Breakthrough Charter School is the result of numerous partners in our community collaboratively recognizing an urgent need to improve our students’ educational experiences and developing a community-based solution to address that need. Because we are the beneficiary of several partners, including MMI, Judson College, and Main Street Marion, we are able to capitalize on the unique, powerful assets that each can offer to support student needs.
Essential Design Elements
To serve our mission and vision, Breakthrough Charter School will foster a rigorous learning environment that prepares our students for success and contributes to our efforts to break the cycle of poverty, thereby improving Perry County students’ lives and strengthening our community.
Accordingly, our model will have the following essential design elements:
Foreign language infusion
Project-based learning (PBL) at its core connects theory and content to applicable, hands-on learning. Research has repeatedly shown that PBL can not only enhance student engagement due to its hands-on nature, but can also significantly increase student retention (Strobel & Van Barneveld, 2009; Walker & Leary, 2009). Moreover, when PBL is consistently, effectively implemented, students achieve significantly higher percentages across reading and math, particularly among students of color (Cervantes, Hemmer & Kouzekanani, 2015). Hence, PBL strongly supports our core value of Scholarship.
While some traditional teachers may incorporate projects into their pedagogical practices, these projects are typically on a standalone or ad hoc basis and not implemented consistently and continuously schoolwide. Conversely, at Breakthrough Charter School, PBL is one of the foundational elements of our model. Rather than learning all content in isolated timeframes, students at Breakthrough will learn across disciplines on a daily basis, integrating discipline theory and application into meaningful projects around engaging topics.
Breakthrough teachers will design project-based units to align with Alabama State standards in a meaningful way. Grade-band teams of teachers will develop project-based units in which the science and social studies thematic elements draw cross-curricular content together into integrated units.
To strengthen our capacity to implement a high-quality PBL program, we have partnered with Citizens of the World Charter Schools, which is one of the highest-performing PBL schools in the nation. Breakthrough’s founding leader was selected among a competitive field to participate in the School Leaders Institute at Citizens of the World, wherein he will benefit from world-class guidance on best practices in launching and leading a PBL school.
Service-learning integrates community service with curriculum. Several research studies associate student engagement through service-learning with positive outcomes in five areas: attitude toward self, attitude toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic achievement (Celio, Durlak & Dymnicki, 2011). Service-learning will directly tie to content standards and will include a period of reflection or analysis of the activities in which students discuss, write about, or create presentations about what they have learned and what impact their service has made on the community.
Students at Breakthrough will complete 2-4 content-embedded service learning projects each year and will have protected time in the school’s weekly schedule to do so. The scope of the service learning will vary based upon the grade level of students. Service-learning will begin in the classroom for students in grades K-2, will then focus on service projects for the school in grades 3-5, and will then extend to the larger community for students in grades 6-8. Students in grades 9-12 will have the opportunity to practice service-learning across Perry County and in neighboring Black Belt counties. Students will also have the opportunity to learn more about the local context, better understanding the racial and socioeconomic dynamics that exist in Alabama’s Black Belt.
Breakthrough will partner with community stakeholders to identify possible service-learning opportunities. Stakeholders that have already committed their support include Main Street Marion and Marion Military Institute. The practice of engaging students using such a hands-on, unique learning approach aligns with our core values of Leadership and Community and directly supports the project-based learning foundation of our academic program.
Data-driven instruction relies on data analysis to inform teaching and learning. Research demonstrates that using data in instructional decision-making can lead to improved student performance (Lewis, Madison-Harris, Muoneke & Times, 2011). Data-driven instruction will ensure the needs of all students are being met through careful, intentional planning. Teachers and students will be taught how to read and analyze data effectively, and student growth analyzed through data will be celebrated at Breakthrough, in alignment with our core value of Scholarship.
Breakthrough teachers will meet weekly in Professional Learning Communities on early release Wednesday to review data from the past week. This data may be formative or summative. During this time, teachers are able to identify student performance gaps in core academic content.
In addition to meeting the needs of all students through daily differentiation of instruction, Breakthrough’s scheduling design allows protected time for RTI and Enrichment. During this time, teachers will have the autonomy to create centers and student learning opportunities aimed at creating appropriate, rigorous scaffolds to help students attain mastery of core content. Students will also learn to track data at Breakthrough in an effort to help students understand their content mastery. This will allow students to look at their own data and gives teachers, parents, and students opportunities to set learning goals collectively.
Foreign Language Infusion
A 2017 Census survey estimated that over 40 million Americans speak Spanish and that the number of people in the workforce that speak two languages will continue to rise in the coming years. Beginning foreign language infusion at an early age has proven to help students improve problem-solving and creativity. Additionally, being bilingual has been proven to enhance future career opportunities (Rafferty, E.A., 1986). Consistent student exposure to Spanish at Breakthrough will improve academic performance, build language fluency, and teach students to connect with other cultures. Connecting students through learning about other cultures cultivates empathy, which will directly tie into social emotional learning and mindfulness practices we plan to embody as part of our school culture.
Spanish infusion also aligns with our core values of scholarship and Diversity. Breakthrough’s schedule again allows for protected instructional time during which students will learn Spanish. Additionally, high school students at Breakthrough will be required to successfully complete at least two Spanish courses with an emphasis on speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
Breakthrough will partner with Spanish professors at Judson College and Marion Military Institute to ensure students are learning age-appropriate Spanish materials. Dr. Larissa Clachar heads the Spanish Department at Judson College and serves on Breakthrough’s founding board.