Rhea's Departure

Dear BTNY family,

After 12 incredibly memorable years of helping our students achieve their college dreams, I have decided to leave Breakthrough New York at the end of 2017. I made this decision after careful deliberation, realizing the time is right for me, both personally and professionally.

We have always encouraged you to take positive risks and have a growth mindset. For me, stepping away from the familiar Breakthrough world in order to keep growing and learning — to step outside of my comfort zone — is following my own advice. I know change is hard for all of us, but we’ll all be OK. I promise.

Over the last 12 years, I have been a part of your lives in times of joy and in times of sorrow. I have celebrated your successes and walked with you through tough times. We are family and that will never change no matter what and no matter where life takes us.

I want to assure you nothing will change for you at Breakthrough New York. We will work as diligently as ever to help you obtain a first-class education, from middle school through college, and into careers. Our dedicated staff, Teaching Fellows, and volunteers will continue to provide you with top-notch tutoring, mentoring, and guidance.

The leadership transition will be done thoughtfully and effectively. Our board of directors has formed a selection committee and will hire an executive search firm to help us find the new executive director. In the meantime, I will continue in the position for the coming months.

Serving as executive director of Breakthrough New York has been the greatest privilege of my life, thanks to you, our amazing students and parents. Because of your commitment to our program, Breakthrough New York has grown tremendously since I became executive director in 2005. Today, we are proud to serve more than 500 students at three sites, with a full 10 years of robust support. And we will keep that momentum going.

As many of you know, I have been a part of Breakthrough since I was a middle school student in San Francisco; I will forever be part of this community. While I have yet to decide the next step in my career, I will always be a passionate advocate for students, education equality, and Breakthrough New York. 

I love you all dearly and will always be in your corner, rooting for you and (in spirit) reminding you to give a firm handshake, to look people in the eye, to speak up with confidence, to not say “um,” “like,” or “you know,” and to eat your vegetables. These are lessons I hope you remember for the rest of your life.

Above all, remember this: You are special. You are loved. You are our family, and we are yours.  Forever.

I look forward to continuing to work with you this fall, and will keep you updated on our search for Breakthrough New York’s next executive director.
 
With love,

Rhea Wong
Executive Director
Breakthrough New York

Teaching Fellows Step to the Head of the Class

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One key to Breakthrough New York’s success is our unique “students-teaching-students” model. This time of year, that means bringing many of the nation’s brightest college students into our classrooms, to serve as BTNY Teaching Fellows, instructing and inspiring our middle school students during our six-week summer program.

When our 2017 program begins on July 3rd a cohort of 72 Teaching Fellows will step to the head of the class to help our rising seventh, eighth, and ninth graders bolster their writing, literature, math, and science skills. They will also serve as role models for our students, most of whom have little or no exposure to college students and graduates at home.

This year’s Teaching Fellows were selected from a group of over 400 applicants, based on academic accomplishment, leadership experience, and ability to learn teaching techniques as demonstrated during the interview process. More than half of this year’s Teaching Fellows are African American, Latino, or Asian, and 21 are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) majors. We have eight returning Teaching Fellows and two Teaching Fellows who are current BTNY students

Earlier in June, our Teaching Fellows underwent three weeks of intensive training, including mock teaching sessions. During the summer, they will be serving at our Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bronx sites, where they will each teach one academic class and one elective class, such as basketball, soccer, choir, drama, or karate. Additionally, they will participate in weekly special events with students, including Diversity Day, Spirit Olympics, and Career Day on July 27, which will include all grade levels this year. Instructional coaches support the Teaching Fellows with content and lesson planning, and feedback, throughout the summer.

An impressive 90% of the program’s past summer instructors have gone on to pursue careers in education, with many citing their experience at BTNY as their inspiration. It’s no wonder that our Teaching Fellows program is consistently named a Princeton Review Top Ten internship!

