Breakthrough Greater Philadelphia

Organizational mission statement (50 words or less): 

Breakthrough increases educational opportunity by focusing on the development of both students and teachers. Through academic enrichment and college access, Breakthrough prepares students who have limited educational opportunities to attend and succeed at competitive high schools and, ultimately, to envision themselves at four-year colleges. Simultaneously, Breakthrough develops future educators by providing professional teaching experiences to college students through its selective residency programs.

Brief description of organization (include key programs and recent achievements, 100 words or less):


Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia is a tuition-free academic enrichment program committed to supporting academically motivated but under-resourced middle school students to enter and succeed in college-preparatory high school programs. Students begin the program the summer before seventh grade and continue during the school year until ninth grade, engaging in rigorous college-preparatory courses and transformative co-curricular experiences. Programming is offered for six weeks in the summers and on Saturdays during the school year. Breakthrough also employs experienced educators to coach its talented young teaching fellows, many of whom become career educators.

Population served (25 words or less):

Underserved students enrolled in public, private, and charter schools in the Philadelphia area.


Geographic area(s) served: 

Philadelphia and surrounding neighborhoods. Zip codes served in 2019-2020: 19135, 19153, 19139, 19123, 19121, 19122, 19149, 19151, 19148, 19124, 19148, 19146, 19138, 19118, 19144, 19147, 19126, 19119, 19129, 19135, 19119, 19151, 19142, 19150, 19132, 19115

In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is your organization’s work primarily? 


Does the organization already receive support from or otherwise engage life science companies? If so, how? 

No. This would be a first!

Please outline existing volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any current virtual volunteer events:

1. Breakthrough Teaching Fellows are volunteer instructors who receive training and coaching from experienced teachers. They teach one academic subject, assisting students with school assignments and projects, and supporting the overall program during special trips and workshops. The school year program is held two Saturdays per month, from 9:45 am-2 pm, October through May. Breakthrough is excited to be able to open for in-person learning on Saturday, October 3, 2020. 

2. In addition, Breakthrough students are provided extra tutoring through a network of volunteers (background checks required and supported by program host Germantown Friends School) 3. Volunteers also participate as guest speakers on particular topics, typically sharing their own professional paths and expertise, sometimes offering programming in financial literacy, public speaking, or other life skills. Experts in the sciences would be most helpful! Speakers can join via Zoom and would be broadcast to students in the auditorium on campus. 

4. Volunteers provide nourishing snacks and lunches. 

5. Volunteers host student visitors (when not in pandemic)


Please outline proposed or potential future volunteer opportunities or programs & initiatives that harness human capital including any planned virtual volunteer events:  

1. Breakthrough would welcome the opportunity to offer a unit on the pandemic (the virus, response and containment, the disparities revealed by who it is most impacting, testing, treatment, etc.) with experts in the sciences developing and delivering the content. 

2. Breakthrough would welcome the opportunity to have virtual mentorship sessions with science professionals and students to spark a career interest in the field. 


Please signify the type of support you are requesting from Life Science Cares: 

Programming (new or expanded)

Project Title: 

Breakthrough’s Science Now Program

Total Project Budget (if applicable): 


Requested Amount [note that first year partners will generally be awarded $10k]: 


In which Life Science Cares Area of Focus is the requested project’s work? 


Description of Need (What is the issue you plan to address? What are the demographics and number of people you plan to serve, if applicable?): 

Breakthrough’s summer academic enrichment program includes middle school life/earth science as one of the four core subjects our 100 underserved rising 7th-9th graders study. However, due to budget restraints, the class has lacked lab kits that would expand student learning and deepen understanding. Our professional network of volunteer speakers has generally lacked representatives from the sciences to share knowledge and career possibilities. Breakthrough students are mostly underserved minorities, enrolled in public, private, and charter schools in Philadelphia. Many will be first generation college students.

Specific Activities (Please detail what activities you intend to undertake as a result of the grant. Include information about service delivery and timelines.): 

In spring 2021, Breakthrough would use Life Science Cares grant funding to offset a Breakthrough Sciences Program budget of $34,640. Grant funding will specifically support the creation of 100 lab kits, which will be used by Breakthrough students attending (virtually or in person) our 2021 Summer Program, which runs Monday-Friday from late June through the first week of August at our program sites Germantown Friends School and Drexel University.  In late spring 2021, Breakthrough will be pleased to partner with Life Science Cares to invite their professional members to volunteer and coordinate with our staff and college student Teaching Fellows to speak to students during relevant science classes. This connection with science professionals will foster students’ curiosity about science beyond the classroom, and support our future Science Teacher Teaching Fellows with a unique professional development opportunity. Breakthrough would also welcome volunteer tutors that could support the students in the summer and the fall. Grant funding will give our students the opportunity to do real labs related to their learning experiences with the visiting scientists.  Planned 2021 Summer Science Topics for Grades7-9 include:  Scientific Method - Osmosis - Yeast Growth - Microbes, Viruses, and Ebola. - Water Filtration - Water Footprint - Fossil Fuels - Climate Change and Graphing - Nuclear Energy -Layers of the Earth, Earthquakes, Plate Tectonics.

