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Applying to Breakthrough as a fourth grader, Nashira had mixed feelings at first about spending her summer in school. That changed once the summer program began. “On the first day, I was so excited!” she says. “The classes, the teachers – we had so much fun.”

Nashira fit right in at Breakthrough and worked hard. In math class, she studied operations with fractions and positive and negative integers. She discovered a knack for problem solving, and liked the math-related games and her teacher Jeena’s insistence that every student learn the material – “She wouldn’t stop teaching until we really knew it.” In planetary science, Nashira learned about gravity, atmosphere, and the water cycle, and made a model of Earth for her end-of-summer project. In writing class, a unique voice began to emerge – one full of sensory detail, and with solid paragraph structure.

A cheerleader and dancer, Nashira was enthusiastic pretty much all the time. She helped her club earn the Most Spirited award, and pushed her advisory to win the Breakthrough-wide reading competition. On Culture Day, she performed a dance with her mom – a mother-daughter moment that brought cheers from the audience. She also made it several rounds into the water balloon toss at Olympics before finally getting soaked.

Breakthrough was a two-year program when Nashira started. But during her sixth grade year, Breakthrough secured the funding to expand, growing into an eight-year program with four-year college attendance as the ultimate goal. Nashira stuck with it for the six years that followed. She gained admission to St. Ignatius College Preparatory School as a ninth grader and continued to work hard and succeed academically, while giving back to Breakthrough as an after-school program tutor and summer volunteer. In the spring of 2018, she graduated both from high school and from Breakthrough, a member of our inaugural graduating class. She is currently in her first year at San Jose State University.

"I appreciate Breakthrough so much," she says. "I don't believe I would've been able to get here without them. They've helped me through it all."


Walking the Breakthrough hallways, you might hear a student or teacher calling out “Cheese!” Angel, a.k.a. Cheese, was given the nickname at age two by his brother Emmanuel who said he smiled all the time. “I’m always smiling,” Cheese confirms. “It’s just something special I have in me.”

Now in his fourth year at Breakthrough, Cheese has enthusiasm for the program that is equally evident. When he came to Breakthrough after fourth grade, he was nervous that the program would be hard and that his shy nature would be difficult to overcome.  Now much more confident, he says the key to success is to keep your binder organized so you always know what tasks you have to complete, and that making friends is easy at Breakthrough: “We have the most well behaved students, and they always say good things about each other.”

Cheese grew a tremendous amount over the years. Reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as a seventh grader inspired a deep love for literature. In writing class, he worked on persuasive five-paragraph essays and selected a topic close to his heart – recommendations for the Giants’ new catcher following Buster Posey’s knee injury. In science, he discovered the Earth’s many layers and how convection causes tectonic plates to move across the Earth’s surface. One of the highlights of Cheese’s experience thus far was the outdoor education trip, when he and his fellow Breakthrough students camped under the stars and “saw the wilderness in real life, rather than in a book.” 

But the teachers are what Cheese thinks makes Breakthrough especially unique. “They’re always positive and bringing us up. Every teacher is my favorite because I know all of them want to help me succeed.”

Cheese attended Stuart Hall and, for the past several summers, has returned to Breakthrough as a Volunteer Leadership Participant, assisting with program operations and serving as a role model for younger Breakthrough students. Cheese knows the homework schedule and fast pace of his summers at Breakthrough have prepared him for future success. He is currently a first-year student at Boston University.


When Breakthrough staff presented to the fourth graders at her school, they got Linda’s attention. Linda did well academically, but longed for greater access to books and more individual attention from her teachers, who dealt with large numbers of high-need students.

At Breakthrough, she found what she was looking for. Classes of eight freed her teachers to plan their lessons around their students’ needs and interests. Linda also appreciated their willingness to invest as much time as necessary. “When you don’t understand something, you can find them at lunch,” she says. “They explain it in a different way so you’ll understand it.”

