Breakthrough Education

Half the kids from well-resourced communities will graduate college. In under-resourced communities, the odds drop to one in ten. How to move that dial?

Breakthrough Education
STEM challenge, with marshmallows: Who can build the tallest structure to withstand an earthquake—on a base the kids also made? It’s all part of Breakthrough Silicon Valley. / Photo by Charles Barry

Here’s one important way to help kids from under-resourced communities: Start early. That means work with kids in middle school to make sure they’re on track. And that’s what Breakthrough Silicon Valley has done for more than 15 years. For the past three years, it’s been in partnership with SCU.

A mixture of intense academics and summer camp fun, Breakthrough requires students to commit to two summers taking classes to gear up for high school. This past summer, more than 100 seventh- and eighth-graders from San Jose Unified School District and Franklin-McKinley School District studied on campus—taught by fellows whose ranks include Santa Clara students interested in teaching.

Perla Luna ’19 has taught in the program the past two years. (She’s also the current editor of the student newspaper, The Santa Clara, and—full disclosure—just finished interning for this magazine.) With her students, she’s seen how work inside the classroom and out instills confidence, frameworks for juggling competing demands of school and family, and inspiration. She credits the program with reaffirming her commitment to teaching.

The Breakthrough partnership with SCU was five years in the making. Instrumental was Maria Nash Vaughn ’86, who serves on the SCU Board of Regents and the board of directors for Breakthrough Silicon Valley, an affiliate of a nationwide collaborative. She saw a perfect fit. “Breakthrough has a beautiful college campus for the kids to be studying on, and it inspires them to be here,” she says. “And Santa Clara University students have the chance to tutor, mentor, and teach the middle schoolers.”

Jocelyne Cardona M.A. ’20 knows both sides; she was a Breakthrough student herself—as was her brother Edson Cardona ’17—before she served as a teaching fellow. They grew up nearby—but a long way from the home their parents fled in El Salvador, as refugees of that country’s civil war. Jocelyne is now a student in the School of Education and Counseling Psychology. This summer, she spoke to Breakthrough students as part of an alumni panel. “The opportunity to spend the summer on campus grounds them to a reality that college is possible,” she says. “And a college like this is possible.” 

Being a teaching fellow is no easy feat, notes LEAD scholar Alejandra Sanchez ’19, who served as a teaching fellow in 2017. There’s the application, interview, teaching boot camp, and long days over the summer—filled with inspiration.

John Hiester, executive director of Breakthrough Silicon Valley, says this truth underpins the program: “Potential, intelligence, and talent are distributed equally across our society. Opportunity is not.” But that can change.

Gabrielle Deutsch ’18 served as an intern with Santa Clara Magazine and was the recipient of the Katherine Woodall Prize for criticism. She is currently doing graduate work in English at Georgetown University.

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Austin Gray ’19 takes initiative to increase the presence and confidence of black employees in the Silicon Valley.

 

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For the first time ever, all six academic leadership roles are filled by women—not bad for a school that didn’t grant women degrees until 1961

Bringing Tradition Near

Kaweni Ibarra ’19 learned how to reinvigorate history when he apprenticed with a Hawaiian tattooist his senior year.