and diverse literature, and every student shared what historical event or era they enjoyed studying, and what events helped contextualize the time we live in now. They shared so much about what they learned, and frequently exhibited the ability to expertly link what we had learned in class to their personal lives. It was both reassuring and reaffirming to see the joy they had during these discussions. 

Final Takeaways
The kids I met this summer have changed my life. They are perceptive and always keep me on my toes. They are creative, kind, giving, and so much more. Breakthrough Houston is a learning experience for both students and Teaching Fellows. The dual mission of students teaching students has proven true, and I’ve learned more than I thought I would. Whether my students remember to keep annotating their books or to remind themselves that they are capable and worthy of so much, I hope that they’ve learned at least a fraction of what I have from our experience together this summer. BTH believes that students are multidimensional people who deserve social, emotional, and academic growth and knows that investing in today’s kids impacts tomorrow’s future. Thank you, BTH, for the opportunity to grow alongside these energetic middle schoolers! 

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