‘I feel more prepared.’ Students are never alone with these 3 Miami education groups

·10 min read

Education has always been a mission of inspiration.

And for the past 19 months, that has been especially challenging. Everyone has had to pivot.

Three Miami education assistance groups quickly reworked their teaching and mentoring formulas to make sure the young people they help had the resources to thrive.

Breakthrough Miami, Educate Tomorrow and Hope for Miami didn’t miss a beat in continuing to help students in their learning journeys.

They kept prevention and life-skills programs going in virtual form, they connected service leadership mentors and mentees through Zoom, and they courageously opened safe after-school programs and summer camps when mandates allowed.

And they made sure homeless students continued to find their ways into college.

Here are their stories.

Breakthrough Miami

Creating a cycle of promise has been at the heart of Breakthrough Miami for 30 years.

The organization is nationally recognized as a model for out-of-school academic enrichment and youth leadership.

During the pandemic, it developed virtual curriculum; provided online academic support to students and parents as families transitioned to distance learning and developed professional development for in-service teachers, aspiring teachers, mentors and coaches.

In celebrating its anniversary, many who are involved are reflecting on how far the group has come and what a difference it has made.

“Going to Breakthrough Miami completely shattered my view of the world in the best way possible,” said Lauren Zanarini, a Breakthrough Miami teaching fellow and a senior at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove.

Breakthrough Miami Teaching Fellow Lauren Zanarini, a senior at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, instructs fifth grade Breakthrough Scholars Abigail Morales and Kaleigh Burse around a science project that will demonstrate their understanding of the scientific method.
Breakthrough Miami Teaching Fellow Lauren Zanarini, a senior at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, instructs fifth grade Breakthrough Scholars Abigail Morales and Kaleigh Burse around a science project that will demonstrate their understanding of the scientific method.

“It’s impossible to address inequalities in the world unless you’re able to see them and recognize them for what they are,” she said. “That’s what I think makes Breakthrough’s partnership with Ransom Everglades such a great partnership, because not only are we able to share the resources that we are so lucky to have, we’re also able to have the opportunity to experience things that we may not otherwise experience in a way that will push us to give others those same opportunities.”

When looking back on his journey, Breakthrough Miami alum Darren Printemps said: “For the past 10 years as a scholar who became a volunteer and subsequently, a teaching fellow, Breakthrough Miami has provided the leadership, guidance and access to resources that many kids in my community couldn’t tap into.

“I saw myself in those who were mentoring me, teaching with passion and humility. It’s what inspired me to want to become an educator.”

Printemps, who was raised in Miami Gardens, is now pursuing his degree in education so he can return to the classroom as an elementary education teacher.

In 2020, Breakthrough Miami was recognized for outstanding virtual programming during the pandemic and was awarded the “Innovation in Distance Learning Award” by the Florida Education Foundation. Also in 2020, of the 300 Gates scholarships awarded nationally, three were awarded to Breakthrough Miami scholars.

Encouraging high school scholars to volunteer at middle school sites fosters the service leadership program.

From a humble beginning serving 40 students at one site, the organization now serves 1,300 students across six sites — Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, Gulliver Prep, Miami Country Day School, Palmer Trinity School, Ransom Everglades School and the University of Miami.

A partnership with Florida International University introduced a new summer STEAM program for high school students in collaboration with Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios. Now in its sixth year, it is a unique introduction to 3-D printing and design.

Founded in 1991 as Summerbridge Miami, an embedded service-learning model initiated by Ransom Everglades School faculty member Joe Mauro, and Ransom alumni John Flickinger and Doug Weiser, Breakthrough Miami is one of the largest affiliates within the national Breakthrough Collaborative of 25 affiliates.

“Breakthrough Miami is, as its name implies, a true breakthrough, advancing opportunity for highly motivated students from traditionally marginalized communities,” said Erin Kobetz, vice provost for research at the UM Miller School of Medicine.

“I feel honored to engage with Breakthrough as a donor, partner, and parent of a teaching fellow. My son, Max, was transformed by his involvement in the program and his students, especially. Breakthrough gave him real world insight into educational inequities and his ability to be an agent of change as a mentor and advocate.”

For Chiyle Briggins, a Breakthrough Miami scholar alum and undergrad at Florida A&M University, the group was also a major source of support for the college application process during the pandemic. Here’s what he said:

“Despite everyone and everything being virtual, Breakthrough made sure we had access to valuable ACT/SAT test prep resources, and they always notified us of important scholarship opportunities. They were consistently one step ahead of us and when I wasn’t dreaming big enough, my site director challenged me to pursue some of the more competitive financial aid opportunities.

“As a result, I applied and was awarded a four-year scholarship from the Nat Moore Scholarship Endowment Fund. The most beneficial aspect of BreakthroughU for me, was the College Access Coaching program that matched me with a coach who was relatable, and coincidentally, an alum of FAMU.

“My coach, Akie, is like a second brother to me. By sharing his own experiences, I feel more prepared for college and have a deeper understanding of the pitfalls to avoid. It also felt good to know that someone outside of my family believed in me, and knew what I was capable of achieving. Over the years, Breakthrough has taught me the power of my dreams and how to own my future. Breakthrough is really about becoming who you are supposed to be.”

Reflecting on the group’s success, Chief Executive Officer Lori-Ann Cox said it has been tireless work of building and growing to address equitable access to opportunity.

