Not surprisingly, what many of us volunteers find to be the most rewarding aspect of the program is the opportunity to positively affect the lives of exceptional scholars from across Miami. However, no matter how much of a positive impact we may have on the Breakthrough Scholars, their impact on us has always been and continues to be considerably greater. That’s the magic of this special program, which was founded by two Ransom Everglades alumni (John Flickinger ’74 and Doug Weiser ’74) and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
I started my journey with Breakthrough as a volunteer, offering my services during Saturday programming during the school year. I originally involved myself through the RE speech and debate team, a program I have been a part of for all of high school and whose service opportunities include leading the Speech and Debate elective on Breakthrough Saturdays. After this initial introduction, I became increasingly involved with Breakthrough. I continued to volunteer, trying my hand at different electives, leading advisories and even helping with academic enrichment sessions. It was this experience that encouraged me to apply for a Teaching Fellow position during the summer of 2021. I have loved all my time spent with Breakthrough Miami, but my most meaningful and impactful experience was my summer as a Teaching Fellow.
The “Teaching Fellow Experience” is one that cannot be replicated outside of Breakthrough. Not only is the program’s learning model entirely unique, but it also manages to use students-teaching-students as a way of improving access to education while simultaneously helping Teaching Fellows develop skills that are non-quantifiable. This summer taught me more about problem solving, communication, leadership, teamwork and independence than any other experience I have had in my high school career. Before the start of the summer program, we were all given a crash course on how to be a Teaching Fellow. We learned about classroom management, lesson planning, presentational speaking and everything else we needed to know. But there is only so much that can be learned without experience; I really started learning on my first day of class. I stood in front of 15 fifth graders chatting among themselves, cleared my throat, and immediately all eyes were on me. The first thing I remember thinking was, “Where’s the adult?”! Of course, I quickly remembered I was the adult and moved right along into my lesson, but I’ll never forget that initial moment of alarm.
Breakthrough was my first experience on the other side of the desk, and it was certainly difficult to make that transition from student to teacher. One of the biggest challenges I had as a Teaching Fellow was lesson planning. I taught fifth-grade science and, while every subject gets an established curriculum, I was responsible for deciding how to teach the material in an engaging way. I did a lot of research to make my lesson plans each week and, eventually, just like everyone else, I found my groove. One challenge that I did not anticipate, however, was connecting with my students. Standing in front of my class on the first day, I immediately understood that my biggest challenge of the summer was not actually going to be lesson planning or teaching; it was going to be finding a way to earn the acceptance of the 50 10-year-olds I taught. What I found, though, through much trial and error, is that students are drawn to authenticity. The way to gain their respect is not by putting on the persona of a teacher; it is by simply being yourself. Breakthrough Miami is a community that is authentic to its core. Scholars, volunteers, Teaching Fellows and staff alike are encouraged to be their unique selves, and that is what ultimately makes the program so special. I am graduating this spring, so I will be saying goodbye to a long and meaningful experience as a Breakthrough volunteer.
My hope is that this program will continue to thrive and make a difference for local children in years to come. Breakthrough has been changing lives for the past 30 years, and I hope it will continue to do the same for many more!
By Lauren Zanarini ’22