“I was in the original class of Breakthrough Providence in 1992, called Summerbridge back then. I was these kids,” says Wheeler alum Eddy Davis ’99, referring to a group of students engaged in a classroom activity down the hall on Wheeler’s Providence campus. “Before coming to Wheeler, I was in a public school. My mom didn’t know what resources to have and to look for to get me into the academic places she wanted. Then we found Summerbridge, and she had to make me attend. I was rebellious, but I realized it wasn’t just school once I got here.” Mr. Davis, who recently returned to Wheeler as the new coordinator of Breakthrough Providence, points out the teachers made learning fun. “They were kids in my age range, who were high schoolers and college students. We also had certified teachers who helped mentor the younger instructors.”
What Mr. Davis is describing was (and continues to be) one of the distinctive characteristics of Breakthrough Providence. It all started in 1991 when Brown University students Michael Goldstein and Jenn David, who had both taught at Summerbridge in San Francisco as college students, saw a need for a similar program to exist in Providence that would increase academic opportunity for highly motivated but underserved students. With the combined support of both Wheeler and the national Breakthrough Collaborative, and an “unwavering belief in the power of a student-teaching-student model” (as described on the program’s website), they launched Providence Summerbridge in the summer of 1992 with its first class of rising middle schoolers–including Mr. Davis.
Twenty years later, Summerbridge Providence has changed its name to Breakthrough Providence to better align with its national partner, Breakthrough Collaborative, while repositioning its mission and initiative as being more than a summer program. Serving primarily Providence public schools students, Breakthrough’s community now includes over 2,000 alumni. “It’s a program for middle school students to bridge any summer learning loss gaps in focused academic areas of math and English while engaging everyone socially,” explains Mr. Davis. “Our program also relies on teachers who train high school and college students to become teachers, be comfortable in a classroom, and hopefully inspire some other future teachers. Our model is one where there is ongoing learning from the students to the teachers every step of the way.”
When he learned about the opportunity to become the new director of Breakthrough Providence, Mr. Davis was excited about the potential of returning to a program that he says played a pivotal role in his life. “I saw a chance to make an impact on the youth as someone who also grew up in Providence. It was an easy position to accept and get excited about!”
To this point, he describes his career path as “a little nomadic. “I have traveled the world as a basketball coach and professional coach from middle school to high school, junior college, up to the 4-year college level. I also worked as a recreation coordinator for the City of Providence in 2015. The goal was to implement new programming for Providence residents, which has since continued and been quite successful with 11 recreational centers across Providence.” In 2017, Mr. Davis moved to North Carolina to become the auxiliary program director at the Duke School in Durham. In addition to running the summer camps and non-academic programming for students from pre-school to 8th grade, he implemented a new after-school program for the middle school that increased enrollment from approximately 40 students a day to 120.
Now, Mr. Davis looks forward to applying his track record of successful program development to Breakthrough Providence while also appreciating this full circle experience. “I went from a public school to participating in this program, to attending a private independent community prep school, which helped me get into Wheeler and eventually into Utica University.”
“Breakthrough had a big impact on my life,” he adds fondly. “Some of my closest friendships began with kids in my class in 1992. And now one of them has their child attending the program this summer.”
As Mr. Davis looks at what’s ahead for Breakthrough Providence, one of his focuses is for the program to continue to be a place where teachers and staff are fostering, encouraging, and helping students achieve their academic and personal goals. “Here, teachers, mentors, and students have daily reminders of what success and hard work look like, not just what they see online or on television. The staff members are all successful in their respective ways. Having teachers who have lived similar situations or gone through similar circumstances as our students is another major reason why I wanted to come back to Breakthrough–it’s what makes the program special.”
Mr. Davis also wants Breakthrough to keep families connected throughout the school year now and into the future. “I would like to find a feeder program that will provide them with the necessary guidance through graduation. Because ultimately, Breakthrough’s mission is to help get our students into high-performing academic high schools and colleges. If we can help families achieve their education goals and navigate through applications and financial aid processes, I believe that will constitute a measure of success.”
However, a more immediate need for Breakthrough Providence has been getting the word out since returning from a programmic pause due to the pandemic. In addition to welcoming its new director, the program–which already had a long partnership with Wheeler–is now officially part of the school and its Office of Unity and Diversity, while keeping close ties with and often seeking counsel from former and current stakeholders. “I view this summer as a season of revitalization for us,” says Mr. Davis optimistically. “This group is small but mighty, and the kids have brought so much fun and enthusiasm; I am excited for what the future brings moving forward!”