Students thrive in ‘near-peer’ teaching program
By Cecily Hastings
As most Sacramento middle-schoolers celebrate the lazy days of summer, a few fortunate students are beginning a life-changing journey.
Breakthrough Sacramento, an educational nonprofit, operates a middle school summer academy taught by college students. After closing in 2020 under the pandemic and reopening with a hybrid model in 2021, the program is back in full force for its 28th year in Sacramento.
“Our program partners motivated, but underserved, middle school and high school students to assist them in graduating high school and entering college,” says Michael Covey, chair of the organization’s board of directors and a retired teacher at Sacramento Country Day.
During summers after their sixth, seventh and eighth grades, Breakthrough students participate in a rigorous, engaging six-week academy daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students receive additional tutoring and counseling during the school year.
“School-year assistance is also provided during their high school years, along with college counseling. We help them apply to colleges and financial assistance,” Executive Director Faith Galati says. “Many of these students will be the first generation of their family to attend college.”
Student teachers, recruited from colleges all over the country, receive 80 hours of training in best practices. High school students also help teach.
“This near-peer teaching provides the middle school students with role models for the types of people that they aspire to become,” Galati says. “The Breakthrough teaching experience can be life changing as many of the student interns go on to the teaching profession.”
Jesus Aispuro has been part of Breakthrough since sixth grade. This fall, he’s headed to Stanford on a scholarship. “The program allowed me to continue pursuing higher education for both high school and college,” he says. “I’m grateful that my parents supported me throughout the program and my extracurricular activities.”
He continues, “Breakthrough literally changed the course of my life. Through participating in Breakthrough, I was also selected for the Country Day Scholar Program—a full scholarship to attend Sacramento Country Day School. Before that, public school was my only option. Country Day exposed me to numerous opportunities I’d not otherwise have had.”
Aispuro credits his Breakthrough college counselor who helped him apply to several highly select universities and arranged a visit to Columbia in New York City. “In the end, Stanford was my best option,” Aispuro says.
“The Breakthrough experience is vital in the lives of the participating students and their families. A college degree leads to an average full-time pay that is almost twice that of a high school graduate,” Covey says. “Over the last 20 years, unemployment rates for college graduates are one-half that of students who only graduated high school, regardless of the state of the economy. Statistically, a college graduate has less than a 5-percent chance of falling below the poverty line once obtaining their degree.”
Limited access to quality academic programs has historically hampered the progress of students from underserved communities. In 2020, young people from families in the top 20 percent income brackets were almost twice as likely to enter college as students with family incomes in the lowest 20 percent.
“Thankfully, the trends have been improving significantly over the last 50 years, with high school graduation rates climbing in all communities to at least 80 percent, and college entry in underserved communities climbing to above 45 percent,” Covey says. “But the opportunity gap between underserved communities and those with means still remains quite large.”
Breakthrough Sacramento is funded by private donors and corporate and agency partners.
“Our partnerships include the generosity of Sacramento Country Day School, SMUD, Kaiser, Teichert and many more,” Covey says. “Our board members and private individual donors are also a big help to fund our mission.”
“I am still making a continued effort to be a part of Breakthrough,” Aispuro says. “I volunteered for the summer program as a ninth grader, and this summer I am working as a teacher. However, all of this would not have been possible if it were not for my involvement and the generosity of Breakthrough.”
This summer’s enrollment includes 90 middle-schoolers and 107 high school students.
“All students in our community are capable of success,” Galati says. “Breakthrough assists those who want that success to rise above the disadvantages of opportunity. Each of these students are amazing in so many ways. We are privileged to be able to help them on their life-changing journey through middle and high school and into college.”
For more information visit breakthroughsac.org.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.