Breakthrough Manchester Day 1 2023
Breakthrough Manchester: A Path to College Through Near-Peer Teaching and Mentorship

Breakthrough Manchester offers an intensive educational framework for students at risk for not being able to fill their potential. The typical Breakthrough Manchester participant is underserved, with no path to appropriate educational opportunities that expand their chances of not only getting ahead academically, but in life in general. The programs of Breakthrough Manchester, and its students-teaching-students model is one-of-a-kind, teaching students to become teachers, and student teachers to become mentors to those starting off on their educational journeys.

The point of Breakthrough Manchester is to facilitate entry to college and subsequent college graduation. But Breakthrough Manchester is also about developing leadership skills and giving back to other students on their way up the educational ladder. This latest small grant recipient has a novel approach and program worthy of emulation. To that end, we put some questions to Breakthrough Manchester Director of Philanthropy & Communications Alice J. Handwerk, to learn more about this work:

Kars4Kids: Tell us something about your demographic. Who does Breakthrough Manchester serve?

Alice Handwerk: Breakthrough Manchester’s six-year, tuition-free, college-access program serves students traditionally underrepresented on college campuses. Our student population includes:

  • 68% will be first-generation college graduates
  • 85% identify as BIPOC
  • 55% qualify for free or reduced lunch
  • 34% live with an alternative head of household (single parent, relative, foster)
  • 70% speak a language other than English at home

Grade 8 Breakthrough Manchester

Kars4Kids: What can you tell us about your dual mission of “students-teaching-students?” What are the benefits of having students teach students?

Alice Handwerk: Breakthrough Manchester’s unique “students-teaching-students” dual mission provides six years of intensive, tuition-free academic programming to support Manchester students from traditionally underserved communities on their path to college while inspiring emerging leaders in high school and college to be the next generation of educators and advocates for educational equity.

Breakthrough’s foundation is an academically rigorous 6-week program with a balance of summer camp fun. Promising Manchester middle school students with limited opportunities partner with high school and college-aged teaching fellows to partake in both sides of Breakthrough’s proven dual mission. Middle school students respond positively to near-peer college students’ teaching and mentoring. Teaching fellows:

  • share their knowledge and love of learning
  • create safe spaces for conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • speak about their experiences applying to and selecting colleges
  • share what it is like to live and learn on a university campus or spend a year abroad

They make learning fun and the summer truly memorable!

Teaching fellows are in turn mentored and supported by instructional coaches – highly skilled, veteran teachers from regional schools.

Kars4Kids: Breakthrough Manchester offers a tuition-free three-year program for promising Manchester middle school students. What constitutes a “promising student?”

Alice Handwerk: Breakthrough partners with the Manchester School District for student recruitment. Guidance counselors at each middle school identify academically motivated sixth-grade students who would benefit from Breakthrough and meet two or more recruitment criteria:

  • will be first-generation college graduates
  • identify as BIPOC
  • qualify for free or reduced lunch
  • live with an alternative head of household (single parent, relative, foster)
  • speak a language other than English at home

After a Breakthrough summer, middle school teachers note a boost in confidence, competence, and leadership skills once Breakthrough scholars return to their respective schools.

Breakthrough Manchester has been providing college access and teacher training for 33 years. Since Breakthrough’s College-Bound program for high school students launched in 2016, 100% of Breakthrough alumni have pursued higher education with 98% attending 4-year colleges. Last year we had one student enter the Navy and another enroll in trade school to be an electrician.

Kars4Kids: Talk to us about your Middle School Summer Program. How does it work? What do the kids in this program learn?

Alice Handwerk: A Breakthrough summer focuses on rigorous academic enrichment with a balance of summer camp fun. Summer focuses on filling in gaps, mastering skills from the previous school year, and learning concepts to set students up for success in the year ahead. College-aged teaching fellows passionate about teaching through a lens of social justice mentor middle school students while adding creative twists to math, science, literature, and writing. After core courses every morning, there are extracurriculars like astronomy, quidditch, music, knitting, German, and lacrosse, followed by community-building activities. Students visit at least two colleges each summer in New Hampshire and Boston. These college visits allow our students to envision themselves in college and beyond!

With an “Under the Sea” theme, 93 students and 24 teaching fellows dove into teaching and learning, embracing new experiences together last summer. Under the Sea Summer 2023 highlights include:

  • Learning about body systems and dissecting animal hearts in biology, learning about the elements and performing labs testing various solutions in chemistry, and applying Newton’s Laws to create functional paper roller coasters for marbles in physics
  • Inspiring literature discussions around reading The Other Wes Moore, Raisin in the Sun, The Arrival, and Farewell to Manzanar – making connections with history and students’ worlds
  • Writing classes empower students to express themselves and their beliefs, through persuasive, argumentative, and personal narrative essays
  • Math – algebra and geometry, word problems, and graphs – with creative twists like chalking number lines on the macadam and jumping along the line to solve problems

And that’s only what happened in the mornings! Afternoons were filled with:

  • College fairs to learn about the colleges attended by our 24 creative, engaging teaching fellows
  • Career fairs start students thinking about future dreams and the paths to get them there
  • Service and gratitude: Our students made over 171 cards and bracelets to brighten the days of children in local hospitals!
  • Students climbed mountains, took a ferry to visit an island off the coast of New Hampshire, explored local colleges and museums in New Hampshire and Boston – and so much more!

Over breakfast on the final day of summer, each 7th grader, even those who were nervous and a little shy on the first day, stood up and spoke in a loud voice to all 120 of us to answer the question of the day “What was your favorite summer activity at Breakthrough?”

