In March, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awarded internship grants to Wesleyan students planning to spend their summers pursuing experiences in diverse fields of social change. Each grant recipient was asked to report back on his/her work with blog posts and photos. Here’s one, a report from Judhanny Garcia ’14. Read other PCSE grant recipient blog posts here.
This past summer was perhaps the most productive and important summer of my life thus far. Breakthrough New York has changed me, my views on education and has even changed my career path. For 8 weeks I served as an Intern Teacher for Breakthrough New York (2 weeks of which I was rigorously trained), a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to even out the educational opportunities for high achieving students of low-income households in New York City by providing them with intensive summers that will prepare them for the next school year. Breakthrough also provides its students with high school placement support and ensures that each student is admitted into a high school that is considered college preparatory; the organization instills college in the minds of all of its students because it understands that the first person to graduate from college ends the cycle of poverty in their families forever. Their model for the summer program is students teaching students; Breakthrough New York recruits and hires college students to serve as teachers for 6 intensive weeks to rising 7th grade, rising 8th grade and rising 9th grade students. In team teaching pairs, college students are able to serve not only as educators but as mentors for what we lovingly term, our kids.
I was placed teaching 7th grade math (pre-algebra) with my team teacher Gaby. Because I am an English major and Gaby is a Geography major, we were frightened by the challenge of teaching a subject that neither of us felt was our greatest strength. It turned out that because math was a weakness for both of us, we were able to really break down the material for our students and meet them where they were in the math world as 11 and 12 year olds. We were trained to teach in a model we call “Say, See, Do cycles.” The model works as follows, the instructor says something, the class and instructor see something (perhaps a diagram or a step of a specific problem, we term these visuals VIPs) and then the students do something. This cycle is repeated for every given step of a concept/objective and through something called Active Participation (shortened as AP), which happens in the Do section of the cycle, teachers are able to assess immediately whether or not we can move on with our lesson given that every single student understands the step the class is working on. Proudly we were able to see 124% percent growth in our students by the end of the summer. It was life changing and exciting to see how our hard work had affected the lives of our kids and would go on to affect how they would perform in their math classrooms throughout the upcoming school year. Alongside my instructional coach, a veteran teacher who serves in the New York City public school system, I grew as well. Her constant support and feedback helped shape my execution in the classroom throughout the course of the summer as well as how I thought about education.
After my experience I understand fully how undervalued teaching is as a profession. My days were extremely long. Work started at 7:30 am with a staff meeting, this meant waking up at 5:30 am and being on the train by 6:15 am in order to have enough time to grab coffee and settle in. Days ended at around 6:30-7pm when all lessons for the next day was ready (perhaps even practiced) and all handouts for our students were printed. Every teacher taught two fifty-minute lessons to two different sections of students in their team teaching pairs. I had 33 students in all. In addition to this, every teacher taught an elective that met three times a week. My elective was cooking where we made mostly healthy meals/snacks/drinks like salad, watermelon lemonade, and strawberry orange ricotta cream, to name a few. Almost every minute was spent with our kids; we ate lunch family style together, we discussed school, families and neighborhoods. Some students confided in telling me how much they hate their schools. They felt shortchanged and unsafe in many of the institutions that should be educating them and keeping them safe. The educational inequality in our country’s public school system is far greater than I could have ever imagined. Even as a woman who grew up in a low income community, I can honestly say that I think our public school system is in a downward spiral and things need to be done to change it.
I am grateful that Breakthrough New York exists and that is serves its kids so whole-heartedly. I see very clearly why the Princeton Review considers Breakthrough a top ten internship. The staff is completely dedicated to the success of its kids and the Intern Teachers that the organization hires rise up to difficult challenge of being effective teachers. Throughout this summer, I had many moments of extreme excitement and happiness coupled with moments of despair, sadness and tears. I became completely invested in my students reaching mastery for every single objective and learned to accept failure when this was not the case. To me, teaching is personal and I hope that every educator agrees with this statement. From this summer, I have taken with me some remarkable teaching tools, a mindset of growth and an acceptance of failure as the key to my success. I hope to continue to be part of the movement for educational equity and enter the field of education, even if it’s just for a few years. I am truly grateful to the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship for helping to fund this life-changing experience for me.