Category Archives: News

Breakthrough Visits the Bowers Museum

On Saturday, several of our Breakthrough families took a trip to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. The museum provided us with a guided tour of the exhibit Endurance: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley. The tour was led by two docents who were knowledgeable and shared interesting facts about Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917. Our families viewed rare images captured by the expedition’s official photographer, Frank Hurley, and followed along a narrative of the long journey through logs and diaries of Shackleton and his crew. Our families were inspired by the incredible story of Shackleton’s leadership, which led to the survival of his entire crew.

After a short break, we were able to participate in a group art project. As a team, we were able to take the knowledge that we learned from the exhibit and apply it towards preparation for our own expedition through the Antarctic. Each participant contributed to drawing an imaginary creature that we might encounter on our voyage as well as drawing supplies that we would put into our backpacks for survival. We also created our own vehicle that could withstand traveling through frozen conditions and wrote our own diary logs. It was a wonderfully engaging activity that required each team to build off of each other’s work to complete the project.

Our families also explored the rest of the museum, which included artifacts donated by the Forster family and facts about the Mission in San Juan Capistrano. Our families were happy to learn some more history about the city they call home.

Thank you to the Bowers Museum for being so welcoming! We are grateful for the opportunity we had to explore the extraordinary artistry and artifacts at the Bowers Museum.

MUN and GLOW Kick Off the Start of Their Second Year with Breakthrough

Our partnerships with St. Margaret’s Model United Nations (MUN) student-run club and the nonprofit Global GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) began in the fall of 2016 and just kicked off again for the 2017-2018 school year.

MUN supports our students in developing skills in public speaking, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking to ensure that they are more informed global citizens. Last spring, our middle school students wrote letters about their solutions to global issues such as education and sent them to affiliated programs of the United Nations. 8th grader Mervin F. wrote a letter to the World Food Program in the U.S. and targeted issues regarding world hunger. He received a response from the WFP and his letter was featured on their social media pages. Mervin states, “MUN has taught me how I can communicate with the world and how I can make a difference. What I hope to learn this school year is how we can make a bigger change in our society.”

GLOW aims to empower our girls through literacy, mentorship, and creative expression programs in order to foster confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and resilience. Our girls learn how to express themselves through a variety of outlets, such as music, poetry, and art. 9th grader Carissa M. described the GLOW sessions as a safe environment where everyone could be themselves, while 9th grader Catalina M. noted, “We learned how to express who we are as individuals and learned that we are all powerful.” Both students enjoyed the program last year and are excited for the nearly 30 girls in GLOW this year.

MUN and GLOW meet with our students every Thursday during In-Session at Marco Forster Middle School. Both programs open a world of opportunities for our students’ success and we are eager to see the positive impacts that they will continue to have on our students.

Parents of Breakthrough Committee Meeting Generates Fresh Ideas

We had our first official Parents of Breakthrough (POB) meeting of the 2017-2018 school year yesterday at the McDonald’s in San Juan Capistrano. Some of our students enjoyed a meal while their parents met with our Community Coordinator, Jessica. We had one of our high school juniors attend in place of his parent, which helped provide a student’s point of view during our discussions. Some topics we discussed included creating a fall event for our students to keep them engaged and how we can increase student motivation. One new idea was to create motivation through friendly competition between grade levels or between the high schools that we serve. We received great insight from our committee members, and we are excited to see some of the ideas come to life in the near future.

The Parents of Breakthrough (POB) Committee was created to give our parents the opportunity to be more active participants in our program. Parents volunteer to help the Breakthrough team plan and execute our events and fundraisers as well as aid in other program needs.

When asked why she joined the POB, Silvia G. stated, “I joined the committee because I am very grateful to Breakthrough and for all of the academic help they have given to my children. My children have excelled academically in school, so that motivates me to give a little bit of myself back to the program. I greatly appreciate the interest and dedication they put in for our children. The more parents are involved, the easier it will be to carry out the program.”

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 18th from 5:00-6:00 P.M. at the McDonald’s in SJC. If you are a parent or guardian of a Breakthrough SJC student and would like to be a part of the committee, contact Alex Serna at or 949-661-0108 ext. 1322.

Breakthrough Senior Explores the STEM Field with MIT

Breakthrough senior Bryant Villamil wanted to learn more about potential careers in science, technology, and engineering. In the fall of his junior year, Bryant learned that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering offers several enrichment programs through the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP). These programs are aimed at generating interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Bryant applied and was accepted into the MIT Online Science, Technology, and Engineering Community (MOSTEC) program, which runs from June 28, 2017 to January 13, 2018. During this online program, students discuss research, attend webinars, and complete online science and engineering projects. They then present their projects during a five-day conference at MIT’s campus.

