Breakthrough Marches at the 2018 Swallow’s Day Parade

The Swallow’s Day Parade is an annual event in San Juan Capistrano every March. It celebrates the swallows’ return to the city and residents joins together in downtown. Since 2006, Breakthrough is honor to have the opportunity to march in the parade. The San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association hosts the Swallow’s Day Parade to be one of the nation’s largest non-motorized parades.

This past Saturday, we had a great unifying group of over 60 middle school and high school students that marched proudly. The Breakthrough staff and students gathered at San Juan Elementary School excited to start the parade. The city of San Juan began filling the sidewalks and seating themselves to see the various bands, equestrians, walking groups, and horse-drawn floats. The bell rang and it was time to march. Our students started chanting and cheering to show off their Breakthrough pride as they all wore their green “Power in me. Power in us.” shirts. Freshman Italivi (shown in the picture second from the right holding the banner) stated, “I was very happy to march because I am proud of everything that Breakthrough does for me, and having my family watch me be in the Breakthrough group chanting is my way of giving back.” We were fortunate to have such an amazing group of bright students represent Breakthrough. We are excited to represent again next year with even more students!

Natalie Yee, High School Tutor and St. Margaret’s Junior, Brings Science Fair to Breakthrough Students

Natalie Yee, a junior at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, has always had a passion for math, science, and service. Natalie began her involvement with Breakthrough as a middle school tutor since she was a freshman. Currently, she is also a high school Breakthrough tutor and president of the STEM club at St. Margaret’s.

Natalie and fellow St. Margaret’s volunteers, including her mother, helped in setting up the fair for about sixty Breakthrough students at Marco Forster Middle School. “I hope to instill an appreciation of STEM in others in my community and help others to succeed in these exciting fields. My goal has always been to share my love of STEM and that STEM is fun and it sets the foundation for successful futures in whatever fields students may pursue.”

At the science fair, Natalie and volunteers demonstrated that math and science concepts can be applied to the real world. “I run fun activities and offer volunteer opportunities for the high school students to connect with the lower school students at St. Margaret’s. After coordinating with the lower school for the past two years I was happy to present STEM to the Breakthrough students, so they too, can see the fun side of STEM.” Five stations were set up with activities that included puzzles, estimation guesses games, how to make slime, lava lamps, and how to measure how many pennies sank a boat. Students were actively engaged as they went from station to station curious about what they were going to do next.

Breakthrough greatly appreciates how involved and passionate Natalie is with the work she does. In addition, she is also greatly admired by the St. Margaret’s faculty as well. Dr. Jennifer Ross-Viola, a science teacher at SMES states, “Natalie is an amazing student-leader.  She combines her passion for all things STEM and strives to bring events and opportunities to others that inspire them to love those fields too. Her contributions to our school and the broader Orange County community in the area of STEM and service are truly remarkable!”

We hope to continue seeing Natalie’s involvement as a senior and see what other interesting and fun events she will lead! Awesome work Natalie!

MUN Students Hosts a Panel on Human Rights

Model United Nations (MUN) is a St. Margaret’s Episcopal School club that meets with our middle school students at In-Session on Thursdays. MUN helps students further strengthen their skills in interpersonal communication and critical thinking by ensuring that they are informed global citizens. Last week, MUN hosted a panel to look at global issues that continue to oppress humans and their rights. The panel consisted of the following members, Ms. Kimberly Kim who talked about racism, Mrs. Diane Adamson who presented on feminism, Dr. Janice Avalone who represented mental health issues and gave helpful resources, and Sahar Khashayar who brought LGBT awareness.

Every person on the panel brought in-depth information regarding each topic and the statistics surprised many students. When stated, “1 out of 5 child or teen has a mental disorder,” the students quickly looked around and began counting. They were astonished to know that someone in their group of five could be part of this statistic. Furthermore, students felt empathy when they were informed that “1 out of 4 parents cannot get help for their child’s mental disorder due to the lack of resources.”

Another topic that also resonated with the students was racism. Some students expressed that they too, identify themselves to be part of minorities that encounter racism. Many were able to relate because they too shared similar stories to the examples provided by the panel. In addition, students learned of ways to overcome situations of racism by involving a supervising adult or individually taking a stand to defend someone. Eighth grader, Edgar, stated, “What I took away from this is that you have a voice and calling people out on the spot about their comments that hurt other people is good so that they stop doing it.”  It is great that students know that they can do more when present in a circumstance that degrades another person and their rights.

