Classroom Inequality: Bridging the Gap at Breakthrough

​​Pursuing a Fellowship at Breakthrough Greater Boston was a natural next step after college, given my passion for alleviating classroom inequality. Majoring in sociology ignited my passion and revealed a sense of connection to the field as I pursued an undergraduate degree. My studies uncovered many social patterns that contributed to personal challenges I originally thought affected me by chance. As a Black, second-generation immigrant from a working-class, single-parent household, I recognized my own experiences with sociological concepts. The connection between child-rearing styles, socio-economic status, and classroom inequality was a particularly interesting topic that provided an explanation for the challenges I faced as an underrepresented minority attending a predominantly white institution. 

As I assist in middle school programming, interacting with students who attend the same middle and high school I graduated from... it often feels surreal to contribute to the outcomes of students that I see myself within.

Literature on classroom inequality suggests there is a causal link between a family’s socioeconomic status, their understanding of classroom expectations, and the way they teach their children to navigate their academics. This can critically affect the course of a student’s education journey, especially when compared to their wealthier peers. To counteract these roots of classroom inequality, programming at Breakthrough involves an intensive academic curriculum from middle to high school, tiered social-emotional development, and exposure to college—with hopes of assisting students in building a college-going identity and skills for college success. Students experience these layers to Breakthrough via afterschool programming in the fall and spring, all before our rigorous summer program. The full day of classes and research-based programs that Breakthrough students complete throughout the six weeks directly combats the achievement gaps that widen during summer vacation. 

Breakthrough’s early academic intervention works to dismantle and replace harmful academic messaging that students may have received, all while celebrating student identities in a close-knit community that values academic and social-emotional health. Breakthrough cultivates a setting in which students foster a personal love of learning and hone their sights on getting to college, where they can feel confident to succeed. Breakthrough’s college success focus encourages academic skills and social behaviors that promote persistence and college graduation. From entering the program in seventh grade to their transition to college, Breakthrough students demonstrate executive functioning, critical thinking, and self-advocacy: skills that working-class students must exhibit to level the unequal grounds of the college classroom. 

With an in-depth understanding of the perpetuation of classroom inequality, Breakthrough’s mission of inspiring enthusiasm for learning as well as creating paths to and through college stood out to me when I was selecting which Fellowship host to apply to. It was important to me that my future host organization was committed to intervening in the academic trajectories of working-class students, allowing them the privileges of their middle-class counterparts through their long-term, life-changing programming. As I assist in middle school programming, interacting with students who attend the same middle and high school I graduated from in my own small community within Boston, it often feels surreal to contribute to the outcomes of students that I see myself within. When I reflect on the role of Breakthrough in my community, I am certain that if I had participated in the program I would have been more prepared to face the stratified challenges of my predominantly white institution. 

Witnessing Breakthrough’s impact firsthand fuels my dedication to shaping positive student outcomes and addressing classroom inequality for future generations. My journey with Breakthrough Greater Boston is not just a Fellowship; it is a commitment to making a lasting impact on the lives of students and fostering a more equitable educational landscape.

Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali Matthews

Jahmali (she/her) is the Marketing & Communications FAO Schwarz Fellow Breakthrough Greater Boston.

SHARE THIS STORY