This program is bringing its college access strategy to the Bronx.
Breakthrough New York will begin operating out of the New York Junior Tennis & Learning’s new center in Crotona Park in June 2015.
The program, which currently has a Manhattan and a Brooklyn site, helps guide high-potential but low-income sixth graders all the way through the college preparation process.
One special part of the program is that it uses high school and college students as teachers for the after-school and summer programs, said Director Rhea Wong, which provides the middle schoolers with young role models.
“If those people are the ones carrying the message, I think it really resonates in a different way,” said Wong.
The program also starts relatively young, “so our kids can really start to see themselves as college-going people,” Wong said.
Breakthrough New York currently serves 70 students from the Bronx at their Manhattan location, and will accept 34 student next spring for their first class of students at the NYJTL Carey Leeds Center in Crotona Park.
“They travel a pretty long way to get to us,” said Wong. “We’ve long felt we need to be in the Bronx.”
The after-school program provides academic support for the middle school students and guides them through the city’s high school admission process so that they end up in a school that will prepare them for college. (More than one third go to private schools.)
High school students attend monthly workshops on such topics as time management, internships, financial literacy and more to help to guide them through the long college process – “All of the stuff more affluent kids get in a more college-bound family culture,” said Wong.
During the summer, the program includes art and sports, and is “intense academically, but also fun,” she said.
Wong herself was a graduate of a Breakthrough program in San Francisco during the late 80s. She said that she was a nerd and was ashamed of it, but the Breakthough program created a place for her where it was cool to be smart – “It changed the whole direction of my life.”
Oge Ezekwenna, an 8th grader from Clason Point, feels the same way about the program.
“They’ve surrounded me with people just like me,” he said, “People who come from public school and want to be successful but don’t have the means to do so.”
Ezekwenna said he’s received a lot of personalized support through the program, and as a result he will be attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire on a full-scholarship in the fall.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “I think it will be a great opportunity for me academically and personally.”