Annaya Williams was set on becoming a psychiatrist for children. Then, she stepped in front of a classroom. Now, the Lake Ridge High School graduate will study education at Xavier University of Louisiana in the fall.

“The classroom is my second home,” Williams, 18, said. “I love teaching.”

If it weren’t for Breakthrough Fort Worth, she might not have ever stepped in front of a group of students to teach them.

Breakthrough Fort Worth is a six-week summer program that gives students the chance to further their education with advanced lessons to prepare them for the next school year.

High-achieving and motivated students from all over Fort Worth apply to be part of the program, Director of Programming Jessica Manzano Valdez said. Schools don’t have all the resources students need to accomplish what they’re capable of, she said. Breakthrough works to bridge those gaps.

How it works

Breakthrough is a need-based organization that helps provide opportunities for students. The free program helps students and families who have language barriers or transportation issues that may keep them from other summer programming, Director of Operations Rudi Flores said.

The team visits middle schools to start recruitment every January. The students and parents fill out an application and the students complete an essay and need a teacher recommendation, Flores said. 

Then, students complete an interview with an admissions committee. Two hundred and sixty-seven students are in the program this year, Flores said.

Breakthrough accepts incoming seventh-12th graders for the six-week program. The students are there Monday through Thursday for the length of a typical school day, with a half day on Fridays.

They go through literature, writing, math and science classes and also have club time where the students can participate in a club they’re interested in.

Once the 10th-graders start, Flores said it’s more about college prep than the curriculum. They’re working on SAT prep and learning about the college application process.

They also can start serving as teaching fellows.  The fellows run the classroom, but have guidance from more experienced teachers.

Williams is one of about 40 teaching fellows who are soon-to-be or recent high school graduates are in the classrooms with students.

A day with a student

Yuliana Velazquez, 14, will start high school in the fall at Young Women’s Leadership Academy. She can be forgetful when it comes to school, so she wanted to use the summer to keep learning, she said.

She’s currently in her third summer with the program and said, over the course of that time, she’s seen a new version of herself. 

“I became more confident going into Breakthrough, and I began to actively participate in my classes,” Yuliana said. “And I think they gave me strength to encourage myself to participate in school, like actual school.”

The students start their day with breakfast and visiting with their peers and have a word challenge. Yuliana said it’s a chance for the students to learn a new word and grow their vocabulary.

From there, the students go to writing or literature. On July 5, the students were learning about argumentative writing. 

Williams was doing an exercise with her class on document-based questions. The goal was for the class to learn how to strip down an argument and debunk it with evidence. In their latest class, the students were reviewing arguments about e-cigarettes and the side effects of them.

The previous week, the class learned about writing an introduction.

Between classes, music like Cardi B and Bad Bunny’s ‘I Like It’ blasts in the halls. 

About halfway through the day the students have lunch and study buddy time, Yuliana said. They take time to finish homework or get help on other assignments. There’s an all-school meeting in the afternoon, where she said students “hype each other up.”

The day ends with club time. Yuliana is part of the film club, where students watch different movies and discuss them. There are other activities, like sports clubs, as well.

Visiting the site at Fort Worth Country Day looks like a mix of summer school and summer camp. The students are learning, but also getting enrichment and spending time with their peers.

Yuliana procrastinates a lot, but Breakthrough has taught her skills to manage her time better, she said. 

What they learn

In literature, each class reads a different novel, Jessica Manzano Valdez said. The goal is for students to master inferences, essentially using the text to draw conclusions and other interpretations by reading between the lines. 

What are they reading?

7th grade: The House of the Scorpion 

8th grade: Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

9th grade: Things Fall Apart

The reading material isn’t what is typically assigned in an English class, but Manzano Valdez said they want the books they choose to reflect the student population, which is largely students of color.

“We want our students to be able to see themselves in the material, to be able to just relate to some of the things that maybe you don’t relate to when you read ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” she said. “From an educator point of view, kids are more engaged.”

And as a new parent, Manzano Valdez said it’s important for her daughter to see herself in the books she reads as the main character versus the white male perspective.

While the reading and writing classes are mostly the same by grade, the math and science classes are based on what the students are taking the next school year. Class sizes are small, with less than 10 people.

From shy to confident

Like Yuliana, Breakthrough staff members said they see students growing and changing in the time they’re at the program. 

Williams said her seventh-grade students were shy at the beginning, but by the end of the first week, they had a group chat and were much more outgoing in the classroom.

When she was younger, Williams was a student with Breakthrough, so the growth she saw in herself she now sees in her students. During her time in Breakthrough, her confidence grew, as  did her writing skills. 

But the biggest lessons she learned were the core values of Breakthrough: how to be a leader, how to work in a team and how to hold herself and her teammates accountable.

Students typically start shy, Flores said. But by the time they get to high school, they have more agency in their education. 

“They’re like, ‘Yeah, this is my journey. My parents are here to support me. I have all these people behind me,’” Flores said. “That’s really cool.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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Kristen Barton

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...