Patricia P. Wainger, founding director of Breakthrough at Norfolk Academy, a free summer educational program for Norfolk public school students on the NA campus, was honored Thursday for her extraordinary service work in the region.
Mrs. Wainger was among a group of six honorees receiving a Humanitarian Award from the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC). In 1992, Mrs. Wainger started what was then known as Learning Bridge, a local site of the national consortium, Summerbridge. As the program evolved and grew nationally, the name changed to Breakthrough, but the organizing principles remained the same.
Every summer, at various sites around the country, college students are recruited to teach academic classes to middle school students, who come from underserved neighborhoods. The college students get an intensive “boot camp” in the basics of teaching and lesson planning at the start of the summer, and they spend about six weeks delivering academic content and extracurricular activities to the middle school students.By the end of the summer, they understand what it is like to work as a teacher.
For the middle school students, all of whom must commit to attending Breakthrough for three consecutive summers, the program offers a springboard to high school, including some programs, like the International Baccalaureate (IB), that have competitive admission standards. The program is free, with bus transportation and breakfast and lunch provided.
Norfolk Academy’s Breakthrough program, which serves 60-70 students each summer from Norfolk public schools, has run continuously for the 27 years since the school began it, with Mrs. Wainger as the first director. "(Former Headmaster) John Tucker had the vision and the courage to open the doors of NA to bright, underprivileged Norfolk Public School students," Mrs. Wainger said. "Headmaster Dennis Manning has had the heart and drive to support and nurture Breakthrough."
The current director, Mrs. Jennifer Rodgers ’97, said she is inspired by Mrs. Wainger’s service to the community. “Hearing about Patti's impact on Norfolk Academy and the greater community reignited my passion for serving others, especially the under-served,” Rodgers said. “She has worked tirelessly and selflessly to make positive changes in our community, which is an example that we should all strive to follow.”
Administrators and teachers from Norfolk Academy attended the awards ceremony, including Headmaster Dennis Manning; Mrs. Rodgers; Mr. Reggie Cole, assistant director of Breakthrough; and Mr. Ari Zito, Upper School English teacher and former director of Breakthrough.
In her retirement, Mrs. Wainger continues to work as a full-time volunteer. She spends several days a week at Park Place School, a tuition-free school in Norfolk for students whose families live at the poverty level, where she offers enrichment opportunities. In addition, she reads to the blind on WHRO’s Voice radio, serves as secretary of Jewish Family Service of Tidewater, and has chaired an array of projects for JFS, Lifenet Health, the Chrysler Museum, and WHRO.
In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Wainger spoke movingly about growing up in the Birmingham, Alabama, where her father was active in support of civil rights in an environment “where racism and anti-Semitism were rampant.” Her father instilled in her the importance of service, and he taught by his example that courageous action is required to fight bigotry and hatred. For his work, he also received a Humanitarian Award from the Conference of Christians and Jews.
The Humanitarian Awards, which have been given annually for 55 years in Tidewater (pre-dating the formation of the VCIC), recognize “individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to the promotion of respect and understanding among people of diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.”