Classes were engaging. Linda remembers learning to solve equations and calculate the circumference of a circle in math class. In health science, she learned about trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup; one day, the whole class ate healthy cheese doodles.

The students at Breakthrough are “really nice. If you have any troubles, they’re more than willing to help you. They’ll support you – they won’t make fun of you. If you need a friend to be there, they’ll tell you about a time they went through the same thing.”

One of the special opportunities Linda appreciated most was Career Day. “You always hear, ‘Oh, I want to be a doctor,’ or, ‘Oh, I want to be a lawyer.’ But you never get to actually visit those places. On Career Day you see what the job is like and you find out about the responsibilities, the schools you need to go to.” Linda visited the central office of San Francisco Unified School District, where she met with staff and saw the computer systems used to store data. She is thinking now that it would be interesting to work in education, helping teachers and thereby helping kids. Linda got a taste of this over the past two summers as a Volunteer Leadership Participant at Breakthrough, assisting with program operations and serving as a role model for younger Breakthrough students.

Linda graduated from The Hamlin School and from San Francisco University High School. She feels her time at Breakthrough prepared her well for a rigorous college-preparatory school – from organizing her binder to annotating texts. She is currently a second-year student at Pitzer College.


Reyhan applied to Breakthrough on the advice of his principal at Visitacion Valley Elementary School.  “I had no idea what it was going to be like,” he remembers. “But I thought it would be helpful to me to understand things.”

What he found was a place where learning is celebrated. “All of the students interact with each other. Everybody participates. Everyone helps each other if they have hard times in class.” His teachers also went the extra mile. “Teachers will give you advice on how to understand the homework or class work that we’re doing. They’re very supportive. I’ve learned not to be nervous to ask for help.”

In addition to academics, Reyhan values his Breakthrough experiences outside the classroom. He still remembers scoring a crucial goal during a recess soccer game, and performing Capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian art form – before a large crowd at Celebration. He also recalls his overnight outdoor education trip to Point Reyes National Seashore. He was anxious at first after learning the area is a mountain lion habitat. Then he arrived at the campsite and started having fun. “Even though you may be fearful of things,” he says, “once people around you overcome that fear, it doesn’t get to you anymore.”

Reyhan earned excellent grades throughout his time at A.P. Giannini Middle School while staying busy with basketball and golf. He recently graduated from Lincoln High and is now a second-year student at San Jose State University.


Tomicia remembers when she first heard of Breakthrough. She was a fourth grader at Tenderloin Community School and loved the idea of additional learning opportunities. She completed what would be the first of several rigorous application processes in the years to come. Starting the program that summer, she was the only one from her school. But “right away the teachers made you feel welcome, so it took away your nervousness. It felt like a family.”

Tomicia had a fantastic summer. By fall of fifth grade, she and other Breakthrough students were turning their attention to middle school applications. “The whole process was stressful,” she recalls. But, she adds, “I knew it would be good for me. Sometimes you have to do things for yourself.”

Tomicia was admitted to San Francisco Day School and started there as a sixth grader. She appreciated that her classmates were welcoming, even though most had known each other since Kindergarten. She also quickly bonded with many faculty, like her math teacher, Mr. Turner, who is “funny, helpful, and all around great. “As an eighth grader, Tomicia was elected Co-Majority Leader by her classmates and just missed straight As on a recent report card.

Tomicia subsequently concluded another challenging admissions process, with a wonderful outcome: San Francisco University High School. For several summers, she's returned to Breakthrough as a Volunteer Leadership Participant, assisting with program operations and serving as a role model for younger Breakthrough students. She is now in her second year attending the University of Puget Sound on a Posse scholarship.

Jenee Palmer, Breakthrough’s Senior Program Director, has known Tomicia since the fifth grade. “She’s the embodiment of hard work and perseverance and positivity,” Jenee says. “It’s not always easy and there are bumps in the road, but she works extremely hard and keeps a smile on her face.”