The Boston field trip – visiting colleges, riding trains, and exploring art museums was a top choice, as well as Olympics Day -competing in Jeopardy on their college teams, building paper boats to float, or passing soapy watermelons! BTM packs a full school year of activities into our 6-week summer program!

BTM packs a full school year of activities into our 6-week summer program!

Kars4Kids: Can you give us an overview of your School Year Program? Who teaches this program?

Alice Handwerk: During the school year, 7th and 8th graders participate in 5 Super Saturdays, each with its own theme. Teaching interns for the school year program are high school juniors and seniors. One of our most popular Super Saturdays last year had a STEM focus and included:

  • Making blubber in Blubbering It Up
  • pGlo Lab exploring biotechnology and making bacteria glow green!
  • Using geometry to create artistic designs in The Geometry of Art
  • An Intro to Engineering class
  • Making matchbox size race cars and competing to go the farthest in DIY Race
  • Egg Drop contest!

Kars4Kids: You have a College-Bound Program at Southern New Hampshire University. What can you tell us about this program?

Alice Handwerk: Breakthrough’s College-Bound program is hosted on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University and is focused on our high school students. Each school year is comprised of ten College-Bound Saturdays focused on all aspects of the college process:

  • 9th grade focuses on essential transferable skills
  • 10th grade is college exploration and career readiness
  • 11th grade focuses on goal setting, college search, and the application process
  • 12th grade is college preparations, applications, and adjusting to college life

The mentors in our College-Bound program are college students, several of whom serve as summer teaching fellows or were Breakthrough students themselves.

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us something about your Teaching Fellow Program?

Alice Handwerk: The second part of Breakthrough’s dual-mission addresses workforce development by training future educators and leaders to help fuel the pipeline addressing the critical national teacher shortage. Breakthrough is a highly-regarded teacher training and development program for high school and college students from across the state and around the country. Breakthrough is an incubator of excellence in mentored learning and teaching in a “students teaching students” model. These older students, who are considering or pursuing careers in education, are recruited nationally and trained to teach and mentor the Breakthrough students in small, upbeat, rigorous academic classes during the summer and on monthly Saturdays during the school year. Student teachers are in turn mentored and supported by instructional coaches – highly-skilled, professional teachers.

From colleges and universities throughout the United States, our teaching fellows arrive ready to engage in a fast-paced and energetic summer of teaching and learning. They solo teach two sections of academics every day, as well as co-teach an extracurricular activity. Instructional coaches, master teachers with at least five years of experience, observe and coach, providing weekly praises and prompts to help develop teaching fellows’ instructional skills. They participate in daily department meetings and weekly professional development workshops. Teaching fellows are also advisors to a small group of students, providing academic and social-emotional mentoring and support. Teaching fellows serve on at least one committee with significant responsibility for summer programming. Through this Breakthrough internship, our teaching fellows’ learning reaches beyond teaching to develop confidence and leadership skills that will enhance their college experiences and life choices.

Kars4Kids: You also have a School Year Teaching Internship. Can you describe this internship for us?

Alice Handwerk: Breakthrough’s School Year Teaching Internship is focused on juniors and seniors in high school who serve as mentors to Breakthrough’s 7th and 8th-grade students. There are five Super Saturdays over the school year, each with its own theme. The teaching interns mentor 3 or 4 students over the year and co-teach 2 classes each Saturday or plan a community block activity as a team. They work with an Instructional Coach to develop their lesson plan and put together their class, with the coach providing praises and prompts at the end of the day.

Kars4Kids: Can you share some success stories from Breakthrough Manchester participants?

Alice Handwerk: Chau, a first-generation Vietnamese American, Breakthrough student, and teacher alumna, shares her most impactful moment as a Breakthrough student working with her advisor, Phuong. Before Breakthrough, Chau had never had a teacher who looked like her. (According to the EdTrust Report, If You Listen, We Will Stay, “Students should be able to see not just windows, but also mirror images of themselves leading classrooms. But if they’re students of color, they just get windows and are constantly seeing other people.”) Phuong was the first teacher to connect with Chau’s parents, brushing up on Vietnamese in preparation. Having an Asian American teacher inspired Chau to enter the field of education. She holds an MEd in Education Policy and Analysis from Harvard which she received on a full Urban Fellow Scholarship, and serves on our Breakthrough Advisory Committee. She is one of many Breakthrough success stories!

Asseb Niazi shares, “One of the best decisions I ever made was joining Breakthrough. When I was a 6-year-old working in a shoe factory in Pakistan, waiting for our refugee case, I never could have imagined I would become a Foreign Service Officer (American Diplomat). But as a boisterous fifth grader, with a less-than-ideal command of the English Language, I started a journey with Breakthrough that transformed my life. My many years at Breakthrough, both as a student and teacher, helped me grow personally, academically, and professionally. My story seems impossible, but that is the magic of Breakthrough: it allows students to achieve things they never could have dreamed.”

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Breakthrough Manchester?

Alice Handwerk: This summer will be Breakthrough Manchester’s 33rd and we can’t wait!

Breakthrough Manchester’s Strategic Plan initiative to build organizational capacity strives to serve more students and share its success by establishing a second campus in Nashua, NH. Nashua is New Hampshire’s 2nd largest city and has similar demographics to Manchester and a demonstrated need for a program like Breakthrough. We have support from the superintendent of schools and many educational and community partners and are looking for a program host in hopes of launching a program in the fall of 2024.

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