Recently we got the chance to sit down with Bethany Gervais, a former teaching fellow at Breakthrough Providence, and talk with her about her experiences in our Summerbridge program. It was clear from her smiles and enthusiasm that her time in the program has been a positive influence for her.
Bethany, who is from Burrillville, RI, came to Breakthrough as a teaching fellow at the suggestion of her University of Rhode Island college advisor. As a student at URI, Bethany is going for a double major in Elementary Education and Human Development and Family Studies and a minor in Mathematics. Following her freshman year she applied for a summer fellowship where she would be matched with an organization for field experience based on her major and interests and was paired with Breakthrough Providence. Her excitement following her interview for Summerbridge was real. “This is happening! I’m going to work 12 hours a day for the next six weeks!” she reflected. But Beth admitted she wasn’t fully aware of what was to come. “I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.” Regardless, she stuck with it, through the long hours and weeks, and in no time, she found that the match was a great fit. “I ended up loving the first summer so then I came back for a second summer.” Not only did Beth come back for a second summer but she continued to contribute to the program by teaching in our After School Program between her two summers with us.
We asked Beth what differences she found between her first and second summers with the program. She said that the first summer she focused more on how to teach, learning the basics behind what it takes to keep sixteen students on task in a classroom. Her second summer, she shared, was more about what strategies she could use to engage her students, and she started to focus on her own approach. Bethany admitted, like many in her chosen field, that her teaching philosophy is a work in progress, stating that she’s “still kind of trying to figure that out.” But from her time at Breakthrough Providence she has drawn out the importance of relating the work that students do to their own lives and engaging them through hands-on experiences in the classroom. “There were days that I would just talk at my students and they would just sit there and look like they were asleep. But then there were days that I had them up and moving and drawing their math instead of writing it. I would put their names in the math questions, bringing them into it.” It’s clear from her experience that her philosophy is based in focusing on the needs of her students and “keeping it as student centered as possible.” One method that she mentioned using was to have the students teach the class, giving them ownership over their learning and empowering them.
Learning to tailor her teaching methods to the needs of her students isn’t the only strategy that Beth has picked up in her time here at Breakthrough Providence. When asked about some of the rewards and challenges she has faced in her time in the program she shared the story of a student who would constantly push back on her directions and suggestions. Then one day her student came to her and shared their interest in receiving the Spirit Stick, an award given weekly to recognize students’ growth at Breakthrough and overall positive spirit. Bethany questioned the student on what qualities the student needed to possess in order to win the Spirit Stick. When the student listed what they needed to work on Bethany shared with them that they then needed to show her that they could do all of those tasks, holding the student accountable for their efforts and successes. Through the student’s work and Bethany’s encouragement, the student was awarded the Spirit Stick. “Him winning the spirit stick was the most rewarding thing,” Bethany admits. Regardless of the struggles she faced she learned the importance of not giving up on her student. “I knew that he was capable of it, but I wanted him to see that he was capable of it.” The reward in seeing a student’s success and the lesson learned from perseverance is what Bethany says she will take with her from her time at Breakthrough Providence. “I’ve learned not to give up on a kid just because they’re difficult to work with.”
From creating a harmonious classroom and lesson planning to dedicating herself to her students’ success, Bethany has gained a lot from Breakthrough Providence! She’s also enriched our program as well. In her time at Breakthrough Providence, Beth has used and demonstrated all six of our core values: spirit, personalization, reciprocity, peer education, empowerment, and intentionality. She has proven herself an asset to the field of education. Her Breakthrough story is another strong example of our leadership development program, Grow Our Own Teachers, in action. We wish her luck in her final years at URI and look forward to hearing how her Breakthrough story grows in the future!