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Students Break Through Barriers and Aim for College

High-reaching and under-represented middle school students strive for college-bound futures through Breakthrough SJC.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Corrected at 3 p.m. to fix the program cost per student.

While elementary and college students catch up on lost time this summer, some San Juan Capistrano middle school and high school students chose to stay in school for another six weeks.

“This is the best kept secret in town,” Ricardo Beas of said, looking around and admiring a program unfold before his eyes.

Since 1978, Breakthrough Collaborative has aided more than 2,700 students some 29 locations throughout the United States. Its goal is to motivate students who don't have a family legacy of college attendance to aim higher.

Breakthrough SJC is the only Breakthrough site in Southern California.

Middle school Breakthrough students Citlali Perez and Juana Monroy welcomed sponsors of the program Tuesday at Breakthrough SJC Visitors’ Day at .

“It is a very intimate and family-feel program,” said Anne Dahlem, director of communications and marketing of St. Margaret’s. But it goes far beyond a summer school session.

The skills and college-bound goals inspired in the six-week summer session are maintained in a two-hour after school program called inSession at St. Margaret’s and .

“The commitment to the students is a six-year commitment, not just a six-week program,” , director of Breakthrough SJC.

Breakthrough SJC’s Leaders

Breakthrough SJC was founded by St. Margaret's Headmaster Marcus D. Hurlbut at the start of the 2006 summer session, under the leadership of former director, Diosa Adams.

“The dual mission of Breakthrough is my sincere commitment in working with students who will be the first in their families to attend and graduate college, along with motivating the next generation of educators,” said Montoya in his statement on the visitor’s packet.

Montoya will present Breakthrough to the at a breakfast mixer on Sept. 5.

Mayor Pro Tem  learned about Breakthrough SJC at its first graduation in June. The 20 of the 22 students who remained in the U.S. are moving on to post-secondary education. The majority of students are attending community college and four are attending universities.

“It was profoundly moving to see these kids go off to such great schools,” Taylor said. 

Duraid Antone, who has supported Breakthrough SJC for more than four years, believes the biggest impact of the program is mindset.

“Kids who are involved in Breakthrough no longer have this question of  ‘Are you going to college?’ Instead it is, ‘How are you going to get to college,’ ” Antone said.

The program costs $2,500 per student for the full year. Thus a visitors' day to enourage sponsorship.

“One of our biggest goals right now is keeping the program sustainable,” Dahlem said. Breakthrough SJC has expanded from six teachers and 22 students in 2006 to 17 teachers and 80 students today, having helped 200 students in total.

“There are a lot of paths you can take in life. … You can tell these kids are going places,” Taylor said. 

Young Teachers Give Back 

Products of Breakthrough themselves, Raul Navarro and Stephanie Perez are direct demonstrators of giving back. 

“I felt like I owed the program so much because it has given so much to me. It has given me confidence and social skills … I have been having a great summer here with Breakthrough,” Navarro said.

“None of [these students] would be doing so well without these intern teachers and mentor teachers from across the nation,” Montoya said.

Four of the 13 young teachers gave visitors a glimpse into the challenge and reward of volunteering with Breakthrough SJC.

Perez said she joined with the thought of helping struggling students close the .

“I felt like I should do something about it …It’s great that there are programs like this one,” Perez said. “I see a lot of potential in these kids; they just need someone to help them out, someone to guide them.” 

The other two intern teachers on the panel, Samantha Osaki and Eric Shapiro, found their own connection to Breakthrough SJC through various volunteering activities at University of Pennsylvania.

“It was exactly what I was looking for because I wanted to reach out to kids, especially when they still have so much potential. I’ve learned that teaching makes me really happy,’ ” Osaki said.

Added Shapiro: “It’s been an eye-opening experience, in terms of the workload of the teachers, and people don’t realize teachers put in so much effort."

Sponsors Learn About the Power of Inspired Youth

“All of you being here today is a great example of how we can network,” Montoya said to the guests who wanted to learn more about the program to which they are donating their time and funds.

Four of this year’s 80 Breakthrough students spoke about how the program has enriched their summers and has inspired their futures.

Aaron Aguilar, a rising seventh-grader, wants to be a mechanical engineer someday.

“I want to help people in the hospital with technology,” Aguilar said.

Breakthrough SJC connected with UC Irvine Engineering students who gave Breakthrough students a tour of the UC Irvine engineering labs.

“They are already giving us an advantage for when we start school,” Aguilar said about the teachers who intern with Breakthrough.

For his part, Beas, of Mexican restaurant, was impressed.

“It is unbelievable to see how many kids want to do well, and the energy they have in doing it,” Beas said.

Christopher July 19, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Thanks to Mr. Hurlbut and Ms. Adams..Breakthrough San Juan students should be very proud of themselves; they inspire young adults to make an investment in careers with an emphasis on education. Congrats to the first graduating class of BTSJC!!! -Founding BTSJC Teacher '06

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