Montserrat applied to Breakthrough as a fourth grader at Fairmount Elementary School (now Dolores Huerta). Though her teacher had encouraged her, she was doubtful she’d be accepted given her English skills. When she got the acceptance letter, “I felt accomplished, but at the same time worried, because I knew that Breakthrough would challenge me academically and I wasn’t sure that I was ready for it.”

She spent the next four years in Breakthrough’s middle school program, where the engaging lessons and dedicated teachers were hugely helpful – and she was more than up for the challenge. “It was completely different from what I was used to at school,” Montserrat recalls. “I learned to love science. I especially remember the egg drop experiment in my physics course during my final summer. Learning science at Breakthrough made me realize that I wanted to do something in the STEM field.” She also particularly remembers Amy, one of her writing teachers. “Amy was always really patient and was always willing to help me when I struggled, even during her lunch break.” In addition to her writing technique and a love for science, Montserrat developed study skills, like organizing a binder and annotating a text, and appreciated the special events on Fridays that built community and introduced the students to something new – like Outdoor Ed, when her class went camping at Pt. Reyes, and College Day, when they learned about college firsthand from their teachers.

As an eighth grader, Montserrat received support from Breakthrough throughout the stressful high school application process, and ultimately chose to attend Lowell High School. Her high school years took perseverance, from adapting to a competitive student culture to navigating Organic Chemistry as a junior. “I’m proud that, although it got hard, I never gave up,” she says. Montserrat graduated from Lowell and from Breakthrough in 2018, a member of our first-ever class to receive eight years of support, and enrolled in Dominican University in San Rafael, where she’s now a senior. 

In college, Montserrat thrived. Holding onto her love for STEM and her goal of becoming a pediatrician, Montserrat majored in biology. She learned to manage her time even better, take advantage of resources on campus, and apply the academic and organizational skills she’d been honing for years. She also persevered through COVID, moving back home for a year, and despite the tremendous anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic, emerged closer to her family and with even more self-discipline.

After graduating a semester early, she’ll take a year and a half to work on her med school applications, while taking classes at San Francisco State. Having persevered through so many challenges already, she feels confident about the next chapter. “I’m really proud of what I’ve done so far,” she says. “I feel like I’ve grown as a person throughout undergrad. I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience and become really independent.”

Montserrat sees the opportunity to attend Breakthrough as a pivotal point in her journey. “Breakthrough was really where I started thinking about college,” she says. “As a first-generation college student I didn’t know that much about college. My parents had the perspective that education was the most important thing, but they didn’t always know how to support us going forward. Coming to Breakthrough, I learned so much about college life and how to get there, and I realized that it was something I wanted to do in the future. I feel like Breakthrough was really the starting point for where I’m at now.”