Richard and Kristina are residents of Hollis and parents of a Derryfield student and alumnus. They are generous supporters of Breakthrough Manchester, both personally and through their family foundation. The following are excerpts of a recent conversation with Becky Berk, Breakthrough's Executive Director.
An Immigrant's Story: Kristina
I arrived in the U.S. with my parents when I was five and a half years old. We left Yugoslavia with virtually nothing; just a couple of suitcases and very little money. My parents were highly educated, my father as a doctor and my mother as a teacher, but I didn't know a word of English and my parents were only marginally better with the language. In so many ways our family had to start over, and I was tossed into a new public school environment where everything was new and strange and confusing.
The bedrock principle in our family was always the value of education; it was a constant drumbeat. Education was the way up and out. Education was the only thing we could control. I graduated from high school at 16, went to Yale and then completed a Ph.D. in physics at MIT. I was willing to do the work. Academics was what mattered, not parties or social life.
I see similarities with the students and families at Breakthrough; incredible motivation to succeed in less than ideal circumstances. The stories are powerful and the results are compelling. At the end of the day, the central question is whether we have given these children the opportunity to rise above their circumstances.
The Power of Connection: Richard
I was a public school kid in a small Southern town. My teachers were one-dimensional; I didn't know them in any other context. They weren't really people to me. I didn't know anything about them and frankly, I'm not sure they knew much about me except my grades. After high school I went to college, and that was worse. I felt disconnected and adrift. To the extent that I have skills, they are largely self-taught.
I believe that we have a societal obligation to educate all of our country's children. Great educational environments like Derryfield and Breakthrough are based on a culture of connection and caring between students and teachers as people, as individuals. We need a transformational approach to public education that puts those values at the forefront in every school, for every child, all the time.
I am so impressed with the work that Trevor Munhall (former Derryfield teacher and former Breakthrough director/alumni teacher) is doing in an urban school in Lawrence. The best teachers in any setting are the ones who listen and learn from their students and make a genuine connection with them; the ones who themselves are excited about learning; the ones who have faith in their students' potential. Without that, education is flat and joyless. Every year that I did a photography shoot with Breakthrough students and teachers, the sense of connection and joy was palpable. They enjoyed learning, and they enjoyed each other.
Critical Skills: Kristina
The teaching experience at Breakthrough is not simply about training classroom teachers. It's about
teaching people how to teach, a critical skill in any workplace. Teaching is knowing how to connect with someone for the purpose of effectively conveying information. Those skills are important in any line of work. And Breakthrough teaches about understanding and bridging our differences; as soon as we step out of our bubbles, we appreciate this essential exposure to local and global diversity and to the differences in our experiences.
Why we support Breakthrough: Richard
I had never heard of Breakthrough Manchester before we joined the Derryfield School community. Even then, it took another two years to understand both sides of the mission. Above and beyond the numbers and the success stories, Breakthrough just resonates for me at the gut level. It's the right thing to do. Giving kids with huge potential the opportunity to fly, and inspiring young people to use their time and talents to change the world. What could be better than that?