Breakthrough Sacramento celebrates 30 years of education

Xander Mora is the AmeriCorps middle-school coordinator of Breakthrough Sacramento. (By Neezy Jeffery)

By Jenelle Lum

Maricela, a 7th grade student at the Language Academy of Sacramento, said she feels more prepared for school each year because of the tutoring and educational experience she receives through Breakthrough Sacramento, a six-year college preparatory program for middle and high school students.

“Over the summer, I took one of their math classes and I think that really helped me understand some material that was on the test in order to get the advanced math,” Maricela said.

Having access to a high-quality education can be a changemaker for students in Sacramento. Breakthrough Sacramento aims to do just that, by preparing students for a bright future in college and their careers. The local program is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a fundraiser event on April 18 at the SMUD Museum of Science and Curiosity.   

Breakthrough Sacramento was founded in 1994 and was hosted by Sacramento Country Day School until becoming independent in 2017, according to Executive Director Faith Galati. 

The six-year college preparatory program located at 3400 3rd Ave. in Sacramento serves under-resourced, marginalized and underrepresented youth from 6th to 12th grades in the Sacramento area. Breakthrough Sacramento hosts summer programs, year-round tutoring, paid internships for high school students and monthly field trips. 

The program is funded by Measure U, a sales tax increase that was originally passed in 2012 that allows Breakthrough students to enroll in the program without needing to pay tuition costs. Students who are interested in joining the program are required to fill out an application and interview with one of its staff members before being selected. The organization serves up to 250 students a year.

According to Galati, 100% of their 60 students who completed their program in the last two years graduated from high school and were accepted to a four-year college. She said of these students, around 78% were economically disadvantaged. 

Galati’s involvement with Breakthrough Sacramento started in 2005 when she assisted with fundraising. She said she had worked with foster youth and under-resourced youth and was inspired by the program’s mission.

In 2016, she worked with a team of 10 people to develop the program into an independent affiliate of the national Breakthrough Collaborative. A year later, she was appointed as executive director of the local organization. 

Breakthrough Sacramento is independently funded, but shares its teaching materials and curriculum with 25 other affiliate sites across the United States.

‘Awful lot of fun’

Marina Barrera, Breakthrough Sacramento’s high school resilience manager, went from being a Breakthrough teaching intern to earning a master’s degree at UC Davis. Pictured at Breakthrough Sacramento on Tuesday, March 26. (By Neezy Jeffery) 

The Breakthrough summer program consists of six weeks of learning and field trips for middle school students and teaching opportunities for high school and college students. Students from 7th-9th grades take courses in English, math and science and a variety of electives. 

“The kids are willing to take six weeks out of their summer to work so hard, and yet they return,” Galati said. “We get about, I’d say about a 90% return year over year for three consecutive summers.”

Galati said the goal of the summer program is to educate students, but also create an uplifting and joyful environment for them.

“It is an awful lot of fun,” Galati said. “We’ve got people in inflatable costumes, sharks running around, and they get to dissect and code and it is the most fun to learn this way.”

For its various programs, Breakthrough Sacramento hires many college-aged teaching interns from local universities, including Sacramento State and UC Davis. Teaching intern Marina Barrera graduated from UC Davis in 2023 and has worked for Breakthrough for the last two years.

“I was looking for internships in Sacramento and I’m still trying to figure out what I wanna do in the future,” Barrera said. 

After her first summer of working for the program, Barrera said she wanted to continue her career with Breakthrough Sacramento. She currently works year-round to assist students with tutoring and guidance with choosing their high school classes each semester. 

“They’re getting these kids in sixth grade going into seventh grade that wanna go to college and they’re supporting them and giving them the opportunities that help them make their college applications look better,” Barrera said, adding that Breakthrough Sacramento has resources that she wished she had in high school.

Field trips include outdoor activities, like visiting National Parks in California, touring colleges, and attending Sacramento sporting events and theatrical performances. These trips are provided for free to the students.

“The field trips are a combination of things,” Galati said. “Their objective is to expose them to as much as we can, but they might not have had access to otherwise.”

Past the program

Breakthrough Sacramento staff (left to right) Javier Barragán, Faith Galati, Xander Mora and Marina Barrera pictured on Tuesday, March 26. (By Neezy Jeffery) 

As students progress in the program, they can participate in paid internships offered during the school year and over the summer. Derion is a 10th grade participant who is currently completing her internship. 

“The internships are about social justice and marijuana use,” said Aaron, who is currently researching underage use as part of a presentation she is working on. “We find research about how it affects teenagers and adolescents and how we can solve it.” 

High school students are able to volunteer to assist middle school students and teaching interns during the summer program. Volunteer work varies from creating artwork for the projects of the week to creating presentations for students to present to their peers. 

“Join because it’s a fun experience to ready yourself for high school and also a way to connect with people who are in college to get advice,” Derion said.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

Be the first to comment on "Breakthrough Sacramento celebrates 30 years of education"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.