Timely reflections from Breakthrough Collaborative’s National CEO Elissa Vanaver

Click here to read and share our latest White Paper research brief.

Read insights from our newly-released White Paper titled INSPIRING STUDENTS, DEVELOPING TEACHERS: How a Corps of College Students Closes Opportunity Gaps & Diversifies the Teacher Pipeline.

My hopes are growing for a post-pandemic world that brings more equity to the learning environment for all students.  The COVID-19 impact on schools has put a spotlight on historic disparities, and made those disparities much worse.  Recent headlines suggest a credible response from the nation’s educational leaders:  Armies of tutors are being mobilized to address the learning losses that disproportionately harm our most vulnerable youth.

That’s all good news. Still, it’s important that plans for “scalable solutions” take notice of  the  critical learning that has actually been gained over the past year. 

Disrupted school-time and shifting official policies have taught the general public an important lesson about student success: Learning is more than mastering academic content.  The social and cultural dimensions of the teacher-student interaction are key. Relationships matter. 

Unless we center these considerations in emergent tutoring initiatives, we will once again fail the students who need it most, deepening inequities and gaps that are the reality for millions of Black and brown students.

This is one reason why the Breakthrough Collaborative has chosen this moment to share its time-tested approach to training college students as tutors, mentors and role models, described in the research brief we are publishing today.

“The word that describes our teaching fellows is ‘ignitors.’ They’re the ones that really spark the excitement in our students. They are the creators of the content. They really embody that passion, sense of joy, spirit and culture that is everything Breakthrough.” Elana Elmore Program Director, Breakthrough Cincinnati

Read White Paper Report here  

For more than 40 years, Breakthrough has been creating empowering academic experiences for traditionally under-represented students across the country.  That’s tens of thousands of students who have gotten to and through college:  Breakthrough students, more than 90% of whose families qualify federal school lunch subsidies, earn 4-year degrees at the same rate as their most affluent peers. 

The insights in our White Paper, How a Corps of College Students Closes Opportunity Gaps &  Diversifies the Teacher Pipeline, represent four decades of developing a national recruitment model that is active on more than 250 college campuses. Typically Breakthrough trains more than 1,100 “teaching fellows”  for an academically rigorous middle-school summer program at 24 affiliate sites nationwide. More than 60% of fellows are diverse.

In 2020 we translated the signature Breakthrough experience into our first-ever fully virtual summer program, coaching fellows to develop meaningful relationships via online platforms, deeply engaging more than 5,000 students across the country.

Since fall, many fellows have also been deployed throughout the school year, providing the same kind of support that more affluent families hired for their children. We plan to expand our school year cohort  in 2021.

A corollary benefit of our nationwide pre-professional teacher training program: Three out of four of our fellows go on to pursue careers in the nation’s classrooms as teachers, educators, advocates, and leaders. 

Our hope is that the White Paper released today can serve as a tool for our colleague practitioners  and provide insight for policy-makers and education investors. We hope it sends a rallying message to more college-age students, helping them discover and apply their talents to change the world.

We firmly believe in this new generation of educators. They are well-equipped to combat systemic inequities, and lead our country to a place where every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. Because great education is a right, not a privilege. 

With immense hope for our future,

Elissa Vanaver is the national CEO of Breakthrough Collaborative.

For more information on this report, inquiries about partnering with Breakthrough, or to learn more about our program, please contact Ieesha M. Collins, Managing Director of External Relations.