Breakthrough’s Purposeful Pivot: How we’re shifting in-person programs to “virtual,” and learning with thousands of students this summer

We’re excited that Breakthrough programs already underway are seeing up to 93% of their middle-school students engage. Only by investing our collective energy into enhancing  the student-teacher connection can communities ensure we are making the most of whatever school landscape our students encounter come fall. Together, let’s make up for lost time, and lost learning.” -Elissa Vanaver, Breakthrough Collaborative CEO

At Breakthrough Collaborative, we believe in the growth mindset. It is the art of turning setbacks into learning opportunities. This is exhibited year after year in the unwavering resilience of our students and teaching fellows. This summer, we embraced this mindset as an organization so our students could continue to make gains despite facing virtual setbacks that inhibited learning growth and inequitable resource gaps in the education landscape that have been further widened by COVID-19. Through our virtual summer programs, we are delivering more than 320,000 hours of learning time this summer for more than 4,500 students nationwide.

Last March, fearing the worst but hoping for the best, Breakthrough’s National Office and affiliate leaders began convening small work groups to strategize and retool our rigorous in-person summer program to be completely virtual in a way that bolsters the student-teacher relationships that are the true conduit of learning. 

“I really can’t imagine anything more difficult than reinventing the program in this time of COVID and separation. But Breakthrough did it.” David Jackson, Former Interim Executive Director at Breakthrough Collaborative and Head of School  San Francisco Day School shared after attending Breakthrough Coast-to-Coast Day, a showcase of our virtual summer programs in action.

Figuring out creative ways to replicate the high-energy, highly personalized and contagiously fun learning environment that is Breakthrough’s hallmark became a priority. This work led us to place a special emphasis on leveraging safe spaces and intentional programs to address the emotional trauma of social isolation, family financial challenges, and the impact of civil disruption in pursuit of equality. 

Our online time became all about community. We have preserved small group advisories, where teaching fellows connect more profoundly with students and share social emotional needs and tools.

The next leg of this urgent work included curating online teacher training modules and student curricula that could easily be customized with local context and securing preferred pricing and full-time tech support for online learning platforms and digital tools enabling premium access for affiliates. This was all made possible by the steadfast support and generosity of our institutional partners who were there with us on the front lines from day one.

“While we believe Breakthrough’s work is always important, we know that this summer is especially critical with so much having been lost over the past school year in the spring and an uncertain academic year looming ahead,” Angelica Leveroni Gomez of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation shared in her remarks at Coast-to-Coast day.

Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation seeks to change the odds for historically marginalized students by investing in solutions that support equity in education. CLSFF remains a steadfast partner with Breakthrough Collaborative in addressing racial equity, a commitment that informs every area of their work. In addition to its ongoing support and guidance, CLSFF is investing in Breakthrough Collaborative to prepare our affiliates to provide high-quality summer learning and to equip Teaching Fellows and Instructional Coaches to deliver excellent distance learning experiences and engage Breakthrough students throughout summer 2020.

Breakthrough Kent Denver Virtual Teaching Fellow Training

AT&T is generously supporting our efforts to support and connect students with distance learning and equip Breakthrough Teaching Fellows to deliver excellent distance learning experiences this summer through their Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund. This Fund was specifically designed to provide meaningful connections for parents, students, and teachers and create the best digital learning environment amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Breakthrough Collaborative is proud to partner with AT&T on our shared goal to ensure Breakthrough students everywhere reach their highest potential.


Breakthrough Fort Worth Virtual All School Meeting

All Points North Foundation recognizes the vital importance of the middle school years in shaping the future of our nation’s youth. In addition to supporting professional development for Breakthrough Teaching Fellows through its regular grantmaking, All Points North Foundation quickly stepped in at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to invest in the development and deployment of resources to our programs, ensuring a fully realized online program that is both rigorous and engaging, and providing capacity building and training for staff, Teaching Fellows, and Instructional Coaches. All Points North Foundation’s continued and timely support simultaneously helps address existing barriers to distance learning and mitigate the academic gaps that will disproportionately impact under-resourced students as a result of this crisis.

Breakthrough Coast-to-Coast Day (Panel of Teaching Fellows, Students, and Alumni).