This year’s Teaching Fellows hail from prestigious colleges across the country:

 

Amherst College                       Mills College                                          Spelman College 

Boston College                         Minerva Schools at KGI                         St John's University

Bowdoin College                      Montclair State University                      St. Gregory's University

Brandeis University                  Mount Holyoke College                          SUNY at Binghamton

Brown University                      Muhlenberg College                               University at Buffalo

Colby College                           New York University                               The University of Chicago

Colgate University                    Oakwood University                               University of Michigan

Columbia University                 Oberlin College                                       University of Missouri

Cornell University                     Occidental College                                 University of New Hampshire

CUNY Hunter College              The Ohio State University                      University of North Carolina

Dickinson College                     Oregon State University                        University of North Texas

Elmhurst College                       Pace University                                      University of Pittsburgh

Elon University                          Pomona College                                     University of Southern

Emory University                       Princeton University                               University of Texas

Fordham University                   Scripps College                                      Vanderbilt University

Haverford College                     Sewanee-The University of the South  Wesleyan University

Howard University                     Skidmore College                                   Wheaton College

Marist College                            Smith College

Michigan State University

 

News Release: Breakthrough New York’s Rhea Wong Selected as a New York Nonprofit Media 40 Under 40 Rising Stars Honoree

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 13, 2017
Contact:  Zac Roy, 917-822-7203, zac@anatgerstein.com

(New York, N.Y.) – New York Nonprofit Media has selected Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough New York (BTNY), as a New York Nonprofit Media 40 Under 40 Rising Stars honoree. The awards program, now in its third year, annually recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are doing outstanding work in the nonprofit sector.

Since 2005, Ms. Wong has led BTNY, a nonprofit organization that shepherds low-income, high-achieving students from New York City public middle schools all the way through college.

“It is an honor to be chosen as a New York Nonprofit Media Rising Star,” Ms. Wong said. “This award was made possible by the hard work that the entire Breakthrough New York team does, day in and day out, to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their college dreams and to help advance the cause of education equality.”

Ms. Wong and this year’s other Rising Stars awardees will be honored at a celebratory breakfast event on July 19 at The Capital Grille in Downtown Manhattan and profiled in a special print publication distributed at the event. 

During her tenure as executive director, Ms. Wong has grown BTNY from a tiny operation with a $250,000 budget, one program site, and a staff of two, into a thriving nonprofit with a $2.7 million budget, a robust board, three program sites, and a staff of 15. She has expanded BTNY’s services, which include after-school tutoring, summer enrichment programming, SAT prep, high school and college admissions guidance, mentorship, internship placement and, since 2014, an additional four years of support through college graduation.

The organization has achieved unprecedented mission success under Ms. Wong’s leadership, shepherding 100% of its students from middle school to four-year colleges and continuing to develop the educators of tomorrow with its unique students-teaching-students model and Teaching Fellows program.

Ms. Wong was once a Breakthrough student herself. Growing up in San Francisco, she sought to defy society’s narrow expectations for Asian women and people from low-income families. She credits the Breakthrough program for putting her on a path to success as a teen and is deeply passionate about giving back, and opening doors for generations of other students like herself.

Following her college graduation from McGill University in Montreal, she worked at the Breakthrough Collaborative National Office in San Francisco in national Teaching Fellow recruitment at top university campuses nationwide, and created the Collaborative’s first on-campus recruiter program.

About Breakthrough New York

Breakthrough New York transforms the lives of talented kids from low-income backgrounds by providing educational support from middle school through college and into careers. We also inspire talented young people to enter careers in education through our students-teaching-students model. Our goal is to create leaders who break the cycle of poverty in their families and effect positive change in their communities. Learn more at www.btny.org. Follow us on social media: Facebook – Instagram – Twitter @BreakthroughNY

About New York Nonprofit Media

New York Nonprofit Media is the must-read news source for New York’s nonprofits. Each week, NYN Media’s original reporting is featured in City & State Magazine, the premier news organization dedicated to New York’s government, political and advocacy news. First Read Nonprofit, our powerhouse e-newsletter, features the latest stories that impact the nonprofit community every day. With a featured job site and dedicated events division, NYN Media is the go-to resource for nonprofit professionals. For more information, please visit www.nynmedia.com.  

