Our Mission and Points of Difference

Striving to reach educational equity and diversity — this is our mission at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia.  We fulfill this mission in two ways – first, by helping underserved middle schoolers in Philadelphia’s public, parochial, and charter schools to reach beyond their neighborhoods, matriculate to competitive high schools and inspire a lifelong love of learning and openness to possibility.  As a result, we aim to change the trajectory of middle schoolers’ educational and life journeys.

Second, we realize our mission by providing college students with hands-on teaching experiences and training to build the next generation of diverse, talented educators.  Such pre-professional development experiences often spark an interest in and commitment to working in the field of education, with approximately 75% of Breakthrough teaching fellows pursuing careers in this sector.

At Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia, we bring together both highly-motivated middle schoolers and diverse college students who aspire to be teachers in a program designed to inspire, support and establish a more equitable education system.


Early intervention: We recruit students in the fifth grade, a critical time for students academically, socially and emotionally. 

Long-term commitment: We make a multi-year commitment to the students, ensuring they are prepared for entry into competitive high schools.

Near-peer teaching: Our teachers are themselves students. As Teaching Fellows, they bolster their college education through hands-on teaching experience, while also modeling to our middle school scholars the possibility of a promising future.

Small class sizes: With a maximum of 15 students per class, we create an environment for deeper collaboration and engagement with peers and content.

Growth-mindset: We meet students where they are and embrace their potential, providing the support, tools and momentum needed for enduring learning and teaching. 

Our core values:  We believe in the power of education to transform young people’s lives, and live each and every day to ensure our students receive the enrichment and opportunities they deserve.

History in Philadelphia

Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia provides underserved students from Philadelphia’s under-resourced schools with the education and supports they need to access select high schools.  Founded in 1995 as Summerbridge, Breakthrough Philly is part of the national Breakthrough Collaborative is a network that includes affiliate sites 24 cities nationwide.  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 Philly 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. In 2011, Breakthrough formed a partnership with Drexel University, which in 2013, replaced the St. Joseph’s site.

In 2020, Breakthrough entered into a new and exciting academic partnership with Germantown Friends School, our longtime program site and one of the region’s leading independent schools. In this partnership, GFS provides comprehensive oversight for Breakthrough’s academic programs, which offer middle school students academic enrichment and supports to launch them on a path to selective high schools.

Importantly, this partnership means Breakthrough continued to operate its programs virtually during the COVID-19 quarantine – an essential support for Philadelphia students who were out of their classrooms since mid-March. Michelle Palmer, a long-time leader at GFS, is now Executive Director for Breakthrough. Breakthrough’s existing program staff are now employed by GFS and report to Michelle. Breakthrough’s operations, fundraising and administrative team remain on staff at Breakthrough.

Working with approximately 30 charter and public schools in the School District of Philadelphia, Breakthrough recruits 50 new fifth grade students each year and serves approximately 150 students annually.


National Collaborative

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.

Breakthrough Collaborative

180 Grand Ave #1225, Oakland, CA 94612, USA