Big Break

Free college-prep program helps close achievement gap

By Jessica Laskey
June 2024

Le’la Aaron hesitated when her older sister Adina encouraged her to join Breakthrough Sacramento. Who wants to go to school during the summer? But the decision to join the tuition-free college preparatory program changed her life.

“Breakthrough was the most helpful in that I got extra attention and I had more time to understand each topic before it was brought up in the classroom the next year, so I was already somewhat ahead,” says Aaron, a UC Davis freshman.

For 30 years, Breakthrough Sacramento has provided intensive, six-week academic programs during the summer for under-resourced students in seventh through 12th grades on the campus of Sacramento Country Day School.

Breakthrough students take classes in subjects such as science, math and language arts. Courses are taught by college and high school students as part of Breakthrough’s innovative pre-professional training program. Teaching interns receive mentorship from professional educators who give feedback and assistance.

“Being part of every single step of Breakthrough made me able to realize things from different points of view,” says Aaron, who started as a student, then became a volunteer teacher’s aide and is now in her third year as a teaching intern. “It let me know what I like and don’t like and helped me give back to the community because I once was in their position.”

Breakthrough’s classes give students a leg up on basic academic skills, as well as specific high school requirements that help position them for college admission.

“In order for them to be able to apply to a UC or CSU, students must complete A through G courses in high school,” explains Faith Galati, Breakthrough Sacramento executive director. “Every student we have is on track to take those and more rigorous classes and get some APs under their belt, so when they apply to college, they’re ready.”

Assistance doesn’t stop with summer. Breakthrough offers year-round tutoring and monthly experiential learning opportunities, such as skiing, hiking, camping and attending sports games and arts performances, which “help form a more dynamic young person,” Galati says.

Students and families receive high school advising, college counseling and assistance navigating financial aid.

“When you look at the state of education in California and our region in particular, there’s a high number of low-income, under-resourced, marginalized youth,” Galati says. “Economically disadvantaged students score half or a third as well as their more financially secure peers (on state tests). They’re equally smart but the opportunity just isn’t there.”

Aaron, who got into 27 universities before choosing UC Davis, knows how much Breakthrough helped.

“I knew I wanted to go to college, but I never had a dream college, so I felt like the program would help me decide and help me prepare for each next grade level,” says Aaron, who joined Breakthrough before her seventh-grade year at Miwok (formerly Sutter) Middle School. “The program benefited me in so many ways.”

“I tell people about Breakthrough all the time,” she continues. “If people are younger, they should definitely be involved. It’s beneficial to be there at this age right now, especially if you want to be teacher. It gives you a taste of what it’s like.”

For information, visit

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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