Breakthrough New York Begins 20th Year of Supporting Talented Students from Low-Income Backgrounds

News Release

(New York, N.Y.) – Breakthrough New York (BTNY), the 10-year college success program that transforms the lives of talented kids from low-income backgrounds by providing educational support from middle school through college and into careers, begins its 20th program year this month.

This year BTNY is serving 557 students, from 7th graders who began the program in July with an intensive summer academic session, to college seniors in their tenth and final year of the program.

“We are thrilled to be entering our 20th year of supporting talented students to and through college and into careers,” says BTNY Executive Director Beth Onofry. “The inspiring young people who participate in the BTNY program help to bring positive change to their own lives, their families and their communities through their hard work and success.”

After school on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the 2018-2019 academic year, BTNY’s 168 7th- and 8th-graders will travel to one of the organization’s three program sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or the Bronx for tutoring, mentorship, test prep, and high school admissions guidance. On average BTNY middle school students attend 300 hours of programming per year after school and during the summer.

Meanwhile, the program’s high school students will attend six daylong BTNY skill- and knowledge-building sessions to help them overcome academic and social challenges that students from low-income backgrounds often face. Topics will include college applications and essays, financial aid, internship preparation, and adjusting to college life.

BTNY boasts a stellar track record for preparing students for college. In 2018, 100% of the program’s rising 9th grade students enrolled in a high-performing public or private high school, and 100% of its graduating high school seniors matriculated to a four-year college. As a result, the program is more popular than ever, with more than 300 6th  graders vying for only 86 seats in this year’s new class. 

Additional program services for middle and high school students include standardized test preparation, academic counseling, service learning, interview coaching, and organized college visits. Upon entry into a four-year college, BTNY students continue to receive holistic support in the form of internship and career guidance, help navigating the financial aid process, and social and emotional support.

Breakthrough New York serves students who have demonstrated academic performance and motivation, but lack opportunity to reach their full potential. Seventy-nine percent qualify for federal free or reduced lunch, and 74% are the first in their families to go to college.

BTNY was founded in 1999 at the Town School on the Upper East Side, beginning on a small scale as a program called Summerbridge. BTNY has expanded over the years, opening a second site in Brooklyn in 2012 and a third site in the South Bronx in 2015. In 2014, it expanded to a ten- year commitment, helping students from the day after they finish 6th grade through college graduation.

About Breakthrough New York

Breakthrough New York (BTNY) transforms the lives of talented kids from low-income backgrounds by providing educational support from middle school through college and into careers. BTNY also inspires talented young people to enter careers in education through its students-teaching-students model. The organization’s goal is to create leaders who break the cycle of poverty in their families and effect positive change in their communities. Learn more at Follow BTNY on social media: Facebook – Instagram – Twitter @BreakthroughNY


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The One Year Anniversary of Charlottesville, VA Hate Rally

   Devaughn Fowlkes,     College and Career Success Director, reflects on the one year anniversary of events in Charlottesville.

Devaughn Fowlkes, College and Career Success Director, reflects on the one year anniversary of events in Charlottesville.

Last Friday evening our newest class of incoming college freshmen gathered one last time before starting their fall semester. They were eager to learn key information and hear advice on navigating and succeeding in college. Our students shared their hopes, goals, fears, and questions for the road ahead while providing each other with encouragement and affirmation that they are well prepared for the journey.

After the workshop, I could not avoid thinking then how in just a few hours people would be gathering in our nation’s capital to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Charlottesville, Virginia hate rallies that claimed the life of a counter-protestor. At this time last year, two of our own Breakthrough New York college freshmen were arriving on the University of Virginia campus where some of the hate rallies occurred. Thankfully both students are safe and received support from faculty on campus.  

A year later, we’re now preparing to send another class of students into new environments where it is possible they may face similar bigotry and fear for their safety.

This is unacceptable.

College, in fact school as a whole, is a time of exploration, critical thinking, self-discovery, and preparation for become a contributing member of society. It is during this time when students develop new ideas and challenge previously held views and beliefs. What took place last year in Charlottesville does not reflect the ideals and values our Breakthrough family lives by. Hate rallies should have no place in our society, let alone transpire in the same environments where our young leaders are developing and growing.  

Our hope is that we, as a society, learn from our past mistakes and commit to gaining understanding from our differences while embracing our similarities.

