WELCOME BACK, BREAKTHROUGH: Carter Graham, ’94, remembers dynamic, adventurous teachers

(Photo used by permission of Julie Nelson)
Members of the senior class of 1994 – Jessie Lial, Jennilee Giguiere, Sara Rahimian, Carter Graham, Brandi Wertz, Sam Applebaum, Alvin Gavin and Mike Fauzy – cut a cake at their senior dinner held at the Grahams’ house.

In the “Welcome Back, Breakthrough series,” former BSAC teachers recall their favorite memories of their time at Breakthrough.

Carter Graham, ‘94, worked in the summer program in 1993 and 1994 and is now a fifth-grade teacher at San Francisco Day School. Next is Whitney Gorton, ‘04.

In her 12 years at SCDS, she was called Carter Graham. However, in the summer she was known as the “Carrot Lady,” a devoted Breakthrough teacher who pushed students to eat their vegetables.

Every day during lunch Graham would grab a bucket of tomatoes and carrots and roam the campus, urging students to accept her produce.

After teaching for one summer at University High School and then at BSAC’s first two summers at Country Day, Graham said she was dead set on becoming a teacher.

(Breakthrough) not only shaped where I went to college (Brown University), but it also shaped my professional career tremendously,” Graham said. “It shaped who I teach and why I teach.”

Graham said she loved the dynamic, creative energy and collegiality of the Breakthrough faculty.

“The people I taught with were willing to be silly, willing to take risks, open to new ideas, desperately in love with the children, and willing to do anything to support them,” Graham said. “I loved seeing kids figure things out, including learning something as basic as ‘School is fun.’

She said one of her fondest memories was a debate over whether or not Breakthrough teachers should say “Love Sees No Color” or “Love Sees All Colors.”

“(At first) I thought it was a silly waste of time,” Graham said. “We debated for hours, but by the end (one group of teachers) convinced (the rest of) us that we should not be saying ‘Love Sees No Color.’

“There were debates like that all the time.”

Graham said she also enjoyed the Breakthrough teachers’ tradition of greeting their students every morning.

“Somebody would yell that the bus was here, and we would all stream out (of the classrooms) and stand on the wooden posts outside of (Country Day),” Graham said. “So by the time the bus passed us, we would be screaming and yelling like cheerleaders. And the kids would be screaming like crazy and hanging out the windows.

“I think we really ticked off the bus driver, but it was like a pep rally every single day.”

Besides teaching, Graham generated funds and convinced the administration to begin offering the first SCDS scholarships to Breakthrough students. She said that without going through the Breakthrough program, scholarship beneficiaries would not have the skill sets to overcome the transition from attending an under-resourced public school to Country Day.

After graduating from Brown in 1998, Graham taught at inner-city schools similar to Breakthrough in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Graham currently works at San Francisco Day School, a private school similar to SCDS. She said that she was hesitant to work at such a wealthy school, but the presence of the school’s Breakthrough program, which she currently supports, gave her more balance.

Graham heard the news of the Board of Trustees’ decision to end their relationship with Breakthrough in August from her mother, Gail, who helped to install the program at Country Day.

“My mom was shocked,” Graham said. “Completely shocked. I was less shocked because I read the (online Octagon) article about the student population being cut in half, so it wasn’t totally out of left field.

But now that the program is back up and running, Graham said that she is overjoyed.

“I’m so glad that Breakthrough will continue to support current and future Breakthrough students as well as foster a passion for teaching among high-school and college students,” Graham said.

“Breakthrough’s impressive success speaks for itself, and I’m heartened that so many members of the vast Breakthough community stepped up to protest the shocking and upsetting decision to end it.

“This groundswell is classic Breakthrough: a strong community can do amazing things together.”

However, Graham said that she is disappointed that SCDS will not provide office space to the program as she believes that SCDS students benefited most from Breakthrough’s on-site presence.

“It’s clear that SCDS’s values and priorities have shifted,” Graham said. “But I’m focusing on being happy for the students of all ages who will continue to benefit from the magic that happens in those classrooms.”

By Sonja Hansen

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