Last summer was my first summer teaching and really getting an idea of what it is like to be on the giving end of the classroom. I say this because even two weeks in, it felt surreal to think I was in my student’s position 9 years ago. Wide eyed and eager to learn, I saw the same gleam of curiosity and excitement in my students that I remember from myself. It has been a dream of my family and of my own to attend a 4 year institution and earn my degree because it’s not only an accomplishment for myself, but an accomplishment for my family, their support, and struggles of immigrating to a new country to give their children the best opportunities they didn’t have. – Stevie
Just last summer, Stevie spent 6 weeks teaching English Language Arts and Tech Research to a group of Breakthrough 9th graders. Wide eyed and eager to learn, she saw the same gleam of curiosity and excitement in her students that she remembered in herself. Nine years ago Stevie joined Breakthrough with the same college dreams as her students. Today, she is a junior at Bennington College and will be walking the stage in May 2021.
My name is Stevie Martínez-Farias, and I was a 9th grade English Language Arts and Tech Research Breakthrough AmeriCorps Teaching Fellow. Last summer was my first summer teaching and really getting an idea of what it is like to be on the giving end of the classroom. I say this because even two weeks in, it feels surreal to think I was in my student’s position 9 years ago. Wide eyed and eager to learn, I saw the same gleam of curiosity and excitement in my students that I remember from myself. This year, I will be finishing up my junior year and move into my senior year in the spring at Bennington College. It has been a dream of my family and of my own to attend a 4 year institution and earn my degree because it’s not only an accomplishment for myself, but an accomplishment for my family, their support, and struggles of immigrating to a new country to give their children the best opportunities they didn’t have.
Being first generation, I am reminded of my setbacks being born in a country that is built upon oppression of people of color. The majority of my students are born into setbacks and imposed statistics, expected percentages and looks of pity saying, “You won’t make it in life.” These statistics and phrasings are what deteriorate dreams and goals because all they’ve been told is that they won’t ever make it. The reason I became a teacher is because I was the same way. Never in my life did I think I would make it this far had it not been for my family who pushed me so hard and the teachers that said “If you set your mind to it and you never lose sight of who you’re doing this for, they won’t be able to stop you.”
My students will not become another statistic because I want to share that same passion that my teachers did for me long ago. I want them to know they are more than a number but they are the future of our world, the greatest minds to explore new findings, develop research, inventions, teach the future, and more. All they need is that support. That’s what drew me to Breakthrough. When I was a student I didn’t know what I was getting into, honestly. The day my Breakthrough advisor, Ana, came to visit my school, I thought I would give it a shot, mainly because my mother loved the idea and it would keep me out of the house. But truthfully, my mother always encouraged me to jump on any opportunity that would open doors toward my future. We didn’t have much but she ensured that we had the best she could offer.
After the interview process, I was anxiously awaiting the phone call, thinking endlessly that I didn’t get in only to receive the call that would impact my life forever. First day of summer, I was immediately regretting it, 6:30am alarm blaring as I trudged to get dressed and ride the bus to the UT site. Truthfully, I was groggy and upset, greeting my bus buddy as we rode through the traffic, a pit of excitement keeping me awake as we approached the campus. Not even a second off the bus, a bridge of teachers enthusiastically cheering and welcoming us in despite the early morning. Once we settled in, I will never forget the chills I got as the entire UTC surged with a single, loud voice, chanting along “Breakthrough Austin’s Got Soul,” and soul you could indeed feel throughout all the teachers and returning students. At first I felt too proud to even join in, or make an effort to learn the cheers but slowly it became a part of me and even as a teacher, I feel proud to be able to recall them with other teachers who were once students.
When they say Breakthrough is family, it isn’t taken as a sweet thing to say. It truly is family because my earliest influences were my BT teachers and advisors who always checked on me (despite the times I would ignore the calls) but they showed they cared and looked after my progress throughout high school until the end of my college career. I am very thankful for how they always supported me through my most difficult times when I was a 6th grader and as a freshman in college, thousands of miles away from home. In my first year, it was a trial against myself because I was in a predominantly white campus and immediately felt alienated and I questioned if I even deserved to be at college.
Speaking honestly, I had thoughts of dropping out due to financial struggle and the pressure of being so far away from home. However, after many tearful phone calls to home, my family motivated me to continue and get through the first semester with passing almost all of my classes, and Breakthrough ensured I continued with my Breakthrough advisor, lan, to accomplish my dreams of being the first in my family to earn a college degree.
Looking back at my life and seeing how far I’ve come not only as a student but as an individual has been thanks to the support I’ve had in my journey. Breakthrough set me up for success, giving me resources that I thought I would not be eligible to obtain due to financial setbacks, putting me ahead of my classmates, and teaching me about college so I wasn’t figuring it out by myself. My teachers were the reason as to why I wanted to give back. Because of them I know what I’m capable of and I hope I am able to have the same impact to my students. Giving them the foundation to do more and believe in themselves and the effect they will have on the future. In the words of Kofi Annan, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” No student should be defined by their race, economic background, religion, or identity. They all deserve an equal education and a hunger for knowledge.