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Statement on The New York City Department of Education’s Diversity Plan

Breakthrough New York Executive Director Rhea Wong issued the following statement today about the New York City Department of Education’s diversity plan. The plan aims to address the lack of diversity in public schools.

"The New York City Department of Education’s diversity plan demonstrates the city’s dedication to creating more inclusive and representative public schools. However, there is still more that needs to be done to fully address the complex racial and socioeconomic segregation in our schools.

By eliminating the “limited unscreened” high school admissions method, the DOE correctly recognizes that the time required to “demonstrate interest” by attending an open house or school fair is an “often-unacknowledged obstacle for families.” However, the “limited unscreened” admissions method is just one aspect of high school admissions that favors those with time and money. The stark reality is that the high school admissions system as a whole provides only an illusion of meritocracy, and families with means can navigate the complex system much more effectively than their low-income peers.

It is also commendable that the DOE is making the Specialized High School Admissions Test accessible to a wider range of students, but simply providing more students with the opportunity to take the test does not mean these students will do well. Much more needs to be done to expand test prep and other supports to students in low-income communities. Breakthrough New York provides test prep, high school application guidance, and summer enrichment to low-income students, but our help can only stretch so far.

Finally, making data and information about schools available online is a step in the right direction. I hope the DOE will continue to build out their system to include average SAT scores and counselor-to-student ratios, which can indicate if the school adequately prepares students for college. The online portal provides the percentage of students who enroll in college or career programs, but listing the percentage who enroll in four-year colleges is a much better indicator of success.

I commend the Department of Education for making diversity a priority, but we need to do so much more to ensure that all New York City students have the opportunity to attend schools that put them on the path to lifelong success.”

Statement on President's Proposed Education Budget

Breakthrough New York Executive Director Rhea Wong issued the following statement today about President Donald Trump's proposed education budget, which would reduce education spending by $9.2 billion, severely cutting programs that help low-income students, in both K-12 and higher education, including afterschool programs, gifted programs, subsidized student loans, Pell grants, and the federal TRIO programs:

"The President's outrageous education budget is yet another example of his administration putting the most vulnerable Americans at risk.  At a time when our country should be making education great again, this plan kneecaps success and oppresses opportunity.

By slashing funding for after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, Medicaid-funded student services, and many other crucial initiatives, the President would significantly widen the already vast opportunity gap that exists between students from low-income families and their more affluent peers. Meanwhile, cuts to gifted programs and advance coursework would squander the potential of students who have the drive and talent but not the resources to access quality education. And, scaling back support for international education and foreign language programs would further undercut American competitiveness in the global market.

The President's education budget flies in the face of reason and need.

Since Breakthrough New York was founded 18 years ago, we have faced overwhelming demand for our support from students in our city who are hungry for access to achieve the same success as their wealthier peers. Nonprofits have been filling this vacuum, and in our case, has led to 100% of our students enrolling in four-year colleges.

Yet, low-income college students who don’t have the support of nonprofits like BTNY at least have been able rely on work-study programs and public-service loan forgiveness. Tragically, the President’s education budget would decimate the former and eliminate the latter, and it would deplete funding for childcare for low-income parents who are attending college. This, along with the President’s proposal for the federal government to stop subsidizing the interest on student loans, will make college costlier by thousands of dollars, effectively putting it out of reach for many low-income students.

Finally, as if these cuts were not enough, the President's budget would funnel an astounding amount of money into school choice initiatives, such as vouchers. The data is quite clear: vouchers pull much-needed resources away from public schools, leaving the most vulnerable children in under-resourced public schools, leading to devastating outcomes.

This budget turns the promise of a college degree into a pipe dream for many Americans. It will create even greater obstacles for those who see education as a way to disrupt the cycle of generational poverty and to become productive members of an educated workforce.