Student teachers are making a ‘breakthrough’

By Carlynn Hickenbotham

Mason Nyman doesn’t have to wonder what it’s like to be a teacher. Through the Breakthrough Austin program this summer, he will get to experience teaching today’s youth for himself.

Breakthrough is a non-profit organization with a mission to get children from lower-income families in Central Texas to attend college. Statistics from the Breakthrough homepage show that less than 6 percent of Central Texas middle school students from low-income communities are finishing college, and only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates.

While Breakthrough operates year-round, the summer is the only time student teachers are brought in to teach the class due to the increased number of middle schoolers and the heavier workload for the staff. Nyman said that summer is the most important time for the program.

“It’s kind of the lynch pin of the entire program,” said Nyman, an economics and mathematics junior from the University of Texas at Austin. “So they need additional support during this time.”

Kate Garrett, director of Annual and Corporate Giving for Breakthrough Central Texas, said that Breakthrough has around 149 teaching fellows from various universities participating in its summer program.

“Many of these teaching fellows are also former Breakthrough students, so they can definitely identify with what our students are going through,” Garrett said. “We definitely believe that this peer-to-peer model is one of the critical reasons our students are so propelled to succeed as college students.”

Chloe Cude, an international studies junior from Baylor University, said she believed the middle school students would be to relate to someone closer to their own age.

“[Breakthrough] likes having younger people teach the students because we’re more relatable,” Cude said. “They respect that the relationships we form with students can become more solid.”

This is Nyman’s second time teaching during the summer for the program after being recommended by his high school teacher. Nyman graduated from Manor New Tech High School, which is in one of the school districts that Breakthrough operates in. He decided to return because he felt both a personal connection to what the program stands for and a passion for the change he hoped he was making for the students.

“My high school teacher thought that I would be suited for the job,” Nyman said. “I came from a lower-income home myself and education is really important to me so I thought this would be a good way to get involved and give back to others.”

Cude heard about Breakthrough through the career services office at her school as one of the many options for summer internships. This is her first time teaching for program, and she is brand new to the Austin area.

“I just kind of stumbled upon it,” Cude said. “I don’t even know if I want to be a teacher.”