Breakthrough New York Executive Director Issues Statement on Mayor de Blasio’s Plan to Diversify the City’s Specialized High Schools

(New York, N.Y.) — Breakthrough New York (BTNY) Executive Director Beth Onofry issued the following the statement today about Mayor de Blasio’s plan to address the lack of diversity at New York City’s eight specialized high schools:

“Breakthrough New York applauds Mayor de Blasio’s proposal for diversifying New York City’s specialized high schools. His plan addresses a reality that our organization confronts every day: too many talented black and Latino students from low-income backgrounds don’t have access to our city’s best schools.

For nearly 20 years Breakthrough New York has helped talented middle school students from low-income families across the city get into and thrive at strong high schools—including the specialized schools—and colleges. Unfortunately, there are many more students without the added resources or support of a program like Breakthrough New York; they deserve access to the best education, too.

Reserving more spots for talented, low-income students from high-poverty middle schools is a sensible step toward making the specialized high-schools’ admissions process more equitable and ensuring that they better reflect the diversity of the city’s public-school system.

The test-only admissions policy has always been flawed. I started my career in education working in selective college admissions, where a single test score would never be the only determining factor of a student’s admission. Tests can illustrate important strengths and weaknesses, and they can help to create a standardized measure of achievement across different educational systems and experiences. But, they are also biased toward those who can pay to prepare for them—and who know to do so. Taking context into consideration when student’s SHSAT scores are on the cusp is an important first step.

While no admissions process is perfect, the Mayor is heading in the right direction with one that would consider both the results on the State’s standardized tests—which, unlike the SHSAT, every student takes—and grades on middle school course work. Not only will this help diversify the specialized schools, it will more effectively identify the best students, rather than just the best test-takers.

In addition to the latest efforts proposed by the Mayor, we must address the underlying disparity in education that starts well before high school. Momentum has been building throughout our community to make a change. Parents, educators, researchers, nonprofit leaders, policy-makers, and government officials must keep working together to tackle the problem of unequal access to high-quality education at all points along the way—from kindergarten placement and gifted and talented admissions, through high school admissions.”


Making College Dreams a Reality: Maximizing Financial Aid

Financial Aid workshop

A recent U.S. Department of Education report shows that only 67% of New York City high school seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2017, leaving an estimated $50 million in federal college grants on the table. The low completion rate is not surprising–applying for financial aid is a complicated and daunting process, especially for low-income students. At Breakthrough New York, we help our students overcome the challenges of applying for financial aid to help make their college dreams a reality.

Students from low-income backgrounds face many barriers to applying for financial aid. Many of our students are the first in their family to pursue higher education, so they have limited knowledge of their financial aid options. The challenges of completing the complex financial documents are compounded for families who do not speak or read English fluently, who are juggling multiple jobs, or who are facing unemployment or inconsistent employment. Securing the required tax and financial materials is difficult, especially if students have limited documentation due to poor record keeping or their parents' immigration status.

To help students overcome these obstacles, we hold information sessions and intensive workshops with trained volunteers who work one-on-one with families to complete the FAFSA, as well as New York State's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) application and the CSS Profile. While the FAFSA determines whether students are eligible for federal aid, the TAP application is necessary for students who will be attending an in-state public or private college, and the complex CSS Profile is a requirement by many private colleges and universities in order to qualify for institutional aid. Private grants and aid are especially important for undocumented students, who do not qualify for government grants. We also help students locate scholarships and re-negotiate aid awards from colleges when needed.  

Completing the FAFSA, TAP and CSS Profile maximizes opportunities for aid, and we find that students can often attend elite private colleges and graduate with less debt than they would in the State system. Financial aid support is a key reason why 100% of Breakthrough New York students go to college. If you are interested in volunteering to help students and families complete financial aid applications, please visit or email us to learn more.

What does family mean to you?

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If you ask Rudra Persaud, he will tell you about his parents who emigrated from Guyana to the Bronx when he was four years old and worked long hours to give him a better life, and his older brother, who is his role model.

