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.”


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.