Our Newest Breakthrough Students Share Their Thoughts

Early each year, we release our new student applications for interested 6th grade students. Becoming a part of our program is a huge commitment for both students and their families, including six years and three summers. The outcome–going to college–is rewarding and well worth the hard work.

To gain a better understanding of why students should apply to the program, we interviewed some of our newest 7th grade students, who completed their first summer program in 2016 and are just about finished with their first school year as Breakthrough students.


Applications are still available at the Marco Forster Middle School front office or by visiting our website. They are due Friday, February 17th. For more information, click here.


New Partnership with Global GLOW Aims to Empower Our Girls


We are excited about our new partnership with Global GLOW. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World. Founded in 2011, Global GLOW works with 5th-12th grade girls from around the world to empower them to realize their full potential. The organization aspires to empower girls through literacy, mentorship, and creative expression programs as well as foster confidence, self-esteem, leadership, and resilience in girls who are on the brink of success.  GLOW maintains partnerships with many community-based organizations throughout the world where they serve over 10,000 girls each year. Their main goal is to open the minds of young girls to the world of opportunities for their success, and provide emotional support for a healthy inner self.


Over a dozen of our Breakthrough girls meet with GLOW every week at Marco Forster Middle School. 7th grader Loren states, “GLOW makes me feel better about myself and the facilitators are kind and inspiring.” Violeta, who is also in the 7th grade, enjoys attending GLOW meetings. She says, “I like to go because it makes me feel better when I’m having a bad day, and I’ve learned how to express myself.” We are glad that Global GLOW is helping us lead our students toward a bright, successful future.

Family, Food, and Fun!

Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano had the pleasure of hosting our first annual holiday potluck with our students and families this past Wednesday the 14th.


We started off with a warm welcome and shared some exciting news:

  1. Over the summer, on the nationally-normed Renaissance STAR assessment, all students earned tremendous gains in math and reading.
  2. Our McDonald’s fundraiser on November 30th had a great turnout. We had many of our students, families, community partners, and faculty members attend, and their support helped raise over $600 for our program and students.
  3. We are excited about our new partnerships with Model United Nation (MUN) and GLOW! MUN will provide a way for our students to become engaged citizens and share their voices as they learn about our global world. GLOW provides an arts-based space for our girls to encourage and empower them to embrace their identity.
  4. Our fifteen seniors submitted a combined total of over 100 college applications! We are proud of our seniors’ accomplishments!


After celebrating our students’ achievements, everyone was ready to eat. Students and their families provided the delicious food, drinks, and dessert for our dinner.

All of our students received a planner that was generously donated by Passion Planner LLC. The planners will serve as an organizational tool for our students as they head intoDSC_1265 the New Year.

On behalf of the Breakthrough SJC staff, we would like to thank everyone for attending and showing your commitment to our program. Happy holidays!

Welcome Jessica, Breakthrough SJC’s New Community Coordinator

Breakthrough SJC is thrilled to introduce the latest member to the team, Jessica Dinh! Jessica will be serving as the new Community Coordinator. Her role includes building and maintaining relationships within the community as well as developing systems for long-term sustainability of BTSJC programs. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, she will be serving for the next 12 months.

Jessica was raised in Garden Grove, California with her four sisters and parents. In her free time, she enjoys going on Disney adventures with her 4-year-old son and reading biographies. Jessica earned her AA in social and behavioral sciences at Golden West College, and she recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from California State University, Long Beach with a BA in human development. Her previous experience includes being an outreach and engagement educator and a private tutor. Breakthrough SJC is excited to have her on board!

Not Wasting a Second: A Breakthrough Alumna’s First Two Months in College

When Maribel Castanon first received her acceptance letter to Chapman University in the spring of 2016, it was not at the top of her list. Thinking back, she reflects, “I was not so excited because Chapman was not my first choice, [but] I have to agree with what many people have told me in the past, ‘Your college experience is what you make of it.’” Eight months after the initial acceptance and with a great start to the school year, she has found a new home at Chapman.