The goal was to help the students develop their individual voices in society and have a better understanding of the complexity of human rights. This panel sets the starting point for students to embark on a mission to work on a campaign project in the next few weeks. We look forward to seeing our students become engaged and advocate for equal human rights.

Breakthrough’s Selection Process is in Motion for the Class of 2024

All sixth graders at Marco Forster Middle School got the opportunity to learn about Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano. This year 14 presentations were given over two days to recruit students for the class of 2024. The sixth graders learned that Breakthrough students commit to a six-year tuition free program that provides resources and opportunities to be able to graduate from college.

Breakthrough now maintains a strong relationship and reputation with many Marco Forster Middle School teachers who encourage their students to apply. Mr. Nelson teaches sixth grade science and is a great supporter of Breakthrough. When asked his thoughts about Breakthrough he stated, “You don’t know what you don’t know. Especially some parents that did not have a college education. They do not know what steps to take or what going to college really entails. Sadly, sometimes it is too late, but Breakthrough is a great guide because there is focus on what expenses and requirements are necessary to be on the right successful college path.” Mr. Nelson was also the first in his family to attend college, graduating from University of California, Berkeley, and his parents struggled to get him all the resources necessary, so he admires what Breakthrough does for his students.

In addition, we hosted two Family Information Nights for families to learn about our program. Topics included the year round support, three mandatory summer years, and the College Mentor Program offered. Breakthrough puts a lot of effort in demonstrating that the college path is achieved through team effort and parents also have a commitment to their student. Thus, parents are informed every year of the steps that their children are participating in and how to support their son or daughter. Breakthrough builds strong student-parent relationships to maintain effective communication. We look forward to welcoming the class of 2024.

Breakthrough Celebrates its 2017 Year Achievements at Annual Holiday Potluck

Breakthrough came together on Wednesday, December 6, 2017 to celebrate this year’s achievements. It is estimated around sixty families joined Breakthrough’s holiday potluck after their busy workdays. Many parents of Breakthrough went an extra mile to try and put a beautiful night together for their sons and daughters. Everyone was happy to share some holiday spirit along with a thoughtful dinner.

The Breakthrough staff shared some exciting news about moving forward with the new five-year strategic plan. It was announced that forty new applications for next year’s incoming class of Breakthrough have been submitted so far. It was also celebrated that tutoring and In-Session for current students is supporting them in their academics. There are 158 college applications submitted by our 27 seniors. Parents and students were thrilled to hear about Mari Morales Gonzalez, the new Community Coordinator, and her experience. She gave a speech as a first class Breakthrough student who has gone through the program and now graduated to return back and support the new students.

Families later in the evening were joined by Santa Claus for family pictures! Students and their younger siblings posed for pictures. The families also joined in some holiday spirit activities like holiday coloring and cookie decoration.  Families were happy to have the opportunity to engage with each other and enjoy some time to socialize at the dinner tables. Students were able to take a fun break from their studies and join a great mingling opportunity. The Breakthrough staff is extremely proud of every student’s achievements and look forward to a prosperous New Year. Happy Holidays to the whole Breakthrough family!

Breakthrough Welcomes Marina (Mari) Morales Gonzalez, Our Newest AmeriCorps VISTA Community Coordinator

Breakthrough staff, students, and parents are honored to welcome Marina (Mari) Morales Gonzalez as Breakthrough’s new AmeriCorps VISTA Community Coordinator. Mari will be engaging with the Capistrano Valley community and reaching out to individuals, organizations, and Breakthrough supporters to sustain strong relationships in support of our program and its students.

Mari was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and brought over to the United States along with her mother to join her father when she was only six months old. She was raised all her life in the city of San Juan Capistrano, home of the swallows. Mari, like her younger brother, grew up playing soccer. She was part of the AYSO and the Capistrano girls league. She also found time to explore several afterschool programs that caught her attention like elementary camp, SRLA, and Seatech. She is fervent about being involved in an activity that keeps her mind active.

Mari graduated from California State University of Dominguez Hills with a BA in Spanish Linguistics and a minor in Health Science in May 2017. Being a single mother of a four-year-old girl, named Natalie, has inspired her to pursue working with children and educating young minds to fulfill their dreams. “It was hard to balance my roles of being a student, a mom, a daughter, and an employee but raising Natalie along the way has shown me that children can adapt and learn tremendously if given patience and attention.” Mari continues to strive for further education as she works on her Associates Degree in Child Development Education at our local Saddleback Community College.