This year’s conference took place on August 1st to August 5th. Bryant stated, “During the week at MIT, I gained a new perspective.  I was able to attend a college fair with some of the best schools in the country and tour the MIT and Harvard campus. I was in a historically academic place surrounded by smart, hardworking, and passionate people from around the country.  It was a humbling experience, and I learned a lot about myself and who I want to become.”

Here is what Bryant had to say about his overall experience in the MOSTEC program:

“My experience during the program was amazing! I learned helpful new skills in scientific writing, app development, coding, and presenting during the online phase before the conference.  Aside from the online app development and scientific writing courses I took, I also wrote reflective weekly blogs and attended weekly webinars and meetings.

My favorite part of the program was getting to know so many smart, passionate, and diverse people from around the country.  The week I spent at MIT with them was an incredible experience.  I was able to learn with them in the Fluid Mechanics class and Mechanical Engineering class I took while there, and I was able to bond with them during other activities.

The program helped me realize that I can have a huge impact on the world.  There is so much potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  It is mind blowing! In the future I want to do something where I can make a positive impact, and the STEM field has so much potential to make a difference.”

At Breakthrough we encourage our students to make their summers meaningful in order to increase their competitiveness for college, and Bryant did just that. We are incredibly proud of Bryant’s hard work and have no doubt that he will continue to impact his community in positive ways.

Breakthrough Welcomes Sam Geary, Our Newest Volunteer Coordinator

We are thrilled to welcome Samantha (Sam) Geary, who recently started her new role as our Volunteer Coordinator. Her primary responsibilities include leading our high school tutoring program and College Mentor Program as well as recruiting and managing our volunteers.

Sam was born in Seattle, Washington and moved to North Carolina when she was two years old. She attended Wake Forest University and earned a BA in History and Anthropology with a minor in Social Justice in Education. After graduating from college in 2015, Sam joined the Fulbright Program as an English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, where she taught English to local children for two years.

After returning to the United States, Sam wanted to continue doing fulfilling work. She was our 9th grade College Skills teaching fellow for our six-week summer program in 2014 and felt a deep connection with our students. She decided to return to Breakthrough SJC to continue supporting our program and is excited to work with the same students she taught three years ago.

Sam is joining our team as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). AmeriCorps VISTA was founded in 1965 as a national service program to help eradicate poverty in the United States. Like our past VISTAs, Sam will serve as a catalyst for change, working alongside our team and community to fulfill our mission. Together, we will continue to put our students on the path to college in order to break the generational cycle of poverty within their families.

Visitors Get a First-Hand Look at Our Summer Program

Visitors’ Day is an annual summer event that gives community members the opportunity to meet our students and teaching fellows. Guests are able to learn more about our program during this event and see our six-week summer session in action.

This year’s Visitors’ Day was held on Tuesday, July 18th in the Performing Arts Center at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. As guests began arriving, they were immediately greeted by our student leaders. The student leaders were our 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students who practiced how to properly greet and escort our guests to their seats.

Once our visitors entered the beautiful Performing Arts Center foyer, they were welcomed to enjoy a delicious breakfast catered by Jay’s Catering in Garden Grove. Guests sat with our students and teachers, got a deeper understanding of the students we serve, and even performed some of our Breakthrough cheers with us.

Our director, Victor Cota, gave a wonderful welcoming speech and introduced our speaker Coral Ramos, who is a current teaching fellow. Coral’s speech was powerful and moving. She spoke about her inspirational journey as a first generation student and how Breakthrough has helped her along the way.

During the next portion of our program, our visitors heard from two panels: a student panel and a teaching fellow panel. The panelists answered a series of questions about their experiences with Breakthrough, and brought several of our visitors to tears. It was an incredibly intimate moment for both our panelists and our visitors. Our summer theme “Power in me. Power in us” was truly apparent during the panels. Our students’ journey towards higher education proved that they are indeed powerful. Seeing dozens of community members show their support as our students became vulnerable proved that we are all more powerful together.

The final portion of our event was an opportunity for our guests to visit our classrooms. During the visits, guests were able to observe our teaching fellows in action and see how they interact with our students.

Thank you to all of our visitors who took time out of their day to get to know our students, teaching fellows, and program at a deeper level. We are grateful for the support of our community!

College Bound Students Celebrate the End of a Successful Year

The 2016-2017 school year wrapped up earlier this month, and we held our College Bound Celebration on June 15th to highlight the accomplishments of our high school students. Recent Dana Hills High School graduate Ariana Vargas stated, “My favorite part of the celebration was seeing everyone get awards for their accomplishments during the school year.” This year we gave awards in four different categories: Academic Achievement, Perseverance, Family, and Commitment.

