At Breakthrough Collaborative, we are committed to ensuring our students have every opportunity to attend and graduate college, and succeed on their chosen path. That means providing them the support to not only get into college, but also to navigate the very real challenges that can interfere with their academic progress. With the generous support of the ECMC Foundation, we have embarked on a journey to learn from a handful of Breakthrough affiliates who, for some years, have been supporting students beyond high school.

With the leadership of affiliates in Central Texas, Greater Boston, San Juan Capistrano, and New York, Breakthrough is working to create a college success playbook for our network of affiliates to adopt as they develop their own college programming. “The learnings coming out of this cohort will allow affiliates with new or emerging college success programs to test a set of baseline services and best practices for program development,” said Samantha Geary, College Access & Success Manager. “We are looking to create a Collaborative-wide learning exchange that will allow us to roll out a set of proven strategies throughout the network.”

Olivia Nuñez, Chief Program Officer at Breakthrough New York, is part of the college success pilot. BT New York began their college program in 2014. The first class had just 13 students. This year, the program will serve 190 students – all on their path to receiving a decade of sustained support to graduate high school, matriculate through college, and earn a college degree. More than 80 percent of these scholars will be the first in their families to graduate college, forging new pathways for themselves, their families, and communities. 

In response to both student need and organizational capacity, BT New York has transformed over the years how they’ve supported students. “Our initial focus was on the first two years of college, helping students make a smoother transition to college life. As students moved through their college years and the program grew, we began to shift our focus to include more career development as well. In 2020, we began matching students with volunteer college coaches, based on students wanting more career support and guidance,” said Nuñez. “Since that time, we have shifted our model to address the holistic needs of our students, including financial literacy, health and wellness, as well as academics.” 

The New York team has gained great insights supporting college students over the years, which they are taking to inform their high school program. “We learned that freshmen were struggling most in writing and calculus based on transcripts. So we’re asking ourselves how we can build more writing and math skills into our middle school and high school programs, for example,” said Nuñez. “We’re also asking ourselves, what are the foundational supports and skills college students need in those 10 years leading up to graduation? How does what happens in high school connect with middle school and college?” 

Nuñez is excited about the opportunity to connect with other affiliates doing similar work. “For Breakthrough New York, the Collaborative is an untapped resource. There is so much we can learn from each other, she says. “I’m really hopeful that what we can do here is useful for other affiliates. This sets the stage for how we continue collaborating. There’s such rich knowledge and passion in the network. I look forward to working together to discover how we build communities of support for one another and for our students to ultimately do everything we can to help young people succeed in life after Breakthrough.”