In 1992, the Providence Summerbridge Program, which was founded by two Brown University students to provide academic opportunity to highly motivated and underserved students in the Providence Public Schools, engaged its first class of middle school students at its host campus—The Wheeler School. In the three decades since, the program has changed its name to Breakthrough Providence to align with its national partner, Breakthrough Collaborative, and has worked with more than 2,000 students and teaching staff.
Breakthrough Providence (BTP) uses a “students teaching students” model where high school and college students, some of whom are graduates of the middle school program, are trained as Teaching Fellows and Cluster Members. In these roles, they support students in developing their literacy and math skills, and they plan and facilitate activities focused on social-emotional learning.
This summer, 16 new staff members received more than 50 hours of training from the Breakthrough Providence team on effective teaching practices, student engagement strategies, event planning, and BTP culture. As Teaching Fellows and Cluster Members, they supported 30 students in academics, enrichment activities, and special events including Spirit Weeks, Arts & Science Exploration Day, and College Day.
“Our goal this summer was to provide a safe return to in-person programming for our students and staff,” says Breakthrough Providence Executive Director Drine Paul. “While we served a smaller number of students than usual due to the continued impacts of the pandemic, we strived to provide the academic enrichment we know our students needed, while also further developing their social and leadership skills as they prepared for the upcoming school year. Our dynamic summer staff supported us in achieving these goals, while also increasing their own interest to pursue careers in the education field.”
One of those dynamic staff members was Teaching Fellow Opeyemi Olagunju. “ I loved lesson planning and thinking of fun things to keep the students engaged,” Olagunju says. I loved being able to close the classroom door and block everything else out and just be with the students. Those parts of the experience were amazing.”
Another 2021 Teaching Fellow, Ashley Lima, who is also a graduate of Breakthrough Providence, describes the program as “a community of growth and success. I only look forward to what my future with BTP holds.”
For other Breakthrough Providence alums, like Henry and Enma, the program has become a multi-generational experience. Henry was a part of the first Summerbridge cohort in 1992 and later served as a Teaching Fellow. Emna was one of his students. During this last summer, Henry’s daughter, Jayleen, and Emna’s son, Manny, were both Breakthrough students.
Drine Paul looks forward to more full circle stories like Henry and Enma’s as Breakthrough Providence continues to build on its 30-year history of impacting both the Providence students who participate in the program and the high school and college students who become educational leaders. BTP will recognize its milestone anniversary in summer 2022 with a special celebration. The program will share more information about that event with its community and Wheeler partners later this year.