By Rudabeh Shahbazi

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A breakthrough academic program is helping determined but underprivileged students a chance to strive for the best.

“Parents trust in this process. I know sometimes you feel like, we are working the kids, giving them too much homework, but this is what we can afford them, a solid education,” Webber J. Charles said.

At Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, a group of students are working extra hard to achieve their dreams.

They’re not enrolled students at the school. Instead, they are part of Breakthrough Miami, a tuition-free academic enrichment program that provides motivated middle school students from underserved communities with tools and opportunities to get ahead.

The program uses Ransom and other schools’ facilities during the summer when their students are away on vacation.

“Don’t listen to the noise when they are telling you your child needs a break – they need to go on vacation. Those people can afford to do that – our families cannot afford to do that. Our students need to be strong. They need the value of hard work. They need an ethos, determination. Their determination to be successful needs to be unwavering and that’s what we are doing here,” Charles said. “And if that’s not what you are about, I know certain families withdraw their kids and that’s OK. What we are trying to do here is make men and women that are going to be great leaders in the future.

On one particular day, the students brought their parents to class.

It’s a students-teaching-students internship, where outstanding older students serve as teachers, mentors and role models, so that these young scholars get into and thrive in high school and college.

The high school and college students who teach the classes are advised by certified teachers.

“The original project started in 1979 by a woman named Lewis Loofborough in San Francisco. She had a bit of an issue with short staffing because a lot of her staff was sick and so she utilized the older students at her school to teach the younger students,” Charles explained. “Serendipitously, she saw that scores rose, student moral rose, and the interest in learning rose and the creativity in instruction also improved as a result of older students teaching younger students.

Finance major Shyla Williams is already demonstrating a gift for reaching these young people in her sixth grade math class – and she’s only a sophomore at University Of Florida.

“I am teaching them, but I am also mentoring them. So outside of the classroom, it’s like I am interacting with them, I am talking with them. ‘How’s everything going? How is your life? Like how are you feeling? Like, what did you like about the class? Like what did you like that we did?’ Just like how they are feeling,” Williams explained. “Really making sure that they are OK and what I am doing is for them. Instead of just, ‘You need this down, you need to pass this, you need to do this.’”

Besides interacting on a deep level with each and every student, the focus is also on making learning fun and effective.

“You’ll get a paper ball and they’ll try to shoot it into the recycling basket.  If you make it, then you’ll get to answer a question. If you don’t the next person goes and you only have two tries,” Williams gave as an example.

But by no means is everything a slam dunk. The teachers and mentors push their students.

“I call the class the GUMP Squad. GUMP stands for ‘Great Under Major Pressure.’ I want the kids to be able to work hard, and when they have pressure on them, to be able to succeed and really push through that. So I do higher level math for them sometimes, because sometimes they already cover the topic, so I challenge them sometimes.”

Above all else, the students have to show a commitment to working hard and they’ll be rewarded.

“We can do grades, but I don’t do grades… if you didn’t get it right the first time, try it again. It’s not like getting an A or an F. It’s you trying hard and I am here to help you.”

Nine-year-old Kaitlyn Gonzalez is thriving in Breakthrough.

“I’m going to be very prepared,” the 5th grade student said. “So I feel that it’s going to help me get really good grades and A’s on tests.”

She says it’s a challenge to get up so early during summer break, but it’s worth it.

“When I first got here, I was scared, I was nervous,” Gonzalez said. “And then by the first week I got the super hero award, and that got me really proud. And after that I just kept keeping a good vibe.”

If you are a mentor and would like to share your story with us, please email us at or CLICK HERE for more information about how you can become a mentor.


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