3 W&J students lead college prep program for underserved communities through Breakthrough Houston

Created: July 31, 2020
Last Updated: July 31, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (July 31, 2020)— Kelsey Julien ’21, Kenneth Jimenez ’21, and Mariana Reyes ’22 all experienced virtual classrooms as students at Washington & Jefferson College this semester, but their summer work showed them what it was like on the other side of the virtual classroom. The three served as teachers in the Houston Breakthrough Collaborative summer educational program, designed to offer college prep education options to students from underserved communities.

The trio are friends—and Kenneth and Mariana are both education majors—but for all three to earn teaching fellow positions in this program was serendipity. English major Kelsey was familiar with the program because she previously served as a teaching fellow with the Breakthrough Collaborative. She shared her experience with Kenneth and Mariana, who decided to apply independently of one another.

“It happened organically for the three to be working in this summer. The Houston site has three different locations, so the odds of us working together were slim,” Kenneth said. “Once the roster was released, I saw [Kelsey and Mariana’s] names. It was great, because just in case we needed help, we could easily reach out to one another. Since Mariana and I had taken education courses together at W&J, we can put what we learned into action in the real world.”

As teaching fellows, they are each in charge of five students who they meet with every morning before their classes for announcements and to provide support. All three teach in English Language Arts (ELA) positions and are responsible for creating lesson plans and teaching the class on their own, though they do meet with an instructional coach who offers guidance and support. In addition to a core competency, fellows also co-teach an elective class which students are able to pick.

“Thanks to the W&J Education Program, I have had a lot of practice making lesson plans and getting creative in order to keep the class entertained. I learned that I have to adapt my own teaching to accommodate and reach every student’s needs in order to have an equal learning space,” Mariana said.

Through Breakthrough Houston, the students have gotten to do something that is important to each of them: give back. The program has been a great catalyst for former YESPrep student Kenneth, who wants to give back through the education system that boosted him as he completed high school. He hopes to return to his high school through Teach For America. And for Mariana and Kelsey, it’s a great way to give back to their native Houston.

“I have always had a passion for teaching and helping others. I was attracted to Breakthrough’s mission of serving students from underrepresented communities and in the belief that all students should have access to an equal education, bridging this opportunity gap,” Kelsey said. “Breakthrough’s work is so important, and its commitment to its students in advancing their education is transformative. One of my main goals in my life is to be a catalyst for social change, and teaching at Breakthrough is a wonderful way for me to do so.”

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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