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!

San Juan Hills High School Teen Gifts Breakthrough with Disney’s Luminary Grant

Disneyland Resort Dreamers and Doers recognizes high school students in Orange County who take actions to improve their communities, schools, and homes. Each year, students are nominated by their schools and apply to be recognized for making a difference. On February 25, 2017, over 30 students attended an educational symposium at the Disneyland Hotel where they creatively worked as a team to problem solve and engaged in presentations that focused on leadership and professional development. The students then went to a celebratory luncheon where they were individually recognized and awarded a $1,000 grant for their school.

During the luncheon, five students were announced as “Luminaries” for showing outstanding service within the community. Among the five Luminaries was San Juan Hills High School junior Dalton Bourne. Dalton wanted to prevent the students at his school from texting while driving, so he began a safe driving initiative. He created phone pouches that read, “On the Road, Off the Phone” and handed them to over 400 students. Students would place their phones in the pouches prior to driving to prevent them from looking at their phones while on the road.

As a Luminary recipient, Dalton was provided the opportunity to donate a $3,000 grant to an Orange County nonprofit organization of his choice. Before being acknowledged as a Luminary, Dalton already knew which nonprofit to which he would donate the grant. On the application he submitted, he wrote, “If I was given the opportunity to support a local organization, I would choose Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. This is a non-profit organization in my community that helps give less-privileged students tutoring and college counseling support… I am thankful for the opportunity that this organization gave [my good friend] and I would love to support it so it can continue to change the lives of many teens in my community.”

On April 4, 2017, San Juan Capistrano Mayor Kerry Ferguson recognized Dalton’s achievements during the City Council meeting. Gina Welch, Disneyland Resort Corporate Citizenship Program Manager, presented the award to Dalton and recognized Breakthrough SJC. Director Victor Cota accepted the Luminary grant while several Breakthrough students and parents applauded from the audience. We are honored that Dalton chose to donate the grant to Breakthrough.

Thank you Dalton and the Disneyland Resort Dreamers and Doers program for awarding the grant to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. The Luminary grant will support us in fulfilling our mission and will have a direct impact on our students.

Breakthrough Gets a Glimpse of Oceanography

The Nicholas Endowment generously gifted the Ocean Institute with a grant in order to provide ocean-based programs to organizations in the community. As a result, the Ocean Institute in Dana Point personally reached out to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano and offered several fun and educational options. We were able to schedule a marine mammal cruise, which was made available to all of our students as well as their families.

On Saturday April 1st, over 70 of our students and families went aboard the R/V Sea Explorer at the Ocean Institute. The Ocean Institute provided two cruises to accommodate all of our participants. The first cruise left at 9:30 in the morning. We had the honor of having Dan Stetson, Executive Director of The Nicholas Endowment, on board the first cruise. Breakthrough had the opportunity to see two gray whales, a pod of dolphins, sea lions, and a variety of birds on the morning cruise. The second cruise left at noon. The students and families on the afternoon cruise got the rare treat of seeing a humpback whale! On top of encountering various marine mammals, we received hands-on experience in taking and viewing specimens from the ocean floor. The Ocean Institute staff also gave participants a deeper understanding of whales and dolphins, which included allowing them to touch a real baleen.

We truly appreciate all of the staff at the Ocean Institute as well as The Nicholas Endowment for the enriching experience.

Breakthrough Represents at the Swallows Day Parade

On Saturday, March 25, dozens of our students represented Breakthrough at the 59th Annual Swallows Day Parade. Hosted by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association, the Swallows Day Parade is one of the nation’s largest non-motorized parades. The parade celebrates the return of the swallows on St. Joseph’s Day, which is on March 19. The Swallows Day Parade has been a beloved tradition in San Juan for the past 6 decades. We are grateful for the parade’s sponsor, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, for the support in getting Breakthrough prepared leading up to the parade.

By 11am on parade day, there were crowds lining the sidewalks of downtown San Juan who were eagerly waiting to see the various bands, equestrians, walking groups, and horse-drawn floats. Once the bells rang and the parade went underway, the energy began radiating throughout our group of students. Filled with excitement, our students started chanting and cheering to show off their Breakthrough pride. Freshman Angela Mendoza-Ortega stated, “As my first time walking with Breakthrough, I felt empowered because even though we were a small group, our voices united and we had a fun time together.” We were fortunate to have such an amazing group of bright students represent the Breakthrough family, and we are excited to represent again next year!

UCI Field Study Interns Serve Their Final Day at Breakthrough

University of California, Irvine field study interns Jesus Garcia and Madison (Maddie) Abel completed their internship with Breakthrough last Thursday. They began their ten-week internship in early January and supported our program immensely during their time with us. Jesus and Maddie are both seniors majoring in psychology and social behaviors at UCI. Maddie interned at our  In-Session program for middle school students while Jesus interned at our College Bound tutoring program for high school students.

Jesus Garcia (left) pictured with one of our tutors Scott (right)

Similar to most of our students, Jesus is a first generation college student. He transferred to UCI from a community college where he earned three Associate’s degrees. He chose to complete his field study at Breakthrough because he wanted to learn social skills such as communication, leadership, initiation, and teamwork. Over the past several weeks, Jesus worked in conjunction with volunteer coordinator Carolina Pallares to facilitate the tutoring program every Wednesday and Thursday. On his final day, Jesus stated, “I have learned that building rapport with students by sharing about yourself helps create better relationships.” We have no doubts that Jesus’s willingness to learn and grow will lead him to success.

A San Juan Capistrano native, Maddie interned at Breakthrough because she knew she wanted to work with kids in the educational field and thought it would be more personal to work where she grew up. Maddie served during our afterschool In-Session program every Tuesday and Thursday. She said, “I formed connections with many of the students and really did enjoy talking to them and hearing their ideas. They provided me with many laughs and I was always learning something new. I was able to answer many of their questions regarding college and hope they learned from me as much as I learned from them.” Maddie plans to attend graduate school to earn a Master’s degree in school psychology or social work. She is excited about returning to Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano this summer as a teaching fellow.

Thank you Jesus and Maddie for your dedication to our students and programs. We appreciate all of the hard work you both provided and look forward to hearing about and supporting your future endeavors!

Breakthrough Attends UCI Youth Empowerment Conference

On March 4, several of our Breakthrough students, families, and staff attended M.E.Ch.A de UCI’s 37th annual youth empowerment conference. The conference focused on college readiness and provided workshops relating to issues affecting our students’ communities. Some of the workshops our students attended were about A-G requirements, the importance of financial aid, and resources for scholarships and grants.

We asked Breakthrough sophomore Katie Muniz which workshop was most impactful for her. Katie replied, “My favorite workshop was about self-care for students of color. We learned about different ways to take care of ourselves and relieve stress. For example, we could try gardening.” Each student was able to plant their own succulent and take it home. They absolutely enjoyed the amount of engagement and information provided by these workshops.

Overall, the conference was meaningful for our students and families. Assistant director Alex Serna stated, “The trip was impactful because students and parents were able to listen to UCI students share their challenges and successes applying to and being a college student. In the end, our families left more informed and confident about their future college aspirations”

Breakthrough has the opportunity to attend a similar youth conference at UCLA in May. Transportation from St. Margaret’s and lunch will be provided. For more information, contact Alex at or 949-661-0108 ext. 1322.