My name is Irving Medina and I am a 7th Grade English/Language Arts teacher and this is my second summer with Breakthrough and with Del Valle students. Like these students, I am also on my own path to become a first-generation college graduate. I am currently double majoring in Latin American Studies and International Relations and Global Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

At Breakthrough, not only do teachers play a pivotal role in preparing our students academically, but rather find ourselves serving as role models and mentors and building meaningful relationships with students. I strive to be a support system and role model for each of mine, as one teacher was to me.

Every summer, Breakthrough provides its students with a novel that the entire community reads; this year the novel is titled Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. The novel is a memoir of Woodson’s childhood growing up as an African American in the 1960s and 70s written in prose. Some of the stories she shares are four pages long while others are just one sentence. The entire novel is filled with vivid memories but what has kept my attention the most is the family tree that Woodson includes before the epigraph. The reason I find her family tree so important is that her story, like all of ours, and especially those of our students, does not begin when we are born but has been ongoing for hundreds of years.

See, the town that I grew up in and the schools that I went to did not have people that looked or spoke like me. I was embarrassed of the branches that bore me. My solution was simple, separate myself from the things that made me different.

I constantly struggled with this idea of not belonging and felt as if I had no one to turn to. But in high school this all changed. There is one instance in my life that I credit with beginning the regrowth process to my family. It begins during my sophomore year when I took my first Spanish class. I was simply looking to complete my foreign language credits with as little effort as possible. While the class was an easy A, I also got a wakeup call. My Spanish teacher, Senora Yates, shared her own story, one that was similar to mine. She also didn’t initially accept her Puerto Rican heritage and the Spanish that came attached with that, until her high school teacher recommended her to study Spanish in college, which is what she did.

Senora Yates helped guide me down a path where I have now been able to rewrite my own story – a true life changing experience.  Breakthrough provides these students with the environment and resources to help them find their own. I like to think of my role as an English teacher to be one that brings these students closer to that by following the Breakthrough Core Values through stories and reflection.

Whether it be my own story, where they see a student like themselves curious in finding out who he is in relation to his hybrid world; or Jacqueline Woodson’s: where they can read and picture the Gratitude that she has for the little things in life; or John Lewis’, the national hero, congressman, and author of the book we are currently reading in class: where students can see Perseverance, Social Intelligence, Self-Control, and Enthusiasm throughout the book, most notably during his organization and participation in demonstrations that eventually led to the desegregation of the South.

When I first realized that I wanted to be an educator I had just listened to Taylor Mali’s poem, “What Teachers Make” and came to the realization that my 8th Grade History teacher was terrible and I could not fathom future generations having to suffer through his class so I had to become a teacher to save them. After six years, I still stand by that reasoning but have also added others alongside that. For instance, I want to be a role model for future first-generation college students trying to navigate their unique situations. I also want to be what Mali described: A teacher that makes kids wonder, makes them question, and makes them criticize the stories that are told to us from the moment we first step into a classroom.