Maribel was a dedicated volunteer with Breakthrough SJC, where she served as a middle school tutor in 2012 and as a 7th grade science teaching fellow for two consecutive summers. While excelling in the International Baccalaureate program at Capistrano Valley High School, she devoted her time to supporting Breakthrough middle school students, acting as a peer minister, and helping her family’s business. A true example of a first-generation student who is studious and committed to giving back, Maribel has tapped into her strengths to thrive in college.

Reflecting on her first two months in college, Maribel remarks that “I have immersed myself into college and that has definitely made all the difference . . . take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you.” She is engaged with the Chapman community in many ways: by joining the University Program Board, a student-group dedicated to organizing campus events; pledging to Kappa Alpha Pi, a pre-law co-ed fraternity; and registering people to vote for the Office of Student Engagement in the Civic Engagement subdivision. Though the pressures of living away from family, being a campus leader, and succeeding in the classroom can be overwhelming, she fights through it with resolve, describing that “I am under a lot of pressure, not that everyone else may not feel the same way, but as a first generation student . . .  I don’t want to let my parents down or myself down . . . I feel like I especially have to prove that I deserve to be here.”

Breakthrough SJC is extremely proud of Maribel, and she leaves us with one final piece of advice: “I want students to know that college, but most importantly, education is such a valuable thing that you can have, gaining knowledge is what I have appreciated most about college.”

Students Lean into Discomfort: Model United Nations Teams Up with Breakthrough SJC

Breakthrough’s middle school year program kicked off in October with 60 7th & 8th grade students, 65 tutors from six local high schools and a new partnership with the St. Margaret’s Model United Nations (MUN) student-run club. As part of preparing students for college, the new partnership with MUN supports students in developing public speaking, interpersonal communication, and critical thinking skills to ensure that they are more informed global citizens. The partnership arose through the proactive leadership of two St. Margaret’s seniors, Anika Grover and Makenna Mitchell. The two MUN student leaders identified a need to teach local students about civic engagement through “public speaking and the ability to solve issues diplomatically.”

Anika and Makenna, with the guidance of Breakthrough staff and MUN faculty advisor Rocky Parker, have created curriculum and trained a select group of MUN members to teach lessons once a week during Breakthrough’s after school program at Marco Forster Middle School. This model truly embraces Breakthrough’s unique “students teaching students” model. As noted by Anika, “Every week at MUN BT, students are learning how to become global citizens who have the confidence to voice their thoughts and opinions in the world community. We want to help students embrace public speaking, not be scared of speaking in front of large groups of people.” In their first week, students learned the qualities of effective speakers and practiced speaking in front of classmates. Throughout the school year, students will learn these valuable skills while becoming more aware of international relations, politics, and current affairs.

Evidenced by consecutive weeks of 100% student attendance, the new partnership endeavors to continue engaging students, teaching them to be more informed, global citizens and most importantly, lean into discomfort.

Breakthrough would like to thank Anika & Makenna, Mr. Rocky Parker and all of the MUN members for teaching our students to be confident speakers and globally-conscious citizens.

Living the College Life: A Breakthrough Student’s Summer Experience

Ellie Ponce, a current Breakthrough senior who joined the program in 2011, in less than a year plans to be studying biology at a four-year university in hopes of becoming a family physician someday. This past summer, she was given the opportunity to experience the life of a college student by participating in the UCI High School Summer Scholar Program. For the second consecutive year, Breakthrough was able to award one student a scholarship to attend the rigorous, yet rewarding summer experience at one of the nation’s top research universities.

Summer Scholars are enrolled into a UCI credit course, in addition to participating in a weekly seminar to learn about university life, research, and academics. Most importantly, scholars get embedded into the university community through outside-the-classroom experiences, such as partaking in social events, tours, and presentations guided by summer scholar mentors, staff and faculty.