Evaluation (What are the anticipated results? What methods will you use to measure your progress? What does success look like?): 

While Breakthrough firmly believes that this deeper, multilevel approach to teaching science will benefit our students, we will assess their comprehension as follows: throughout the summer, Teaching Fellows use exit tickets following each lesson for students to demonstrate mastery of any given topic. Students are asked to apply, synthesize, and evaluate the material at the close of each class. Teachers then use the data to reteach content to students who have not shown mastery in either small groups or one on one.  Breakthrough assesses student skills growth in August using pre/post tests in their respective core classes according to the national standards. This allows us to see the arc of learning over the course of the summer. The following are specific 2021 targets used to measure that success:  Outcome 1: ≥ 60% of rising 8th-9th graders will demonstrate measurable skills growth by September 2021.  Outcome 2: 85% of BT 7th-9th grade students, on average, will agree with statements demonstrating empathy, diligence, confidence and self-assertiveness in our summer 2021 Social Skills Survey.  Outcome 3: ≥ 85% BT 8th grade graduates will enter college-prep high schools.  Success looks like a Breakthrough student demonstrating growth in academic and social skills, gaining a cohort of new, goal-oriented friends, and happily working towards their own personal and school goals.

Does this project already have support from life science companies? If so, what is the nature of that support? 




Is there any other information not captured elsewhere regarding your organization, project, program or initiatives that you believe will help the Life Science Cares team in evaluating your request? 

In 2021, Breakthrough’s partnership with Life Science Cares will also provide important professional development connections for Breakthrough’s Teaching Fellows (TFs), almost half students of color.  Breakthrough’s summer Teaching Fellow (TF) program, is a pre-professional, hands-on, summer teacher residency, which draws college students of all majors from across the Philadelphia region and the country who are then trained to teach Breakthrough’s 7th-9th graders – majority low income students of color. For years, Breakthrough had trouble recruiting African-American TFs to our program, as both the teaching profession and Black students’ interest in entering it, have declined in Pennsylvania.   As the 2020 School District of Philadelphia-Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Aspire to Educate pilot program (which aims to cultivate and diversify the city and state’s educator pool), notes: “since 2013, the number of people seeking teaching certification has shrunk by more than 65%. In addition, while Pennsylvania has more than 120,000 teachers, 96% are white, making the state's educator workforce the least diverse in the country.   This disparity is unjust, and detrimental to student learning. The positive “role model effect” of same-race teachers on students is well-documented. The 2018 study “The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers” by Johns Hopkins University and American University researchers found when teachers reflect the race and gender of their students, self-esteem and goal setting increases, and the students are more likely to enter and graduate from college.  In addition, our work is informed by the disproportionately high levels of unemployment faced by African Americans, which the pandemic exacerbated to the point that the 2nd quarter 2020 rate of unemployment in Philadelphia was nearly 2 African American jobs lost for every 1 job lost by a white employee.   Last year, in this context, Breakthrough made increasing the number of African American Teaching Fellows a goal, in an effort to improve long range outcomes for our students. Through targeted recruitment, and increased teaching stipends, we succeeded in adding 7 Black fellows and 1 Asian fellow, raising the participation rate from a mere 15% to 40%.  In 2020-21, we seek to maintain or improve upon last year’s successes.  Breakthrough's nine-week Teaching Fellow residency (June 21-August 16, 2021) consists of 2 weeks of intensive training prior to entering the classroom, 6 weeks of virtual or hands-on classroom teaching experience, and support from master educator Instructional Coaches who observe, evaluate and mentor TFs throughout the residency.  Once they have committed to the fellowship, in their role as mentors, we encourage the Fellows to speak with students about their experiences with diversity, of being in a minority at their schools, and of persevering through scholastic and social challenges to achieve their professional and life goals.  Teaching Fellows teach two classes in one core subject and one elective class in Breakthrough’s Summer Program, which normally takes place at our partner sites, Drexel University or Germantown Friends School, though in 2020, our Teaching Fellows taught classes remotely from their homes and campuses, an invaluable though challenging real-world teaching experience.  TFs also mentor students, serve on and lead committees, and participate in regular faculty meetings. The Summer Program is six weeks of rigorous skills-based academic instruction in math, science, literature, writing, and are expected to complete homework nightly. Classes meet 8:30am – 4pm, Monday to Thursday; 8:30am – 2pm Friday with Fridays set aside some days for catch up work, for TF-created, extracurricular subjects such as Money 101, Intro to Italian, Intro to Chinese and Protest, Music, and Society, and online field trips and renowned volunteer guest speakers.  TFs are thoroughly engaged students who gain important professional connections from these volunteer speakers during the residency.


How does your organization or program differentiate from other organizations doing similar work? Are you executing or proposing to executive an innovation in program or service? 

Several organizations are working to address Philadelphia students’ academic performance and degree attainment.  Three, like Breakthrough, provide academic and enrichment opportunities to help talented, low income students succeed in achieving their goals of college and career.  There are differences, however.  Philadelphia Futures works exclusively with high school students.  Horizons at Greene St Friends provides supports to underserved K-8th graders from just one Philadelphia neighborhood.  SteppingStone Scholars provides summer and school year supports to students in 5th through 12th grades and ongoing supports during the college years. The key difference between Breakthrough and each of these programs is its innovative near-peer to peer “students teaching students” model, which focuses on the development of future educators.  Breakthrough’s program 1) engages talented college students from around the country to teach in the summer program – and to serve as role models and mentors to students It engages; 2) talented future teachers from Greater Philadelphia college and university education programs to teach in the school year program – and to provide engaging enrichment experiences to students; and 3) employs experienced educators as “Instructional Coaches,” providing comprehensive, hands-on training and mentorship to novice teachers