On the first day of Breakthrough Sacramento, each academic department does a skit to introduce themselves and the department theme. Junior Akilan Murugesan and Garrett Kaighn, '14, were the Science Sorcerers. The skit was about students who attended a wizard school where the evil headmaster stole all their magic powers for himself, at which point a science teacher stepped in, and they started learning science instead of magic, which was just as cool.

Students spend their summer as teachers on opposite sides of the world

A 16-hour flight separates Hong Kong and Sacramento. Yet they share many similarities in the cases of juniors Manson Tung and Akilan Murugesan. Both became  teachers during the summer at related education programs in different countries.

Hong Kong Summerbridge and Sacramento Breakthrough are non-profit sister organizations that educate students from low-income families free of tuition over summer break. Both high-school and college students teach classes. The students that are accepted to become teachers teach for eight weeks and sacrifice a significant amount of their time.

During their eight weeks of teaching, Tung and Murugesan taught five days a week, in addition to working after school and on weekends, creating lesson plans and meeting with other teachers in their respective programs.

Murugesan taught middle schoolers physics on the SCDS campus. Tung taught basic geography, but his English skills were the main attraction for his students at the Island School, he said. His students only knew English as their second language, so Tung’s ability to speak Cantonese and  English fluently was beneficial.

Of course, Murugesan didn’t have to adapt to a new environment. But Tung did. Prior to his arrival, he  knew the  dialect of Chinese spoken in Hong Kong, but he still had to adapt to life in the dense city.

The amount of work and preparation for both was extremely high.

“It was a lot of work. It really makes you respect what teachers do every day” Murugesan said. His commitment started at 7 a.m. and finished at 6 p.m. most days, he said. After he finished teaching and got home,  the real work began. He spent the majority of his nights preparing for the next day.

“You have to be in the Breakthrough mindset,” Murugesan said.

Even after being overloaded with work in the summer, both said the experience is something they will  have with them forever. Seeing their students grow over the course of the program made the endless hours pay off, they said.

“The first day I had a student who was really shy. By the end of the eight weeks, he was giving a speech to the entire class!” said Tung.

Murugesan also said he saw his students learn to love physics, after most students at the beginning of the eight weeks had very little knowledge on the subject.


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