The Academic Achievement Award was given to students who earned an unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above in the fall semester. This year, 46 students earned the award.


  • Emmanuel Velazquez
  • Michael Gomez
  • Benjamin Moreno
  • David Santana
  • Sarah Arce
  • Ariana Vargas
  • Charlotte Armani
  • Alan Abrego
  • Diana Acero
  • Victor Chavez
  • Jose Estrada
  • David Fernandez
  • Edlin Garcia
  • Ivan Granados
  • Samantha Jimenez
  • Maria Macias
  • Jessica Martinez
  • Nancy Mendez
  • Jeffrey Millan
  • Citlali Perez
  • Mireya Reyes
  • Monika Robles
  • Mary Rodriguez
  • Claudia Rodriguez
  • Brisa Salgado
  • Karla Sanchez
  • Ivan Santana
  • Brianna Urrutia
  • Julyanna Vazquez
  • Dafne Saldivar
  • Rey Cano
  • Erika Lopez
  • Jose Sotelo
  • Cristian Aguilar
  • Juana Monroy
  • Natalia Garcia
  • Elizabeth Ponce
  • Aide Najera
  • Amy Fabian
  • Angela Mendoza
  • Ashley Bahena
  • Brandon Fernandez
  • Bryant Villamil
  • Jaime Del Rio
  • Maggie Perez
  • Robert Gonzalez

The Perseverance Award was given to students who were highly involved in our program during the 2016-2017 school year. These students attended our tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club, volunteered at In-Session at Marco Forster Middle School, and attended other program events throughout the year.


  • Arianna Barrera
  • Eloisa Barrera
  • Samantha Jimenez
  • Jessica Martinez
  • Angela Mendoza
  • Katie Muniz
  • Bertha Olmedo
  • Mireya Reyes
  • Mary Carmen Rodrigo
  • Claudia Rodriguez
  • Aldo Ruiz
  • Jonathan Ruiz
  • Karla Sanchez
  • David Santana
  • Peter Soto
  • Alejandro Tellez
  • Richard Zamarripa

The Family Award was given to parents and families who have gone above and beyond to support our mission during the 2016-2017 school year.


  • Sarah Arce’s Family
  • Litzy Calzado’s Family
  • Aide Najera’s Family
  • Elizabeth Ponce’s Family
  • David Santana’s Family
  • Peter Soto’s Family
  • Ariana Vargas’s Family

The Commitment Award was given to seniors who have shown outstanding commitment during all of their years in Breakthrough.


  • Sarah Arce
  • Aide Najera
  • Elizabeth Ponce
  • Ivan Santana
  • Ariana Vargas

Finally, all of our seniors in attendance were recognized and given a Certificate of Completion from the College Bound Program. This year, our seventeen seniors all graduated from high school and 100% of them will be attending college in the fall. Our mission became a reality for these motivated students and we look forward to continuing to support them through college.

Breakthrough Prepares for 12th Summer Session

Summer is approaching quickly and we are preparing for our biggest group of students ever! As a part of their commitment to Breakthrough, all rising 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students attend our six-week summer school sessions. Our students’ first day of school is on Monday, June 26th and their last day is Friday, August 4th. Our primary goals with students are to develop academic skills and create a college-going culture. Students take classes in English, math, science, social studies, electives (such as music and art); join a small-group Advisory; enjoy end-of-day Explorations (such as ultimate Frisbee and dancing); complete homework nightly; and have a lot of fun!

During the summer, we run a two-month teaching fellowship. College students from around the country serve as teachers who will lead our students. They receive professional development in the field of education and get hands-on classroom experience. Our teaching fellows’ first day is Wednesday, June 14th and their final day with us is Wednesday, August 9th. This year, we are grateful to be hosted in the Middle School at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School.

Here is more exciting information about our students, teaching fellows, instructional coaches, and staff for the 2017 summer session:

  • We are serving 95 total students
  • We will have 20 teaching fellows from all over the country
  • Six are returning teaching fellows
  • Three teaching fellows were former Breakthrough students
  • Teaching fellows attend colleges such as UC Berkeley, Arizona State University, Brown University, Northwestern University, UCLA, and more!
  • All five instructional coaches work for Capistrano Unified School District.
  • Our Dean of Students, Lidia Lopez, was a Breakthrough student from the Class of 2015 and a teaching fellow in 2014 and 2016.
  • We have over 80 high school Student Leaders who are volunteering to help our program run smoothly.

If you would like to see our summer program in action, please attend Visitors’ Day on Tuesday, July 18th from 8:15 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. We will be holding our event in Sillers Hall at St. Margaret’s. Guests will hear teaching fellows and students share their Breakthrough experience, and guests will have the opportunity to see our classrooms in action from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Contact Jessica Dinh or (714) 467-5560 to learn more or RSVP. Spread the word!

