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Meet John: Breakthrough Twin Cities student, Class of 2020
Picture a six-year-old Vietnamese boy, nervous and frightened, riding on the school bus to his first day of kindergarten. When he arrived, staff members guided him to his classroom to meet his teacher. He was anxious to speak to anyone, fearing embarrassment with his broken English. Since Vietnamese was his first language, he was placed in an English Language Learner (ELL) Program. Throughout elementary school, he was routinely pulled out of class for ELL sessions, making him feel less intelligent than other students. He never felt that he fit in because he was the only Vietnamese student in a predominantly white classroom. Always alone, that timid little boy was me.
In sixth grade, I encountered Breakthrough Twin Cities (BTC)! My teachers recommended that I apply for this college-prep program, designed for motivated yet under-resourced students. I was sure I would never be admitted––I was certain that students with my background could not get to college. But, I was mistaken. Five weeks after applying, I was admitted to BTC. I was both surprised and ecstatic.
As I reflect on my six years with Breakthrough, I recall my first day in 2014. As I stepped off the school bus, Breakthrough staff were jumping around wildly, all with bright smiles and enthusiasm. Frankly, I was scared. I had never encountered such a large group of people excited about school at eight in the morning. Breakthrough students and staff came from all walks of life, which was something I had never experienced. Although the Breakthrough summer program curriculum was very rigorous, all students were motivated to learn, and our teachers were willing to help out whenever we needed.
The small class sizes helped me feel comfortable around my classmates, speaking aloud and asking many questions. My BTC classmates have become lifelong friends, and I will forever be thankful for the relationships I have built in this community. In contrast to my time in elementary school, Breakthrough was completely new, different, and life-changing.
One particularly transformative experience that first Breakthrough summer was the Friday College Bowl, when students and teachers played spirited, competitive games together. This event changed my perspective of teachers. I saw them not as authoritative figures, but as friends, partners, and rivals. This experience also transformed my view of learning from a chore to something fun and enjoyable.
The BTC community recognized my potential – that which I could not have seen in myself. I have realized that while my background and circumstances are part of my narrative, they do not define my path. As proof, I am proud and grateful to say that I graduated from St. Paul’s Harding High School as class valedictorian. In fall 2020, I will attend Yale University on a full scholarship. I am immensely thankful for this opportunity, a dream that I never imagined could be mine.
I am indebted to Breakthrough Twin Cities and its countless donors for helping me get to this exciting stage in my life. I am only one example of the value of BTC’s mission of helping high-achieving students from under-resourced backgrounds succeed––timid students like six-year-old John. Thank you for transforming the lives of talented students whose voices might otherwise never be heard.