This feature is part of the National Alliance's 2021 Back to School Month campaign.
Breakthrough Charter School in Marion, Alabama serves Pre-K through eighth grade. The school’s core values are scholarship, leadership, diversity, and community.
We caught up with the Founding Head of School and 30 Under 30 Changemaker Darren Ramalho who shared more on how Breakthrough Charter School was created.
What led you to open a charter school?
The idea of Breakthrough started with parents and community leaders more than two years ago. Families in the traditional public and private schools believed an additional school choice for the community would benefit the Black Belt region academically and economically. We then began hosting community forums, Chat and Chews, and focus groups to better understand what elements would need to exist to build an effective school. The local colleges also expressed their support of opening a new school in the community, offering resources and opportunities to collaborate.
Simply put, Breakthrough Charter School is the product of our community, a grassroots effort. I am honored to have helped with the educational design of the school and look forward to leading a school that really leans into its core values.
How did you develop the school’s core values?
These core values emerged through numerous conversations with community stakeholders. Families and community members believed a new school in Marion would set high academic expectations, teaching students to develop holistically as civically-minded, critically thinking human beings. Community members and families also stressed the importance of a diverse learning environment, recognizing that our differences make us stronger.
We are working to develop future leaders through our educational models, equipping our students with the skill set to be innovative problem solvers. Community members played a significant role in founding Breakthrough Charter School. As a result, we plan to partner with numerous organizations in the area to instill community pride in our building, celebrating what makes our community and context a beautiful, special place.
How would you describe your school’s approach to learning?
Our model embeds theory and application. At Breakthrough, we not only challenge our students to learn content, but we also motivate our students to learn skill sets, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration, that will prepare students for life in their postsecondary pursuits.
Project-based learning and service-learning are critical pieces of our educational model, as we believe these learning structures align with our school's mission, vision, and core values. These models engage students with content and build connections through real-world application. These models also engage our families and community members.
Additionally, Breakthrough's implementation of a social-emotional learning curriculum will help students develop their emotional intelligence, supporting students as they process how their thoughts and feelings influence their actions.
What are your plans to incorporate student voice into your school?
Student voice is another important piece in ensuring Breakthrough Charter School is supporting the needs of our students. When it comes to our service-learning model, Breakthrough students will have the opportunity to work with local partners to identify needs in our school and community and imagine/implement long-lasting solutions. Through our partnership with Marion Military Institute, the nation's oldest military college, cadets (students) from Marion Military Institute will found a leader’s club and student government association, teaching students to be advocates for themselves in our space. Also, students will be able to sit on some school-wide committees to offer input and suggestions.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about your charter school?
Our partnership with community organizations, such as Marion Military Institute and Main Street Marion, an economic revitalization organization, played a pivotal role in bringing Breakthrough Charter School to Marion. We are thankful for the families and students supporting our mission, vision, and core values. Our faculty and staff offer a range of experience and expertise that truly makes our learning environment transformational. This is just the beginning for Breakthrough, and we could not be more excited!
Learn more about Breakthrough Charter School in Alabama.
Brittnee Exum is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.