BTC’s core program is its annual, six-week Summer Scholars Program during which our middle school students (Scholars) develop the academic, social-emotional, and organizational skills that will enable them to succeed in college preparatory high schools, graduate from high school on time, and matriculate at four-year colleges/universities.
BTC’s application process is rigorous and admission to the program is selective. Students are eligible to apply to BTC as fifth graders. BTC’s application packet requires students to submit a variety of materials, including short-answer and essay responses to questions about their interest in, and commitment to, BTC; a letter of recommendation from their language arts, history/social studies, math, or science teacher; and copies of their transcripts, test scores, and attendance records. BTC extends admission to students who demonstrate intrinsic academic motivation; a determination to learn; the desire to join, and contribute to, a new community; a voluntary willingness to make a multi-year commitment to the program; and the need for access to academic enrichment opportunities and supplemental educational resources.
To gain an understanding of students’ need for access to academic enrichment opportunities and supplemental educational resources, BTC considers the contexts and climates of students’ lives outside school (Harvard Family Research Project, 2006). Research shows that numerous out-of-school factors (OSFs) impact students’ learning and influence their academic achievement (Berliner, 2009). Thus, an important component of BTC’s admissions decision-making model is consideration of OSFs vis-à-vis each applicant.
BTC reviews each applicant’s information as it relates to five specific OSFs. In their applications, students – with their parents/guardians/family members’ help – indicate if they are racial/ethnic minorities, qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, will be first-generation college students, live in single-parent households/experience stress at home, and/or speak a language other than English at home. Students must identify with at least two of these five OSFs to be admitted to BTC. 99% of our current cohort of BTC Scholars are racial/ethnic minorities, 69% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 68% will be first-generation college students, 66% live in single-parent households/experience stress at home, and 11% speak a language other than English at home.
BTC Scholars are expected to participate in the program for four consecutive summers as rising sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students. To confirm their enrollment in BTC, new Scholars and their parents/guardians/family members must sign a contract that reflects their intention to fulfill this four-year commitment. This commitment is vital to the integrity and continuation of BTC’s student cohort model (The Posse Foundation).
Each year, we select undergraduate college students to participate in BTC’s nine-week teaching residency as Teaching Fellows. Their experiences begin with two weeks of training and professional development workshops, which we call “Breakthrough Instructional Training” (BIT). The purpose of BIT is to help Teaching Fellows develop their pedagogical practices and support them as they write the curricula they will implement during the summer. With the ongoing guidance of, and consistent verbal and written feedback from, Instructional Coaches, Teaching Fellows serve as lead teachers in their own classrooms for the duration of BTC’s six-week Summer Scholars Program. Teaching Fellows concluded their work at BTC with a week of reflection on, and debriefing of, their experiences with their peers. The Princeton Review, the White House, and MTV have all ranked a Teaching Fellowship with the Breakthrough Collaborative as a “Top 10 Internship” for college students.
During a typical day at BTC, Scholars participate in a variety of activities. In the morning, they attend classes in BTC’s four core subjects, which include language arts, history/social studies, math, and science. In the afternoon, Scholars attend a foreign language class and two academic elective courses. Each weekday evening, Scholars complete up to two hours of homework. Scholars assume responsibility for their education by developing and maintaining personal organizational systems, leading their own family-teacher conferences, and preparing for end-of-summer assessments.
To complement the rigor of its academic programming, BTC fosters a high-energy, caring, and fun environment for its Scholars and Teaching Fellows. Scholars consistently receive individual attention and affirmation from Teaching Fellows. Collectively, Scholars and Teaching Fellows rally around a shared Breakthrough culture, which is demonstrated through our daily “All School Meeting”, the “Breakthrough Handshake”, and grade-specific “Families”. Through this common culture, Scholars and Teaching Fellows celebrate the idea that it is “cool to be smart”!
In keeping with our goal of serving the whole child, BTC provides Scholars with round-trip transportation on yellow school buses, two healthy meals a day, and all classroom supplies at no cost.