Welcome to the first newsletter from Breakthrough Silicon Valley! Did you know that BSV will serve 160 students in the San Jose area this school year? Or that Stanford University is supporting us by providing free access to the Education Program for Gifted Youth’s online math institute? Or that our students commit to attend summer school for six weeks?
In each newsletter, we’ll be sharing good news from BSV. Let us know what you’d like to see us cover – we’d love to hear from you!
Isabella – A Future Neurologist
Isabella has a poise and ambition that belies her 13 years. “When I first joined Breakthrough,” she says, “I didn’t have a plan. But now I know that I want to go to Johns Hopkins University and train to be a neurologist.” She admits that giving up her beloved track and field has been hard, but she believes that the sacrifice will be worthwhile in the end – for her and her family.
Isabella joined Breakthrough Silicon Valley in the summer of 2009. Her mother and teachers at Willow Glen Middle School agreed that Isabella was ready for more challenge. Luckily, Isabella knew too and was eager to apply! Breakthrough has lived up to her expectations. “I like how it is academic,” she says, “but at the same time we work on cheers and fun activities too. It’s not boring, like school can be. It captivates your attention.” Isabella’s only frustration is when she spends time at Breakthrough going over curriculum that’s already been covered in her 7th grade class. Even then she recognizes that the repetition isn’t all bad: “I can get clarification and sometimes more depth on some concepts.” She also sees that she can learn while giving back: “I like to help the other kids in the group who just aren’t getting it. That makes me think harder about the problems.”
Isabella’s family has faced tough times lately because of the recession. Breakthrough has offered her a refuge from the stresses and strains of daily life, both inside and outside school. “I like to get time away from school dramas, or being at my grandma’s, or with my mom and my sisters – not that there’s anything wrong with them!” she says with a laugh. “It’s just good to take a break and think about some different stuff.” Starting anything new can be daunting, so Isabella was glad that a few of her existing friends from Willow Glen were entering BSV too. As things have turned out, she needn’t have worried: not only does she still have these old friends; Breakthrough has offered her a great chance to get to know students from other schools in the San Jose area too. “And that’s pretty cool.”
Isabella is a talented track athlete and also enjoys soccer. She loves to be active and physical, but she realizes that it’s not always possible to do everything without something suffering. Her priority right now is to work on her academics. “The math institute is so demanding that I couldn’t make a full commitment to sports,” she explains, “so I haven’t gone out for them as I expected to. I think it’s worth the sacrifices. In the long run, Breakthrough will help me get a higher score on my math and improve my education overall. Just because I’m not in a team right now doesn’t mean I can’t exercise. Maybe I’ll play soccer in high school or college.”
Asked how students inside and outside Breakthrough’s program compare, Isabella shakes her head in puzzlement. “A lot of people I see at school are just flunking out. They talk in slang, they don’t sound educated, and they don’t seem to care. It’s disappointing to me to see how people can throw their education away like that; whereas people inside the program are making a commitment to do whatever they can to secure a good future. They seem more motivated.” Isabella believes that deciding to apply for Breakthrough Silicon Valley was one of the best decisions she’s made in her life so far. “People should definitely apply,” she says. “Though it’s really rigorous and challenging, it’s worth it. You get to learn new things as well as having fun with everybody else. I’m glad I got in.”
And everyone at Breakthrough Silicon Valley is glad Isabella got in too!
Moises – “Happy to Be Giving Back”
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since Kindergarten,” says Moises, 16. ”Breakthrough is giving me a chance to learn different teaching styles and work with kids at different levels of maturity.” Now in 10th grade at Bellarmine College Prep, Moises is part of the successful Breakthrough model of high-achieving high school and college students teaching small groups of middle school students and showing them that it’s cool to be smart.
Moises first became involved in BSV as a student in the 6th grade at Hoover Middle School. He learned about BSV from his language arts teacher who recommended that he apply. Moises reviewed the application pack with his father and wasn’t instantly attracted: “I saw how much work was involved and I thought, ‘Oh no! I don’t want to do that!’ But my dad said, ‘Moises, you’re going to do it!’ He could see it was going to be good for me.” It helped that Moises knew a few students who were already at Breakthrough. Interestingly, some of the 8th graders set out to recruit him, explaining that it was fun as well as challenging academically. “Even the application is hard,” Moises says, “but once you get in, that’s the time the fun starts and you soon see it’s worth it.”
Moises has no doubt that the hardest thing about being a student in the Breakthrough program is the homework. Describing it as “torture at first”, he credits Breakthrough with training him to give up procrastinating. “I would sit around till 6pm or 7pm ignoring it, but then I learned I had to just get down to the homework as soon as I got back from school. That’s helped me a lot, especially now I’m at high school.” He also came to understand that there were better ways to use his time than playing video games: “That was something I sacrificed…But the sacrifices are worth it. If you sacrifice something non-educational for something educational, then you’ll know more. That’s always good.”