Ellie took an intense summer course, “Biology of Human Diseases” and seminar, which was both demanding and revealing. It left a big impression on her, especially an understanding college at a deeper level. As a first-generation student, college can seem like a faraway, distant, and mysterious place. For Ellie, “This adventure changed my perspective about college life. Before having the ability to experience this amazing opportunity I was blind walking into a whole different perspective of education.”

A role model and committed Breakthrough student, Ellie is on the trajectory to realize her dreams and this summer experience provided her with a deeper insight and the determination to succeed at a four-year university. While currently writing drafts of college essays and filling out applications, she reflects that “my summer vacation was a dream come true; never would I have ever imagined myself in a college environment impacted by college students who in the end gave me so much inspiration to learn.”

Breakthrough would like to thank the UCI Summer Scholars Program staff, mentors, and faculty for providing one of our students with such an impactful experience!

Breakthrough Students Attend District Wide College Fair

Breakthrough students attended a district-wide college fair at San Juan Hills High School last week. Hosted by the Capistrano Unified Council of PTSAs and Capistrano Unified School District, the college fair provided students and families with numerous opportunities to familiarize themselves with colleges throughout the nation. Additionally, the fair included seminars on college application skills, improving SAT and ACT scores, navigating the financial aid process, and more.

After our monthly College Mentor Program meeting last Thursday evening, students and parents made the trip to San Juan Hills High School excited to learn. Ivan Santana, a Breakthrough senior at San Juan Hills High School, explained, “I attended the college fair in order to better understand what the goals of a college were and what they find in students. I also wanted to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of colleges I am interested in. I took away…that different colleges look for different aspects in their students and also have varied goals for them as well.”

Ms. Arce, mother of Breakthrough senior Sarah Arce (pictured above) at Dana Hills High School, added, “Era importante conocer lo que cada universidad tenía que ofrecer y para ver cuál le interesaba a Sarah (It was important to get to know what each university has to offer and see which ones interest Sarah).”

We are excited to have had this opportunity as we continue to guide Breakthrough students on the path to college. Thank you to the Capistrano Unified Council of PTSAs and Capistrano Unified School District for the wonderful opportunity!

Carolina Pallares Joins as AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Coordinator

We are excited to welcome the newest member to our team, Carolina Pallares! Carolina will serve as our Volunteer Coordinator, responsible for recruiting and managing our volunteer base, leading the College Mentor program, and serving as a support system for our student, family, and community volunteers. As a first-generation student herself and a recent graduate of Connecticut College, Carolina brings the experience and toolset that will make her successful in the role.

Carolina was born and raised in Santa Ana, California. She is an only child of immigrant parents. She graduated from Godinez Fundamental High School and went on to be the first in her family to attend a private college out of state. She recently graduated from Connecticut College with a double major in Psychology and Latin American Studies. And interestingly, she has been dancing hip hop for the past eight years.

Carolina comes to us as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA). AmeriCorps VISTA was founded in 1965 as a national service program to fight poverty in the United States, and Carolina, like the VISTAs who have served before her, will do a tremendous job leading within Breakthrough SJC. Welcome Carolina!

Students Visit College Campuses

This past week, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students participated in college field trips. Seventh and eighth grades visited Occidental College while ninth grade visited Loyola Marymount University.

Students and teaching fellows started the morning with a tour of the campuses where they learned about the admissions process, average GPAs, and fun facts about the school. They were also told what the school offers in terms of majors, clubs, and resources for underserved students.

After school tours, they split off into groups and competed in a scavenger hunt challenge where they were given nothing but a map to explore the campus. The hunt featured finding and speaking with a professor and students, finding the admissions office, and figuring out where the college newspapers were distributed.

The students and teaching fellows left the campuses with valuable knowledge about how to apply and the requirements for attending both colleges. A big thank you to Loyola Marymount University and Neighborhood Partnerships Program at Occidental College for showing our students around campus.