When Ronnie began Breakthrough’s academic program in the summer before fifth grade, he found it challenging. “I was not used to having rigorous academic programs, especially over the summer,” he says. “I was very shy when I was younger and wouldn’t ask for help. I thought I’d always have to do things on my own. The skills Breakthrough teachers implement and enforce, like organization and not being afraid to ask for help, really changed me. Through middle school and high school, I was able to see how much this benefited me.” 

Ronnie had always liked math, but his experience at Breakthrough supercharged his interest in the subject: “The way it was taught at Breakthrough, by teachers who were very intentional about student learning and really enthusiastic, made me feel people cared about what I was learning. That made math more enjoyable, and it made it easier to ask for help.”  

One of Ronnie’s favorite elective classes in the summer program was a rap and hip hop history class. He remembers that “most of the class was too shy to perform, but one student created a whole rap. Being able to see a student my age performing like that was really inspiring.” 

When Breakthrough extended its program to run from the end of fourth grade through high school graduation, Ronnie’s cohort of students became the first to take advantage of programs to help students apply to competitive high schools and colleges. In test-prep classes and workshops on writing application essays, Ronnie felt the program’s staff provided “all the resources” to succeed. Breakthrough also regularly held workshop for its high school students to access resources and discuss shared challenges. “I’d see the same people every year, and we developed strong bonds,” Ronnie says. “I’m still connected to these people. It’s a community I’ve always been grateful for.” 

In his sophomore year at Mission High School, Ronnie volunteered as a Breakthrough after-school tutor, something he wanted to do “since my first year at Breakthrough. When I was a fifth grader, there was a volunteer who played soccer with us during recess, and I loved soccer. Seeing how much he cared for the students was inspiring. I was able to build connections with the students I tutored, and giving back to a community that helped me so much made me feel great.” 

Now a rising junior at UC Santa Cruz, majoring in computer science, Ronnie is interested in machine learning and cybersecurity, and he still loves soccer. “Breakthrough taught me to work collaboratively,” he says, “and it taught me that this is just as important as individual work. It changed how I approach different subjects and new topics.”