Rudra will also tell you about Breakthrough New York, how we stepped in to give him resources his parents couldn’t afford, and social and academic skills he couldn't otherwise get, all to propel him forward with a first-class education. We have become his family too, he says.

Today, with vital services for vulnerable Americans under threat, young people like Rudra need family—in all its forms—more than ever. By supporting BTNY, you will send a powerful message to low-income kids that they deserve an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Families inspire. Families support. Families lift up their own.

“What Breakthrough does for me is life-changing,” says Rudra, now a junior at Pace University.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Rudra was accepted to BTNY in 2009 as an eleven year-old sixth grader. That summer, he left the Bronx by himself for the first time, commuting two hours a day to our academic program in Manhattan. He was invigorated by our challenging curriculum and inspired by his hard-working peers. “I knew right away this was where I wanted to be,” he recalls.

You can create breakthrough moments for hundreds of students like Rudra.

Because of the generosity of people like you, each BTNY student has a breakthrough moment that changes his or her life forever. Rudra’s breakthrough came when our staff helped him get into a boarding school in Connecticut—and persuaded his parents to let him go.

“Attending a boarding school was the best experience of my life, and it wouldn’t have happened without Breakthrough,” Rudra says. “It opened my eyes to the world outside New York City, and I got involved in different activities, like Chinese club and service groups.”

Today, Rudra is thriving in his junior year at Pace University. A bio-chemistry major, he is vice-president of a biology honor society, a member of several science clubs, and is plotting his path to medical school. And, he still finds time to serve as a mentor to our high school students on weekends. “Every kid deserves access to a community and mentors who care, like those at Breakthrough,” he says.

You can help our students achieve their dreams.

Your gift will provide students, like Rudra, with academic enrichment, tutoring, mentoring, test prep, high school and college admissions guidance, financial aid counseling, internship placement—and a place in our family, for life.

Over the last 12 years, I have had the privilege of welcoming hundreds of amazing young people into our family. I have watched their breakthrough moments, when they master new skills, find a community of likeminded souls, and embrace a brighter future for themselves, and their families.

I want to thank you deeply for your ongoing generosity. You, too, are part of our family, and I will forever be grateful.


Rhea Wong

Executive Director

p.s. As you know, I am stepping down as executive director at the end of 2017, but with your help, the BTNY family will be here for our students, today, and for many years to come.

Breakthrough New York on Announcement to End Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

(New York, NY) Rhea Wong, Executive Director of Breakthrough New York, today issued the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, known as DACA: 

Hard-working immigrants built this country and made it what it is today: a beacon of democracy, hope and progress.  By denying Dreamers a chance to stay and contribute, President Trump has ripped the fabric of our country and undermined our most cherished American principles and ideals.

We know that first-hand that Dreamers are hard-working and compassionate individuals whose talents and values make our country better. This year, Breakthrough New York had the honor of hiring college student Gabe Sanchez as a Teaching Fellow in our summer program. He is an invaluable member of our team who dedicated his summer to mentoring our middle school students in the SOuth Bronx and expanding their physics knowledge. He is also a DACA recipient whose dreams of teaching science and pursuing graduate studies are in jeopardy because of the Trump administration (read more about Gabe here and here).  

At Breakthrough New York, our students aspire to succeed in their schools, in their careers, and in their lives. Whether DACA recipients or not, they mirror Dreamers in many ways: they range in age from 11 to 22, they have limited financial means but an abundance of ambition and grit, they are nearly all black, Latino, and Asian, and most importantly, they seek opportunity.

Repealing DACA threatens to forever impact families who sought a better life, and who have made contributions to strengthen our nation. These 800,000 young people are American in all ways, save one piece of paper.  They are students, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

We will not stand by as our community is attacked. We will stand up for what is right and do everything we can to support Dreamers in these difficult months ahead.  We vow to continue to provide our students with the intellectual tools and critical thinking skills to fight back against hateful ideals. We implore our elected leaders in Congress to work together to find a solution to keep Dreamers thriving in the US.

To make America great again means remembering what made it great in the first place.