Breakthrough Celebrates Graduating Tartan Support Seniors

Graduating high school is an enormous feat. Year after year, we are privileged to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating Tartan Support Group (TSG) seniors at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School. This year’s Senior Celebration was held on Tuesday, May 23rd at St. Margaret’s Performing Arts Center foyer where we honored our three graduating TSG seniors: Ashley Bahena, Maria Cruz, and Aide Najera. These young ladies have shown tremendous leadership, academic achievement, and perseverance throughout their time at St. Margaret’s.

Upper School Principal Tony Jordan opened the evening with a welcome and a prayer. After a delicious dinner catered by Sundried Tomato American Bistros and Catering, our director Victor Cota shared valuable information about our Tartan Support Group program. Victor also acknowledged TSG alumni who were present at the celebration. He then introduced Jeff Jablonski, a mentor for our program and the Associate Director of College Counseling at St. Margaret’s. Jeff spoke about each senior, sharing heartwarming tidbits about their character and accomplishments.

As tradition, we had our Tartan Support juniors provide testimonials about the seniors. Jaime Del Rio described Ashley Bahena as “a hardworking and dedicated scholar who [he is] more than proud to call a friend.” Andrea Taylor reminisced about the advice, support, and friendship that Maria Cruz had given her over the past several years. Lastly, Bryant Villamil stated that Aide Najera’s “approach to life of facing life with a smile has helped [him] with [his] transition into St. Margaret’s.”

Brandon Torres, a Tartan Support Group graduate from 2014, was invited to be our keynote speaker for the evening. He spoke about his struggles as a student of color but described the support he found from the St. Margaret’s staff and from Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. Brandon’s speech encouraged our students and left them feeling uplifted and inspired.

As the evening began to wrap up, Phoebe Larson, the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at St. Margaret’s, introduced the incoming Tartan Support Group students for the 2017-2018 school year. She spoke fondly of each student as they stood to be recognized. Will Moseley, the Head of School, closed out the evening with thoughtful words for our students.

Our Senior Celebration was a memorable evening for everyone in attendance, especially our seniors. Breakthrough is incredibly proud of Ashley, Maria, and Aide as they begin their college journeys this fall. We wish you all the best and will always be here to support you!

Note: The Tartan Support Group is a support system for students who attend St. Margaret’s on financial aid. In the 2016-2017 school year, 18 Breakthrough SJC students attended St. Margaret’s and were supported by the Tartan Support Group.

Breakthrough hosts 4th Annual Family Night

Our annual Family Night dinner was held on May 4th, 2017. The families of Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano put together this special dinner to show our appreciation for our generous supporters.

Director Victor Cota started off the evening with a warm welcome and introduced 7th grader Edgar Arteaga. As he stood with confidence, Edgar shared how his family’s background became his motivation to join Breakthrough. He declared, “I plan to—no! I will be a first generation college student. I want to do what my parents never finished. They began college, I will finish it. I will go to a university.”

After Edgar’s incredibly passionate speech, our guests were able to help themselves to dinner. The dinner was graciously provided by the families of our Breakthrough students. While everyone was enjoying their meal, they were treated to two performances by our talented middle school students. Candice Cabezas, Juliana Alcala, and Olivia Heim sang a family-friendly version of Cee-lo Green’s “Forget You” while Candice played the ukulele. Sofia Mack and Linda Galvan then beautifully played Leo Delibes’ “Flower Duet” on their violins.

As the event continued, 12th grader Ariana Vargas shared her experience as a Breakthrough student. She stated, “Breakthrough’s encouragement throughout the summers and school years made me believe that I could build a future for myself, I shouldn’t settle for less and that I needed to work harder. Attending college became my ultimate goal.” Ariana proudly announced that she will be attending the University of California, Irvine in the fall.

Our final speaker for the evening was Mr. Luis Barrera, who is the father of two Breakthrough students. Mr. Barrera described his humble background and his hopes for his daughters’ futures. He also gave a sincere thank you to our supporters. He said, “Thank you Breakthrough Team and especially all of you for supporting us. Because without you, Breakthrough doesn’t exist… My daughters are going to graduate college, start their careers, and then they are going to help others. They will take what Breakthrough has given them, and give it back to others. When I look at my daughters, I think of being 15 years old in Aguascalientes, Mexico and wishing that I had Breakthrough and the opportunities to get a higher education.”

Family Night was truly an event to remember. The evening was filled with engaging conversations, heartwarming speeches, delicious food, and amazing performances by our very own students. To all of our supporters, thank you for all that you do!