Breakthrough Gets Visit from a Former Student, Now the Norfolk School Board Chair

Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy had a visit from the Chair of the Norfolk School Board,  Dr. Noëlle Gabriel, who was a student in the very first Breakthrough class.

Dr. Gabriel, was a student at Azalea Gardens Middle School when she was selected for a spot in the brand new academic summer program at Norfolk Academy, which was then known as Learning Bridge and led by Patty Wainger, who attended the speech on Monday.  

“ I remember the meeting and the interview just like it was yesterday,” Dr. Gabriel told the Breakthrough students, all of whom attend Norfolk public schools. “For three summers, I was with a great group of friends, and my teachers pushed me to go beyond what my expectations were for myself.” She said she loved those three summers and recalled, “I was crying when the program was over.”

The academic focus of those three summers helped launch Dr. Gabriel toward a series of academic and professional achievements. She graduated in the top ten of her class at Granby High School, and she was the Kaufman Award recipient of her graduating class at Old Dominion University in 2002. That award is the university’s highest honor, given to a student “who has exerted an exceptional and constructive influence on the university, its students or the community by demonstrating the highest qualities of leadership and service.”

She graduated from Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, and completed her pediatric residency at the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters. She currently works in the emergency department at CHKD.

Despite a busy schedule, which includes caring for her own four children and her service on the school board, where she served as vice chair before ascending to the role of chair, Dr. Gabriel maintains a close connection to the Breakthrough program. After graduating, she returned to teach in the program for several summers, and she comes back every single summer to do a project or give a presentation.

She told the students that the school board works with the superintendent to “make sure you are getting the best education you could have,” and she mentioned to them that the board has a student representative, a role that might interest them in the future.

Jennifer Rodgers, director of Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy, said that Dr. Gabriel’s visit was both an enormous honor for the program and a motivational moment for students at Breakthrough today. “It is absolutely inspiring to hear about Dr. Gabriel’s journey, and realize again the educational power of three summers of intensive learning and constant encouragement,” she said. “Our students understand their potential, and they know they must work hard to fulfill it and give back to their community. We are so proud of them!”