“Something incredible is happening in the city of Cleveland.” This statement is something only truly understood by those of us who live here (and those who read many, many grant proposals). This is true for all aspects of our city, but it is especially true for our city’s schools. Cleveland Metropolitan School District, considered among the worst school districts in the country for several years, is undergoing a massive transformation in an effort to provide students with the highest quality education – and it’s working.
Part of Cleveland’s recent success is due to the number of high-performing charter schools operating in conjunction with the district. This summer, I’m fortunate to be working with Friends of Breakthrough Schools, the fundraising and advocacy arm of Breakthrough Schools, which is one of the highest performing charter school networks in the state. As an educator, seeing the work that Breakthrough does and seeing the students’ enthusiasm for learning reminds me why I do what I do.
I recently attended a panel discussion with, and graduation for, some of the network’s eighth grade students. I was absolutely blown away by the students’ responses to questions and the community they had built with one another. At its core, Breakthrough aims to prepare students for high school, college and beyond, focusing particularly on character development and confidence in oneself. The kids know this. When students were asked what they would take away from their experiences with Breakthrough, one student said he had gone into middle school without much confidence in himself and had left knowing he could do anything; another student said, “I want to be a scientist because I know I can change the world.” The last response on the panel accurately summarizes the entire philosophy behind Breakthrough Schools: “I knew I WANTED to go to college, but now I know I CAN go to college.”
Breakthrough’s emphasis on college readiness and the network’s expectation that students graduate high school is the focus of my work for this summer. Although Breakthrough is only a K-8 network, the organization is so invested in their students that they attempt to follow them through high school to make sure they’re staying on the right path, remember what they learned in middle school, and have all the tools they need to succeed. During my time at Breakthrough, I’ll be gathering information on former students so that the network has a strong foundation to keep in touch with alumni. With such a culture of high expectations and investment in students, it’s no wonder Breakthrough Schools is among the highest-performing charter networks in Ohio.
Matthew Markusic, a graduate of Kent State University, with a major in Integrated Social Studies and a minor in Sociology, is placed at Friends of Breakthrough Schools. Matthew manages a student retention project for Breakthrough Schools through focus group surveys and coordination of parent engagement events. He also assists with Breakthrough networks alumni engagement and fundraising efforts.