Mari is a valuable team member because she was part of the first class of Breakthrough in 2006 as a low income student from Marco Forster Middle School with dreams to go to college. She demonstrated her desire to have the best education possible and became a Tartan Scholar at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, graduating in 2012. Mari is thrilled to return to St. Margaret’s and take on a role on the Breakthrough team as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA. As a VISTA corps member, Mari commits one year to serve as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to break the cycle of poverty that continues in America. She is passionate to help her community and support local underrepresented students who need further guidance and resources. Mari, welcome to the team!

Summer 2017 Teaching Fellow Shares Her Experience

Allison Sorgeloos is originally from Detroit, Michigan and is a junior at Arizona State University. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (English) with a minor in history and a certificate in cross-sector collaboration at Barrett, the honors college at ASU Tempe. Allison served as a teaching fellow for Breakthrough SJC this past summer and taught 7th grade social studies. She said, “I applied to be a teacher at Breakthrough because, as an education major, I knew about the inequities that students who are underrepresented in higher education often face. I wanted to work with Breakthrough because they are working to end the cycle of poverty by getting students to graduate high school and into universities as well as creating sustainable change in communities across the country.”

When asked about her experience at Breakthrough SJC this summer, Allison noted, “Being a teaching fellow at Breakthrough SJC was the best experience of my life! I gained so much from working for Breakthrough. I had access to incredible professional development and amazing colleagues who inspired me to get more involved on my college campus. I was able to work with a dedicated staff and received valuable experience in a classroom. Ultimately, the Breakthrough students brought the whole experience together. They were driven, passionate, brilliant students who proved time and time again that they can and will change their world. They came ready to work, cheer, and play all summer, and they continue to inspire me every single day. The experience was so overwhelmingly positive, and I wouldn’t trade my summer for anything!”

Allison is passionate about educational equity and is a leader on campus at ASU. She is a  member of Alpha Gamma Delta Women’s Fraternity and Next Generation Service Corps. She works as the Tempe Programming Chair at Changemaker Central, is a Campus Campaign Coordinator for Teach for America, volunteers with PageTurners, is a Tillman Scholar and program assistant, and is a Lincoln Scholar for applied ethics. She was also recently crowned ASU’s 2017 Homecoming Queen!

We are truly grateful for teaching fellows such as Allison who dedicate their summers to empowering the minds of our students. The application to become a teaching fellow for 2018 is available here. The early action deadline is January 11, 2018. If you have any questions about being a teaching fellow or about the application process, feel free to contact Director Victor Cota at 949-661-0108 ext. 1342 or

From SJC to NYC, Breakthrough Student Shares Her Experience

Aide Najera is a freshman at Barnard College, an all-women’s liberal arts school with a unique partnership with Columbia University. As a first generation student, going to college out-of-state and away from her family was challenging; however, Aide is making the most out of her college experience and enjoying the journey.

Aide has been a Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano student since 2011. She served as a junior teacher for our summer program in 2016 and volunteered to be a tutor for our middle school students at Marco Forster. As a graduate from St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, Aide is dedicated to lifelong learning and leadership wherever she goes.

Although she misses her parents dearly, Aide is having a positive experience at Barnard College. She enjoys the autonomy that comes with being a college student, especially since she has not declared a major yet. Aide appreciates being able to choose classes that spark her interests and explore fields such as astronomy. Nevertheless, being newly independent comes with a few challenges. Aide says, “Something I wish I knew before starting college is that you need a lot more time management skills than in high school. You don’t just need to manage your time for homework and extracurricular activities. You also need to manage your time to do laundry, buy supplies, and even to eat.”

Aide enjoys going to college in a busy city. She says, “New York City is so different from San Juan Capistrano, and I’m really enjoying that. There is so much to do and so much happening at all times. Just last week, I met Aaron Paul from the show ‘Breaking Bad’ right outside our dorms.” Aide aims to fully immerse herself into college life, so she recently pledged Delta Kappa Alpha. She hopes to continue to grow more independent and become self-sustainable.

Breakthrough SJC is so proud of Aide, and we look forward to supporting her through college graduation.


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.