Our Mission and Vision

Breakthrough increases educational opportunity by focusing on the development of both students and teachers. Through academic enrichment and college access, Breakthrough prepares students who have limited educational opportunities to attend and succeed at competitive high schools and, ultimately, to envision themselves at 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 (Breakthrough Philly) is a year-round academic enrichment program that builds a path from middle school to high school 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 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 fifth grade – a critical time for students academically, socially and emotionally
  • It makes a three-year commitment ensuring that students enroll in selective high schools on the path to graduating from high school, attending and graduating from college.
  • It delivers rigorous academically-enriched 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

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