Michael Goldstein: Smarter than a Breakthrough Student

Trivia dominated the recentBreakthrough New York annual gala. The evening gave attendees a chance to see – and meet – a group of all-star, high-achieving students.

But the highlight of the night was a multi-pronged trivia competition with the theme, Are You Smarter Than a Breakthrough Student? After tables competed against one another, the top-ranked tables selected adults to compete on stage against three smart Breakthrough students.

Immediately, two adults were knocked out of the competition after incorrect answers. The sole remaining adult, Michael Goldstein, held his own against middle schooler Amanda, and eventually was crowned the victor.

Goldstein is the Senior Director of Development at Year Up in Boston, and traveled to the gala to see his friend, Breakthrough founder Sam Marks, receive an award that night.

You were the last adult standing in the trivia competition. How did that feel?

Considering that the first two were eliminated before I even had a chance to answer a question, it was sobering. I through this was going to be over fast, but they happened to ask a question that I knew an answer to.

How tough were those students?

They were very tough. I got so lucky. I couldn’t answer many of the questions that were not mine. It just so happened that I was very fortunate when it was my turn, the question was one of the easier ones. There were five times I could have been eliminated. It became an epic battle.

One advantage I had at the event was that I had been a teacher trainer for middle school teachers, so I am familiar with what middle school students learn in school.

What did you think of the gala?

I was really proud of Rhea. I’ve known Rhea since she was a student in Summerbridge. She still has the same passion and humor but now she can raise a couple of million dollars to boot – which was something she couldn’t do when she was 13 years old.

How are you connected with Breakthrough New York?

I was a Summerbridge staff member from1986 to 1993 in San Francisco, New Orleans, Prague and Providence, Rhode Island.

You’re based in Boston, so what brought you to New York to the gala?

I know Sam Marks, and came down from Boston go celebrate his honor. He was a phenomenal teacher, and passionate about the causes that he is a part of. He was absolutely one of the best teachers I had ever seen in Summerbridge, and he had this amazing ability to make people around him better.

Sam is really loyal to his friends and stays close with people over time. It has been 20 years since we worked together and he has been a big part of my life since then, and I’m happy to be a big part of his life.

What’s your background?

Summerbridge was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. I had done the program for years and then went to help start a Summerbridge New Orleans, where I was the Dean of Faculty. While there I had the chance to work for Jay Altman, the founder of Summerbridge New Orleans, and got to see what it was like to start a new site. It was amazing, and I knew that was something I wanted to do.

So, Jenn David-Lang and I, who were both studying at Brown University, had the same idea, and we co-founded a program in Providence in 1992. (Editor’s note: All of the Summerbridge programs later transitioned to become Breakthrough programs.)

What is your interest in working with students?

Summerbridge, as you've seen and heard, is absolutely the best teacher education and teacher inspiration program that I have ever seen. It makes you fall in love with teaching.

The students are incredibly motivated. They are fun. There is a real feeling that what you are doing absolutely matters. Students don’t have a lot of help in some cases, so you are doing something that can make a difference to them. You see incredible progress, quickly.

The idea of learning is cool, and if you like to learn and aren’t always in a place where learning is cool, you now can be with other people who share this feeling, and it’s intoxicating.

What do you hope people took away from the gala?

My hope is that the people who were new to Breakthrough really got a feeling for just how special it is and how rare it is. There are many organizations out there but very few that have basically for years and years and years had this unbelievable sense of loyalty and commitment to excellence.

What really struck me was how well-prepared the students were. Before the event started, students came up to us at the reception, and they were fearless and introduced themselves and engaged us in conversation. I know I couldn’t have done that until I was in my twenties.

What do you think others should know about Breakthrough New York?

Students teaching students; that's the model. It’s the most magical program I know of so join me and come see it!