At Breakthrough New York we value the richness of diversity and do not tolerate the hate or injustice embodied by the Charlottesville rally and others like it. We work to create a nurturing environment that cultivates our students’ talents. Together with their families’ support, we strive to create an environment of safety and care for all our students.

As we transition another class of students from middle school to high school, high school to college, and college to career, our vision of an equitable future holds true and propels us forward.

Breakthrough New York Statement on the Family Separations at the Border

Dear Breakthrough New York Family,

Our tight-knit Breakthrough community has been heartbroken by the crisis at our southern border. Separating families who are seeking safety and opportunity is unconscionable, and signing an Executive Order to end family separation will not undo trauma or reunite the thousands of families who have already been affected. Putting families in detention indefinitely is not the answer.  
This country was founded by immigrants who came looking for a better future for themselves and their families. Our society has always benefited from the contributions of immigrants, and denying people basic human decency at the border undermines this American truth. What does this crisis say about who we are as a country? We must show our children we can be better.
At Breakthrough, we take pride in our diverse and vibrant community of families, young people, staff, and supporters. Many of our families are immigrants and our students are first-generation college students; all deserve the opportunity to achieve their dreams. We know first-hand that every child can contribute positively to our society, especially if given the right opportunities and resources. The impact of investing in and enriching our children pays dividends and reverberates throughout the larger community, and we are privileged to see our students transform into thoughtful, passionate, and driven adults.
We want our Breakthrough community to know we are committed to creating a welcoming environment, we believe in the value of your contributions and know that it is because of you that our organization has achieved so much. We will continue to provide space for everyone's voice to be heard. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any concerns, ideas, or questions. As always, we are here for you.


Olivia Nunez
Chief Program Officer

Our College Class of 2018!


In June Breakthrough New York students, families, staff, Board members, and supporters gathered at the Edwin Gould Foundation to celebrate a major milestone: the first BTNY class to receive ten years of support has graduated from college!

In addition to plenty of mingling, the eight graduates were presented with certificates and gifts to commemorate their inspiring achievements. At the gathering, we announced the launch of the Breakthrough New York Alumni Association. While still in its early stages, this group will help our alumni stay connected with resources—and with the Breakthrough family—for years to come. The Alumni Association intends to provide access to leadership and professional development opportunities, financial and retirement planning, and volunteer activities to stay engaged.

After a decade with BTNY, it’s just the beginning of a bright future for our graduates:

Abigail Agbi graduated early from the State University of New York at Fredonia with a degree in Biochemistry and has already been accepted to not one, but three Master’s programs—at SUNY University at Buffalo, Cornell University, and the University of Rochester. We’re sure she will thrive no matter where she ends up.

Aaliyah Jackson graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a degree in communications. While in school, she worked at the school radio station and SNEWS TV. She is pursuing opportunities in public relations or journalism.

Cindy Chen, who graduated with an Asian studies degree from Carleton College, spent her last semester in Japan. She is returning to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a foreign language teacher.  Cindy recently began working as a Teaching Assistant at a Chinese Language School.

Gabriel Lopez, who worked as a BTNY Teaching Fellow, graduated from Columbia University and its Fu Foundation School of Engineering with a degree in computer science and is exploring several job opportunities.

Jillian Elkin graduated a semester early in December from Vassar College with a degree in film. She taught English in Russia this past spring, and will leverage that experience to transition into film-related opportunities.

Joshua Vega is working towards his Master’s in mental health counseling through Pace University’s dual degree program. Inspired by his time as a BTNY Teaching Fellow, he hopes to help kids overcome challenges.

Kathryn Vargas received her degree in psychology from Wesleyan University and is exploring a career in counseling. We are confident she will go on to help others thrive.

Sebastian Sanchez, who graduated from Middlebury College, landed a job with the prestigious real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield. We are thrilled he is returning home to work out of the Brooklyn office! Sebastian was also selected by his peers to deliver the 2018 Student Commencement Address.

A moment of silence was held in memory of Amanda Miner, a bright and passionate member of the class of 2018 who passed away suddenly in March of last year. She had dreamed of becoming a teacher after graduating from Lafayette College. We miss her dearly.

We cannot wait to see our graduates take on the world—we know they will continue to create change in their communities and beyond!

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.”