SJS parents host Breakthrough Houston’s trivia event, students volunteer as teaching assistants


Kathy Heinzerling

235 Houstonians attended the trivia event, which raised almost $200,000. The money will fund ongoing school year sessions and the summer program.

Arjun Maitra, Staff Writer

With three out of the 24 teams tied for first place after the final round, the third annual “Are You Smarter Than A Breakthrough Student?” event had come down to the wire. As the tiebreaker round concluded, cheers erupted for Coog Quiz Collective, the winning team from the University of Houston.

On Oct. 21, 235 Houstonians, including several from the St. John’s community, gathered on the outdoor patio of the Armadillo Palace for a game of trivia. The event celebrated Breakthrough Houston, a tuition-free educational program for high-achieving but under-resourced students.

The gathering marked Breakthrough Houston’s first in-person event since March 2020, with last year’s trivia event moving online due to pandemic restrictions.

Trivia questions stemmed from Breakthrough Houston summer program’s curriculum, including topics like literature, math and science.

“We want to showcase what our students have learned,” Breakthrough Houston executive director Kathy Heinzerling said.

Breakthrough Houston has a dual mission to prepare students with limited educational resources for academic success while training college and high school students for careers in education. 

As part of Breakthrough, middle schoolers attend a six-week summer program and enrichment sessions during the school year while high schoolers participate in a College Bound program that supports their college admissions process. 

The Oct. 21 event was co-chaired by SJS parents Derek and Lara Hollingsworth and Rakesh and Shonali Agrawal. Derek first attended the trivia event in 2019.

“Two years ago, we learned about all the amazing work Breakthrough Houston does in our community,” Derek said. “We were thrilled to be asked to co-host the event this year.”

The trivia rounds were moderated by sports radio show hosts and SJS parents David Gow and Carla Dawson. 

“Having the event centered around trivia makes it fun,” Derek said. “The competitive spirit kicks in, and everyone gets into it.” 

The event raised almost $200,000 through ticket sales, a raffle drawing and a silent auction. The money will fund ongoing school year sessions and the summer program.

Senior Ananya Agrawal learned about Breakthrough Houston from her middle school Civics teacher Ganesa Collins, who also coordinates the organization’s school year program at St. John’s. 

“I always wanted to explore teaching, and the Breakthrough program gave me an easy way to try it out,” Agrawal said. 

Agrawal has volunteered with Breakthrough since ninth grade and considers her work with the organization a high point of her high school experience. 

“Upper School students can volunteer to teach middle schoolers in the Breakthrough Houston community during the school year,” Collins said. “All the school year sessions are conducted in the St. John’s Middle School on specified Saturday mornings.” 

Upper schoolers can also join as Teaching Assistants for the summer program hosted at three sites—St. John’s School, KIPP CONNECT and Hogg Middle School. 

“Last summer, during one of the final homework assignments, every single one of the students completed it and got it right,” Agrawal said. “It is a magical feeling to work with the kids and help them get to that point.”