Students Teaching Students

A unique summer enrichment program begins tomorrow at two Houston schools. This program has college and high school students teaching middle school students, and motivating them to stay in school and go to college. Jim Bell reports.

That's not going to be very hard to do because these middle school students are already motivated — so much so they're willing to give up six weeks of their summer, and their Saturdays during the school year for this enrichment program called Breakthrough Houston. Development Director Samantha Singh says most of the students are minorities.

"58 percent of these students will be the first in their families to attend college.  92 percent of them are students of color, and 65 percent of them qualify for free or reduced price lunch."

The students are recruited out of half a dozen schools in predominantly minority and low income areas of the Houston School District.

"Perhaps they don't have the resources to participate in a summer long program or get the extra enrichment, that they're not getting within their public school, so we try to supplement that." 

The classes are held in donated space at two private schools; Episcopal High School and St. John the Divine. The Saturday session curriculum during the school year has core subjects and two electives, and core plus a bunch of electives in the daily summer sessions.  Singh says the electives vary year to year because they let the student teachers pick them.

"So for instance we have dance, we have sports, we have art, photography, we have poetry, hip-hop, they get really creative during the summer."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Breakthrough Houston is that the teachers are college and high school students. Sarah Ruffin is one of them. She's a senior English major at Texas State University in San Marcos. Sarah says it's inspiring to teach motivated kids who really want to be there.

"These kids, you know, are the future of our country.  They're going to be the next doctors and lawyers and leaders, and Breakthrough is such a great opportunity for them because they come to us in the summer to work and get ahead in the schools and they go back to HISD, and to their schools they're going to be that much more ahead."

Breakthrough Houston is part of a national program that was once known as Summerbridge, which started on the west coast in the 70s, spread all over the country, and came to Houston in 1996.  Samantha Singh says the proof is in the numbers. Over 12 summers, 750 HISD middle schoolers, mostly minorities, have gone through the Breakthrough program. All have gone to college, and 85 percent have graduated.  It really is amazing what a little motivation can do. 

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.