Breakthrough Austin's Visitors' Day

“Good Morning Breakthrough” rang the cheers of 90 middle school students at 8:40 in the morning in Calhoun Auditorium on the University of Texas campus. While most students spend their summer at a camp, in the park or in front of the television set, these students are attending a summer enrichment program to help keep them on track to college.

Staff from United Way Capital Area attended Breakthrough Austin’s Visitors’ Day today, and got to witness firsthand their amazing work. Breakthrough Austin is the providing agency for three of our Youth Education programs, Project Connect, School Success and Summer Bridge.

Each day, the students meet at Littlefield Fountain on the UT campus for breakfast, then walk over to Calhoun Hall for attendance. Attendance is not just a mundane activity requiring minimal participation, it as an opportunity for students to be acknowledged and affirmed with a special place in their community acknowledged and affirmed with a special place in their community.

This year marked an important milestone for Breakthrough Austin, their first group of sixth graders graduated from high school and they received acceptances to 44 colleges and universities. For Breakthrough students, the process of determining how to get to college is a difficult one, as most of their parents have never been to college. All of the students apply to be in Breakthrough’s summer program, so they come ready and excited to have a unique learning experience that will prepare them for college.

For many Austin area students, graduating from high school is a huge accomplishment in itself. During our visit, we heard the grim statistics on Austin high schools that underscore what challenges these students and their peers face:

Of all the students who began ninth grade four years ago at Johnston, Reagan, Lanier and Travis High Schools, the home campuses of Breakthrough Students, less than 35% walked across the stage at graduation last month. Of those 35%, less than one-third will go to college. Of that one-third, less than half will be “college ready” based on state standards. That means for every 100 students who start ninth grade at these low performing schools, only will six graduate ready for college.

Given those statistics, Breakthrough’s work and services is clearly making a difference when you consider that of the 32 Breakthrough students who were in ninth grade four years ago, 28 or 87% graduated last month. 75% are projected to attend college in the fall and 58% are college ready based on state standards.

But the real impact was clearly driven home to us when two of the students stood up to talk about their experiences at Breakthrough. Both students, Carlos and Jessica had parents who’d never attended college, but were already planning how to get to college as middle school students. Both said that learning at Breakthrough was fun, and the teachers gave them support and help for their work that went beyond the basic classroom activity.

For the teachers, current high school and college students, who come to intern at Breakthrough, it is an important opportunity as well. Breakthrough has been ranked as one of the Top 10 Internships for college students by the Princeton Review.

We were treated to a firsthand look at some of the classes, where groups of six students were working closely with teachers to solve decimal division and reenact and discuss Cesar Chavez’ grape strike.

Breakthrough discusses more of the powerful results they are achieving at their website.

It is very evident from our visit that this is not your typical summer program.

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