By: Nicole Castañeda

Breakthrough Houston Teaching Fellow, SJS Summer 2021

I can still vividly remember that early Saturday morning in March of 2013 when my little sister came in running with a big letter package, “Wake up! Wake up! You got something in the mail!” 

Earlier that year, I had applied to (at the time) a small summer program. The name of this program was Breakthrough.

Being a sixth-grader at the time, I had never applied to a summer program, let alone committed  to one for six years! I vividly remember opening that package and seeing in big, bolded letters “CONGRATULATIONS!!!” Before then, I hadn’t been accepted into anything; sometimes for financial reasons, and I didn’t apply to others because I just didn’t think I would get in. I almost didn’t apply to Breakthrough due to that thought process. Thankfully, I did. Who knew that after more than six years, I’d stay for so long.

Now I am back this summer, not only as an alum, but also as a Teaching Fellow. I have three things to say regarding what I expected as a student so that our current students remember their Breakthrough experience as fondly as I do:

  1. Your students WILL remember you

Mr. Van, Mr. JB, Ms. Stretch, Ms. Rodriguez, Ms. Garcia, my Family 5 teachers from my final *student* summer at Breakthrough; if you ever read this: to this day, I still remember you guys even after six summers! It may have taken me a second to remember their names, but I remember the passion, joy, and kindness they had when teaching and interacting with us, their students. Maybe I have superhuman memory, but I can just look at a photo and remember the joy I felt at that moment. It makes me realize that this is now my turn as a teacher to instill those same emotions in our students!

         2. Your students HAVE learned.

Feeling worried that you may not be conveying the information from your lessons well enough? Do not fret; your students have most definitely learned more than you know from your classes, and your students know a great deal more than what they did at the beginning of the summer. I can attest to that as I, to this day, know that I learned more from one Breakthrough summer than an entire school year! The proof? I was taking Algebra 1 earlier in middle school than anticipated! “Well, what if they don’t like my lessons?” Don’t worry — the goal is to help them for the next school year, and you are!

          3. You WILL learn from your students.

Just as your students will learn from you, you will learn from them! In my second summer, I remember teaching a group of Teaching Fellows the famous “Cup Song,” which, at that time, was going viral. I didn’t think so much about it then, I was just happy to be there and to be sharing my interests! As a Teaching Fellow, in just the first week, I learned how much my students love playing Blooket, an online educational gaming website similar to Kahoot, but with a twist. Being informed of their interests helps build that classroom culture that makes Breakthrough so beautiful. After all, we are “students teaching students!”

Final Thoughts

I will admit, things are significantly different now than when I was a student, and it’s incredible. Seeing the evolution of Breakthrough, seeing this program grow and adapt through the years, is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what this program will be like in the upcoming years, and I am here to stay. So, hey, Breakthrough? Why are these days so great? Because they are Breakthrough days!

Preparing effective, skilled teachers is a defining strategy in Breakthrough Houston’s approach to closing the opportunity gap. Support this and critically needed student programs by:

  • Donating now and transforming the life of a Houston student.
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  • Contacting Kathy Heinzerling, Executive Director, or Melinda Guthrie, Director of Development.

Houston students need our support more than ever before. We are grateful for your partnerships in bringing equitable education and life-changing opportunities to under-resourced Houston students.