Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy: Making Saturdays Super

By Sarah Herring '19
For the Breakthrough program at Norfolk Academy, a summer enrichment program for middle-school students currently enrolled in Norfolk public schools, weekends during the school year can offer a special opportunity to do some extra learning. On several Saturdays during the school year, Breakthrough invites participating students to gather for an intensive learning session or to take a field trip to somewhere special, like the Chrysler Museum. Breakthrough’s next Super Saturday is on December 15, and it will focus on the myriad ways to express gratitude.

Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy is an entirely free academic program that operates during the summer, serving students in under-resourced schools and communities who have demonstrated tremendous academic commitment and potential. By coming to NA every day for a variety of advanced classes (and doing homework during the summer!), students are getting prepared for greater success in middle school and for admission to specialty programs in high school, such as the International Baccalaureate Program (Granby), Medical and Health Specialties (Maury), and others.

Additionally, many of these classes are taught by college students in order to build leadership skills as well as provide experience in the field of education; some of the college students intend to become teachers, but many others are simply exploring the possibility, or planning to pursue other careers entirely. Each year, several rising seniors at Norfolk Academy participate in the summer program as teachers, and Breakthrough also has hired Norfolk Academy alumni, who return home from college to teach in their hometown. “The "secret sauce" of BT is the relationship between the teachers and students,” said Breakthrough Director Jennifer Rodgers. “The teachers serve as role models for the students,  so that students can see that college is attainable. The teachers push students to work hard and pursue their academic goals.”

The Breakthrough program takes place for seven weeks during the summer (including a week and a half of teacher-training), but, fortunately, the Breakthrough program hosts an event called Super Saturdays to keep in contact with the Breakthrough students during the school year. The next Super Saturday is on December 15, and it will focus on the topic of “gratitude,” including how to write thank you notes, letters, and emails; while the practice of communicating gratitude is important in one’s personal life, skill at expressing gratitude can be an important factor in academic and professional progress as well.

Last month’s Super Saturday had the students engage in a Story Exchange—like the workshop that the Tunstall Upper-School participated in last year—in which the students broke into smaller groups, shared their stories with one another, and then orally presented someone else’s story to the rest of the group. The purpose of the activity was to build empathy as a skill while also helping to build the Breakthrough community. “You could tell the students not only enjoyed sharing their stories,” Rodgers said, “but they got to know someone they didn’t know before.”

Joining the Breakthrough staff and students were several volunteers, including a current senior at Norfolk Academy, Cabell Jones. Cabell expressed her amazement at the kids’ enthusiasm, saying, “they all came from totally different backgrounds and had different interests, yet were kind and caring. They shared an impressive love of learning that honestly blew me away.” She also states that she would be glad to volunteer at the event again for the next Super Saturday; it seems that the goal of building the Breakthrough community is certainly succeeding! Two other NA students, Ella Davis ’21 and Sydney LeGuillow ’19, also volunteered, and they are eager to share their experiences with any students who are curious about jumping in.

The Super Saturday event is an excellent volunteer opportunity and a great way to become a part of the Breakthrough community or stay connected with the program. Students, consider volunteering on December 15th for the next Super Saturday!  

Interested in learning more about Norfolk Academy? Register for an individual tour or our admissions events.