“With a culture of high expectations, rigor, positivity, community, and wraparound love and support, our legacy is unquestionably shaped by the energy and commitment of our dynamic village — and most notably, the scholars, volunteers, teaching fellows, staff and a myriad of individuals and partners who are committed to lean in, learn and lead together.”

Educate Tomorrow

Going to college to learn advanced skills for the working world is an accomplishment for anyone.

Achieving it as a student without a home or as a youth in foster care takes courage and persistence. And help.

“It takes a lot of work to prepare for college, and if they need us we are there,” said Amy Rubinson, care coordinator manager with Educate Tomorrow. “We really build a village and help them survive.”

One of its partners is Project Upstart, and together the groups work with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to identify students experiencing homelessness.

Each year, Rubinson said, they assist about 50 high school seniors, 40 juniors, and 20 freshmen and sophomores.

This past summer, Educate Tomorrow supported nearly 50 high school graduates from the class of 2021, Rubinson said.

“We worked intensely with 17 youth who engaged in a marketing internship to promote FAFSA completion among their communities, learned about professional paths using career assessments and personal research, and most importantly built a network of successful peers to provide support as they navigate their first years of college.

“Of our 17 summer participants, 16 have already begun college.”

One of the group’s success stories is Nakia Alexander, who completed her studies at the Miami Dade College School for Advanced Studies and was accepted to Yale, Harvard and UPenn, among others, all while earning her associate degree before getting her high school diploma.

“Nakia chose Yale and is a Gates Millennium Scholar, which covers full costs for undergraduate tuition and fees,” Rubinson said.

Educate Tomorrow was founded by Virginia Emmons, and Educate Tomorrow CEO Brett McNaught, who met in Niger as U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. Their organization has since won numerous awards and recognition for its work.

The group has a legal partner to help students who need assistance with immigration status, and it has housing partners who help young people without homes find stable places to live.

Educate Tomorrow is preparing for its annual food distribution event held the day before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving morning. Anyone who wants to help can donate funds or gift cards for prepared meals.

There will be a virtual “Educate Tomorrow Family Celebration” on Thanksgiving.

“Our group has a strong focus on the well-being of our staff and helping core coordinators build trust in the community,” Rubinson said.

Homelessness, she said, is a broad term and many students are basically navigating life on their own.

“We want to do what we can to help them focus on school.”

Educate Tomorrow students take a tour of The One Residence for FIU students as part of their FIU college tour.
Educate Tomorrow students take a tour of The One Residence for FIU students as part of their FIU college tour.

Hope for Miami

Nurturing families and children so they can flourish is at the heart of the mission for Hope for Miami.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has persevered to assist students with homework and life skills.

A Hope for Miami student practices art in one of the group’s after school programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Hope for Miami student practices art in one of the group’s after school programs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Throughout these difficult months, our staff adjusted to follow CDC precautions at all 15 program sites around Miami-Dade County,” said Rick Sawyer, CEO emeritus. “When the public schools were closed and operating only online, Hope for Miami was able to offer supervised virtual ‘school’ so that parents could return to work.”

The group also continued to offer its after-school and summer activities, as well as provide prevention education online.

Since its beginnings in 2000, Hope for Miami has sought to fill gaps or programming needs for children and youth, Sawyer said.

In 1998, he and his wife, Yvonne, were asked by the Florida Department of Children and Families to start a program to help children with special needs.

“At that time, there weren’t a lot of resources for those kids,” he said. “A unique niche for Hope for Miami is serving older teens with disabilities in several locations and creating a specialized program for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Services are free at school-based sites, and the group’s camps and after-school programs are available at discounted prices.

“Mr. J” (as he is called by his staff) Martinez is the Hope for Miami vice president and chief operating officer. He stressed that the challenges of the pandemic didn’t stop the group from making sure students and parents had all the help they needed.

Neighborhoods that benefit from after-school programs include Cutler Bay, Hialeah, North Miami, West Kendall and Little Havana. Staff members are also available, by request, to visit schools all over Miami for assemblies and classroom talks.

“Our staff goes into schools to talk about substance abuse, and teen pregnancy prevention. We do a Red Ribbon presentation every year, including this one,” Martinez said.

During a Hope for Miami visit, the conversation is about healthy and unhealthy choices, and how those affect a student’s future.

“Even before the pandemic we were out in the schools talking to teens,” he said. “They can’t think they are never going to get HIV, for example. They think they are invincible. We tell them nothing out there is 100 percent.

“Through the whole pandemic, we are still serving virtually. And we are still in person since last summer. Our staff is courageous and has been taking all precautions,” Martinez said.

“We’ve been very, very careful, doing the best we can. Our difficulties have been in marketing. We have events and print fliers, but our best way is word of mouth. When families see the type of service we have, and love it, they tell others.”

How to Help

Breakthrough Miami

Contacts: 305-646-7210; www.breakthroughmiami.org

30th Anniversary Virtual Tribute Video: https://breakthroughmiami.org/virtual-tribute/

Educate Tomorrow

Contacts: 305-374-3751; www.educatetomorrow.org

To donate to Thanksgiving event: Shavon@educatetomorrow.org

Hope for Miami

Contacts: 786-388-3000; www.hopeformiami.org

To schedule a guest speaker: info@hopeformiami.org

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