By: Aurora Mussey

Over the past two years I have come to have hands-on experience tutoring CLA students weekly. Over the course of this after-school program spanning the fall months, I was able to interact with both boys and girls from grades 6,7, and 8 to assist them with reading proficiency and homework. From this, combined with my interest in socioeconomic diversity and its challenges, I selected this institution in which to examine and research more thoroughly to learn about their students and their unique approach to middle school education. Throughout these six posts I hope to have well-informed the Hathaway Brown community as to the developments and breakthroughs of this form of interactive learning made available to the students of Citizens Leadership Academy.


#1: Breakthrough Schools1.png

The Breakthrough Schools are a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting free, public charter schools around Cleveland, Ohio. They have developed a network of schools that act to provide an alternative learning option for students seeking a more hands-on and interactive approach to their schooling. Breakthrough School campuses are as follows:

E Prep & Village Prep Cliffs (K-8)

E Prep & Village Prep Woodland Hills

E Prep & Village Prep Willard

Citizens Academy (K-5)

Citizens Academy East

Citizens Academy Southeast

Citizens Leadership Academy (6-8)

Citizens Leadership Academy East

With a wide array of schools available and multiple campuses, school-age students are provided many options for education regardless of their location around the Cleveland area.

In addition to providing an organization from which to launch their schools, Breakthrough works to close the gap left by public funding when these institutions do not receive the money required from the government to keep operations running. Friends of Breakthrough works alongside business, community, and political leaders as well to raise support and awareness of these issues to greaten the overall quality of public schooling in Cleveland. Supporting an overall total of 19 schools, and reaching at least 6,000 children, the Breakthrough Schools organization helps to provide well-needed schooling options within the Cleveland neighborhoods most in need.

#2: Citizens Leadership Academy

Founded in 2011, Citizens Leadership Academy (CLA) is a free public school open to the community which provides another option for schooling to students in the area. Located in Cleveland, just Northeast of downtown, CLA is centrally located for its students to have easy access and transportation as they are provided a learning facility that allows them many opportunities to grow and become prepared for higher education as well as in their overall careers. Proven successful, they have been ranked in the top 1% for Ohio schools for student growth. Extracurriculars available include basketball, cheerleading, after-school tutoring, and civic engagement where students are encouraged to interact with the surrounding community and improve its facilities. CLA provides interactive education to kids in grades six through eight as operates under the support of Breakthrough Schools.


#3: Interviews (Part 1)

After interviewing three students from grade six enrolled at Citizens Leadership Academy, Carlee, Renaya, and Azarya, each were able to provide details of their individual learning and transition in CLA.


  • Chose to attend Citizen’s Leadership after their initiative of throwing a chipotle party at her former school
  • Participates in singing, volleyball, and cheerleading two times per week after school
  • Her favorite aspect of school is seeing friends and learning from teachers, “when you get really in-depth with the work, you want to get more into it.”
  • Attends class Research and Presentation to assist her with skills in public speaking and allows her to utilize research tools and ask critical questions
  • Speakers come to talk on leadership and “respect, responsibility, courage, that helps you become a better person.”


  • Entered CLA mid-year but mentored by Principal Gruhin
  • Participated in group ice skating and a field walk for a social studies class to discuss religion
  • High school students come to assist with homework and reading, also helped by her teachers in math and specifically reading
  • Engages in gymnastics and cheerleading when denied at other facilities


  • Able to shadow classes, had some difficulty in social transitioning
  • Learning about how things change in science experiments
  • Encouraged to read and ask question
  • Aspires to be a cheerleader, found CLA program to be challenging

#4: Interviews (Part 2)

Through interviewing two seventh grade students from CLA, Darion and Adrianna, they were able to their individual experience with course loads and activities afforded them by their school facility.


  • Joined Citizens Leadership in sixth grade, having moved from Euclid
  • Mother specifically sought Breakthrough Schools for their reputation of unique learning
  • Found it difficult to adjust but became accustomed and is now an A and B student
  • Attends six classes and all homework is assigned Monday, requiring persistent and continued effort throughout the week to maintain courses
  • Plays basketball and football alongside his classmates
  • Potentially will be placed in Honors Math because of his excellence in geometry
  • Math teacher is available to help through issues with schoolwork and is clear to understand, acts “like a father figure”
  • Learns most effectively by example in addition to notes, evidenced in class time through his catapult project, which combined his science and math classes as he worked consistently in a team of three for two weeks
  • Studied black history month by researching a famous african american figure and his early life (chose Kendrick Llamar)
  • Will be attending John Hayes HS, aspires to be a doctor or scientist and hopes to attend Johns Hopkins University after being “inspired to start helping people”


  • Entered Citizens Leadership just this year, having visited with her brother who currently attends as an eighth grader
  • Receives plenty of support from both friends and teachers (readily available for help)
  • Learns real-world applications in math classes, including calculations of sales taxes, discounts, and interest
  • Approximately two to three pages of homework per night, occasionally in each subject, well-managed
  • Plays basketball, unsure of future plans for high school

#5: Interviews (Part 3)

An interview with an eighth grader at CLA, Cierra, revealed her own perspective of her school environment as well as the support system she has found in this institution.


  • Previously attended Noble Academy until sixth grade, now her third year at Citizens Leadership
  • Prefers social studies due to her enjoyment of history, and learns best from aural instruction
  • Researched the first black female judge for her Black History month project, which required research and presentations in front of parents and fellow students
  • Plays basketball twice per week and is involved in yearbook
  • Favorite teacher is understanding, “helped me do my work, challenged me a lot”, “strict but fun at the same time”
  • One of two CLA student representatives at the Break-through Bash, an event attended by several hundred people to assist in fundraising for Breakthrough Schools
  • As a speaker, Cierre discussed her Breakthrough experience and listed schools statistics in a 15 page memorized paper
  • Would like to attend Hawken in the next year, encouraged by her parents


#6: Interviews (Part 4)

Interviews were concluded with a statement from a well beloved member of CLA faculty, Mrs. Pret, who currently works in the school’s main office administration.

Lisa Pret

  • Has worked with Citizens Leadership Academy seven years, since their opening, and was one of its founding members
  • Coaches students techniques to memorize text and present to audiences
  • Cites the recent installation this year of a Research and Presentation class to best achieve these goals
  • States that the creation of CLA was a “long time coming”
  • Explains the school to be one of expeditionary learning, taking instruction outside the classroom where students learn to give back to the surrounding urban community
  • Politically activism is encouraged through attendance of a march in response to recent school shootings and advocating for protection against gun violence, considered to be a chance for these middle schoolers to be introduced early to standing up for beliefs
  • School has seen significant growth in student enrollment and academic scores and proficiency
  • Strong diversity in both staff and teachers
  • Holds class reunions for older and recent graduates
  • Many former students have returned to attest to a successful high school experience in which these kids have thrived and continued their growth on a trajectory set by CLA’s teachings