Now he is a teacher in the program, Moises faces new challenges, including maintaining classroom discipline. He likes to be friendly with the students he teaches, but he knows sometimes he has to be tough with them. He is learning new strategies for keeping them focused on their studies and not chatting about the latest PlayStation game! Moises hopes this experience will stand him in good stead in his adult career. “When I become a teacher,” he says, “I’ll already have worked with lots of different kids and know how to handle them. If this or that happens, I’ll have a better idea what to do.” For Moises, becoming a teacher at Breakthrough Silicon Valley was an obvious decision. “Breakthrough has done so much for me, I can’t just leave it behind. It’s best if I go back and give back to them. I really want to.”
Moises is the holder of a prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship that he won in 2007. This scholarship supports exceptional students who have demonstrated – through academic excellence and extracurricular activities – that they have the potential to excel. Each year, over 1,000 students in the 7th grade apply; only 50 students are selected to receive the award. The scholarship supports them through high school, with potential for further support in college. This is a unique opportunity for high potential kids from low income families. Moises is able to draw on his scholarship to pay fees at Bellarmine, as well as extracurricular music lessons in violin and educational courses during the summer. His success has inspired him to pursue a dream he’s had since 3rd grade – attending Stanford University to study education and prepare for a career in teaching.
Moises’ father, who is raising his sons single-handed, is delighted that both of them are committed to their education. He has willingly made significant personal sacrifices to support his childrens’ dreams, not least changing his working hours from day to night. “At the beginning it was hard,” he says, “but you have to be there to support them, to ask what they learned today, to find out what they should be doing. Kids don’t see the whole picture. That’s a parent’s job.” Mr. Alcavarez credits Breakthrough with encouraging his older son to go to university too – and he wasn’t even enrolled in the program! “He started hanging out at Breakthrough, offering to volunteer and be useful, and he liked joining in. It’s important for young people to be busy. The volunteering hours really helped him. Now he’s going to Santa Clara University.” With quiet pride, Moises’ father concludes “As a family, we are on the right track.”
Moises has one simple message for potential applicants to Breakthrough: “Go for it. You may have to give up some things, but you won’t regret it. You’ll never regret it.” Clearly Moises is speaking from the heart.
AT&T’s Amazing Gift
On March 23, we hosted a special breakfast for current and potential corporate supporters at the offices of our long-time friends Applied Materials in Santa Clara. Little did we know that AT&T’s Leon F. Beauchman would bring us a check for $40,000 – enough to fund one year of the Breakthrough program for 20 local middle schoolers.
Mr. Beauchman, Area Manager for External Affairs in Santa Clara County, says that securing support for Breakthrough Silicon Valley was “an easy sell.” Several of his colleagues had reported positive experiences working with Breakthrough in San Francisco. It also helped that the Breakthrough model of students teaching students has a thirty year track record of success promoting high achievement among low income students.
It’s a natural partnership for AT&T, which has a long-standing commitment to supporting educational achievement in under-served communities. Through its Aspire program aimed at high school students, the AT&T Foundation has pledged to donate $100 million over four years to strengthen student success and workforce readiness. This philanthropic initiative, the largest in AT&T’s history, aims to help end the High School drop-out epidemic. AT&T’s generous donation to Breakthrough Silicon Valley’s middle school program has been provided in the spirit of the Aspire initiative.
Leon Beauchman has been personally involved with Breakthrough Silicon Valley for around a year, enough time for him to become convinced that schools generally should be emulating the strong connections between individuals that are key to the program’s success. “Kids need a vision of what they can become after they leave school,” says Mr. Beauchman. “They need to see examples of the good lives they can have if they work hard. They need positive role models. At Breakthrough the staff get to know the kids as individuals – and they care about them. The kind of connection you see between the adults, teachers, and students at Breakthrough is vital if we want kids to succeed in middle school.”
Mr. Beauchman has made a personal commitment to educational provision and reform through his work with several organizations in the Bay Area. He thinks Breakthrough Silicon Valley is up there with the best of them. He particularly likes the model of kids teaching kids. “Breakthrough encourages community spirit,” he says. “By giving young people a chance to teach, it promotes responsibility and confidence that is essential for success in working life. It builds a sense of citizenship in a meaningful way – which is good for the individual and for the whole community.”
So what’s next for Breakthrough Silicon Valley and AT&T? “AT&T offers many opportunities for students to work shadow so there may be a way we can help with career-oriented visits,” says Mr Beauchman. Personally, he is looking forward to seeing the summer school in action. Whatever the future holds, both Breakthrough and AT&T are delighted to have forged this partnership in the Bay Area. “Breakthrough helps give low income kids a vision of a successful future. That’s really in tune with AT&T’s philanthropic goals. We’re delighted to give our support to Breakthrough Silicon Valley.”