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Student and Volunteer Profile: Joseph

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Joseph started at Breakthrough the summer after fourth grade, excited to get additional academic support. “In the beginning I was really stressed out,” he remembers. “I was working hard while my peers from school were hanging out and going on vacation. I had to reflect and realize that I was here for a reason, because I want to learn and get an education. Having other students around me who had the same drive to learn was really awesome.”


Joseph also appreciated his teachers. “Every morning, they would be cheering on the curb, they were so happy to see us,” he recalls. “They took my writing, math, and literature skills to a whole new level. All those annotations in our reading books, all those math equations I solved, and all the talks I had with my advisor really set me up for the future.”


Career Day was a memorable experience. Over the course of four summers, he visited Goldman Sachs, Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, and UCSF Medical Center. The hospital visits were especially impactful. “To walk into UCSF and get a tour, and get to know the people who worked there, to have that first-hand account from these people who are working to make the community better, it was so fascinating and it just sparked my love for medicine,” he says.


Joseph also benefited from Breakthrough’s after-school program. Katherine, a University of San Francisco senior, was one of his tutors. “I had trouble doing quadratic equations in math,” he says. “Her in-depth explanations helped me understand the concept much better. I learned a lot of other things from her too, such as using my time wisely and learning to do the more complicated homework first.”


The fall of eighth grade meant high school admissions. Joseph received guidance through that daunting process from Jenee Palmer, Breakthrough’s Senior Program Director. “Jenee provided us with examples of the essay format, had one-on-one meetings, prepared us for the SSAT, and answered questions around the clock. Without her, I don’t know what high school I would have got into.”


As it turned out, Joseph was accepted to Lick-Wilmerding. “Freshman year was kind of bumpy with the increase in homework,” Joseph recalls. “There were still some things I needed to work on, like procrastination and such.” Being a student of color at an independent school was also a real challenge to navigate. But Joseph built relationships with his teachers, worked on his time management skills, and got involved on campus - with basketball, journalism, and the Black Student Union. He recently began his junior year at Lick and increasingly grows as a leader.


And for the past two summers, Joseph returned to Breakthrough as a participant in our Volunteer Leadership Program. “I wanted to volunteer because I felt compelled to, because Breakthrough has helped me so graciously with everything, and I really wanted to give back to the next generation,” he says. He decorated the school, tutored younger students, served lunch, and assisted teachers. By his second summer, he found himself leading cheers in front of two hundred people and awarding the Spirit Stick to a deserving group of Breakthrough students on Friday afternoons. More than ever, he was working hard for his own future as well as the futures of those around him.


“Breakthrough strives to bridge the gap of educational inequality,” Joseph says, “and I feel honored to be part of that effort. Breakthrough has been that launching pad to help me not only succeed but thrive in high school and beyond.”