Our Mission and Vision
Breakthrough increases educational opportunity by focusing on the development of both students and teachers. Through academic enrichment and college preparation, Breakthrough prepares students who have limited educational opportunities to attend and succeed at competitive high schools and four-year colleges. Simultaneously, Breakthrough develops future educators by providing professional teaching experiences to college students through its selective residency programs.
Founded in 1995, Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia is a ten-year academic enrichment program that builds a path from middle school to college graduation for underserved students from Philadelphia’s public, parochial, and charter schools.
Breakthrough also inspires talented high school and college students to become educators and engaged citizens by giving them responsibility for teaching in its programs.
Breakthrough believes in the power of education to radically change young peoples’ lives. We believe the middle school years are the critical crossroads where students make choices that will dramatically affect their futures. We are passionate in our belief that every child deserves access to an excellent education and the encouragement to succeed.
Breakthrough celebrates excellence. The spirit of celebration is energetic, enthusiastic, and contagious. Young people, who would ordinarily downplay their interest in academics, discover that not only is it “cool to be smart,” but that learning is fun. And, aspiring professionals realize the many rewards of teaching and mentoring a group of bright and lively young people.
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia launches talented students, beginning in middle school, on a path to college success and inspires outstanding college students to pursue careers in education.
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia is different from other college success programs in many ways:
- It intervenes early, recruiting students in the sixth grade – a critical time for students academically, socially and emotionally
- It makes a ten-year commitment to ensuring that students enroll in selective high schools, graduate from high school, attend college, and ultimately graduate
- It delivers rigorous college-preparatory courses in an exciting and supportive learning environment
- It operates on an average 14:1 student teacher ratio, allowing a level of individual attention impossible in most educational settings
- It engages talented college students from around the country to teach in the summer program – and to serve as role models and mentors to students
- It engages talented future teachers from Greater Philadelphia college and university education programs to teach in the school year program – and to provide engaging enrichment experiences to students
- It employs experienced educators as “instructional coaches, providing comprehensive, hands-on training and mentorship to novice teachers
A Note from Executive Director, Dr. Robbin Smart
The value of our work at Breakthrough of Philadelphia has never been so important than the in the past year where I have had the pleasure to serve as the Executive Director. After 23 years as a strong educational non-profit organization, we strengthen our commitment to expanding educational opportunities for academically talented yet, under sourced students and families in the city of Philadelphia.
Research indicates that teacher quality is the most important factor in student academic success. The Breakthrough Teacher Fellowship program improves the quality of the next generation of educators as we inspire and equip motivated college students with skills, knowledge, and experience to become educational leaders. The work we do at Breakthrough transforms education on both ends of the spectrum. We are proud of our organizational impact on each individual and on the educational arena.
As an organization, we remain committed to challenging and inspiring promising young people to become leaders, to confront challenges of access and excellence. Leadership is key to Breakthrough’s ability to actively build capacity, transform individuals and communities and, ultimately, create citizens who better our communities and society. The commitment aligns with our continuing effort to make Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia accessible to students and families of all backgrounds and to create a culturally diverse and inclusive community of leaders who otherwise may not have been afforded such opportunities.
Over a ten-year period we build strong relationships; we get to know our students, their families, cultural identities, social situations, barriers and challenges they face as we support to increase an individual and collective capacity for success.
The culture of leadership fostered at Breakthrough affords valuable experiences that expands notions and concepts of leadership through interactions inside and outside of classrooms. We provide real world opportunities to make a difference in the lives of each person we touch.
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia provides underserved students from Philadelphia’s under-resourced schools with the education and supports they need to access higher education. Founded in 1995 as Summerbridge, Breakthrough Philly is part of the national Breakthrough Collaborative that includes 33 sites in 26 US cities. Breakthrough’s ‘Students Teaching Students’ model distinguishes it from other enrichment programs. Each year, we recruit and train outstanding college students from top schools across the country to serve as teachers in our program. Breakthrough’s summer teaching residency is highly competitive and has been ranked by the Princeton Review as a top ten internship along with the White House, Supreme Court, Google, and MTV.
Breakthrough has grown significantly since its first class of 30 students and its single partnership with Germantown Friends School. In 2000, Breakthrough opened a second site at Saint Joseph’s University nearly doubling the number of students served and reaching the West Philadelphia and Camden communities. In 2005, Breakthrough expanded from a two-year to a six-year program that serves students across high school. In 2011, Breakthrough formed a partnership with Drexel University, which will host and financially support our six-week College Bound Program for Breakthrough’s rising 9th graders. In 2013, the site at St. Joseph’s University was relocated to Drexel University to join the College Bound Program site.
In 2015, Breakthrough expanded to include an additional high school summer site, providing a summer intensive college application readiness and preparation program to rising high school seniors, in 2016 Breakthrough began offering an additional program for rising college freshman in the successful transition to attending a four-year college, and in 2017, Breakthrough offered a program for high school Sophomores and Juniors at Swarthmore University.
Working with approximately 30 charter and public schools in the School District of Philadelphia, Breakthrough recruits 60-65 new sixth grade students each year and serves approximately 300 students annually.
Bridging the Gap
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia is modeled after the highly successful program founded as Summerbridge by Louis Loufburrow in 1978 in San Francisco, California. Now called Breakthrough Collaborative, over the past three decades, the organization has changed the trajectories of more than 10,000 underserved students and inspired 4,000 young people to pursue a career in education. Expanding dramatically since its inception, the Breakthrough Collaborative now includes 24 US cities and in Hong Kong.
The Breakthrough Collaborative is a recipient of the 2006 Klingenstein Leadership Award from the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University, the 2007 Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, the 2009 Excellence in Education Award from Senator Barbara Boxer, and the 2010 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.