The Students Become the Teachers

Karina Martinez ’26 and Ximena Cadenas ’26 spent their summer providing academic support for first-generation students like themselves.

The Students Become the Teachers
Ximena Cadenas ’26 with a group of her Breakthrough students. Photos provided by Cadenas and Martinez.

Transitioning from student to teacher, Karina Martinez ’26 and Ximena Cadenas ’26 spent their summers working with Breakthrough Silicon Valley to provide first-generation students like themselves with personalized academic advising and support.

Breakthrough is a national nonprofit with a six-year program that puts middle and high school students from underserved communities on a path toward college. The program also provides teaching opportunities for college students as encouragement to pursue careers in education.

Martinez and Cadenas both benefited from Breakthrough’s resources as middle and high school students. Coming back as teaching fellows felt like a full-circle moment.

“I taught middle-school science, elective, and social justice classes and had the privilege of witnessing exponential student growth during the summer—both personal and academic. I also developed a passion for educational equity advocacy,” says Martinez. “It was rewarding to see firsthand how an effective and nurturing learning environment allows students to reach their full potential.”

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Karina Martinez ’26 is currently in her second year at Santa Clara studying biology.
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Ximena Cadenas ’26 is currently in her second year at Santa Clara studying math.

As teaching fellows, Martinez and Cadenas gained professional experience in lesson planning and classroom management. They also realized how vital establishing teacher-student rapport is in the classroom.

“I truly respect and value teachers more than I already did, which was a lot,” says Cadenas. “The emotional support, motivation, and laughter teachers are able to provide their students is what makes the difference between students simply receiving information and mastering content.”

Breakthrough’s program helped solidify Cadenas and Martinez’s career plans. Martinez’s passion for STEM grew drastically after teaching science for the summer. Cadenas is inspired to continue pursuing a career in education through Santa Clara’s urban education minor. Both strive to continue fighting for educational equity no matter what field they enter.

“I realized that my role as a teacher extended beyond giving students lesson plans, I was their cheerleader,” says Martinez. “There are diligent and dedicated kids who are going to contribute invaluable knowledge to this world and who deserve the resources and encouragement to do so.”

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