25th Anniversary Celebration

Our 25th Anniversary Celebration on July 15, 2016 was a huge success!    

Every former director and nearly every full-time staff member returned to mark the occasion, along with founders and early champions.

View the full photo album here.

A talented team of volunteers, led by Jan Sutcliffe and Joel Schwelling, also produced a short film focused on the teacher development side of Breakthrough Manchester’s mission.  Featuring five BTM teacher alumni who all work in the same urban school in Lawrence, the documentary is a testament to the power of the Breakthrough experience in changing lives.

View the 25th Anniversary film documentary here.





Julian Alonso

Julian Alonso Then

Julian Alonso Now.docx











In his own words: My family moved to the United States from Colombia when I was very young. I attended Bakersville Elementary School in Manchester and never even considered that I might attend college. Breakthrough changed my life. I was encouraged to think about my future, about college, about options and opportunities. The whole community of students and teachers was amazing – fun, positive, hard-working, goal-oriented. The program opened my eyes and began to open doors. They even had me write a draft of a college admission essay in middle school! I was challenged, supported, pushed and mentored. You are changing lives here, and I am so grateful to have had Breakthrough in my own life. I am sure I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”

Now: Julian is the Assistant Running Backs Coach for the Wingate University Bulldogs football team in North Carolina and is pursuing his Master’s degree in sports management.  The Founding General Director of Audible Football Camp, an international non-profit providing free football camps outside of the U.S.,  Julian is also the Associate Director of 4th and 1 Football Camp in Jacksonville, FL for underrepresented student-athletes.

Justin Thibeault


When I look back at my life thus far, my experience at Breakthrough (then Summerbridge Manchester) was without a doubt the seminal event that set my academic and professional life on the course it would ultimately take. Thanks to the self confidence I gained and the skills I learned those first two summers, I have earned two Masters degrees from one of the best schools in the country, and am now living my dream, practicing medicine! In fact, I was such a believer in the mission of Breakthrough and so thankful for my own experience, I returned to teach in the summer of 2001. Giving back to the program that had given me so much was very important to me. And giving back to Breakthrough continues to be a focus in my life. Happy Anniversary, Breakthrough, and thank you for all you have done for me and so many others!


Joel Vargas

Joel Vargas

In his own words: Summerbridge/Breakthrough made me realize that young people are capable of much more than adults usually give them credit or responsibility for.

  • As a student growing up in the program in San Francisco, I was asked to work harder and do tougher intellectual work than I had ever been pushed to do up to that time in my education. I learned the meaning of the words “dig deeper,” when doing my research, revising my papers, and trying on new ideas.
  • As a young teacher in that same program, I was given responsibility for teaching and supporting the development of “kids” just a few years younger than I. Though demanding, it felt natural, and I started to understand the contours of my vocational calling.
  • As a young director in, then-Summerbridge now-Breakthrough Manchester, I had my first “real job,” but the word “job” didn’t describe the dynamism in each day and my ongoing, fast, often arduous learning. The program continued to stretch my problem solving and interpersonal skills.
  • Between the time of my years as a teacher and director, the program nationally had given increasing responsibility for the planning and design of the summer program to its high school- and college-aged faculty. They stepped up to the challenge and amazed me year after year with their passion, smarts, imagination, and teamwork.
  • Their students adored them and would do anything asked, showing up day after day to work hard during summers, after school, and on weekends. And the staff would do anything for them – demonstrating the mutually reinforcing power of the Breakthrough tenet, “students teaching students.”

In my current work promoting the creation and expansion of a variety of strategies that raise educational attainment, I always try to remember these experiences. Where too many schools enable young people to take the path of least resistance and avoid positive risk taking, I try to promote strategies that place and engage young people on the steepest possible learning curve. With the support of strategies like those used at Summerbridge/Breakthrough, I have seen them climb and reach extraordinary heights.

Then and Now: Joel Vargas was the first Summerbridge graduate (San Francisco, 1979) to serve as a Summerbridge site director (Manchester, 1992-1996.)  Joel also served on the The Derryfield School Board of Trustees from 1998-2001.  Currently, as Vice President of Jobs for the Future, Joel leads the work of JFF’s High School Through College team and researches and advises on state and federal policies to promote improved high school and postsecondary success for underserved students. Dr. Vargas is coeditor of two books, and in 2005 he was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of “Higher Education’s Next Generation of Thinkers.” He received a B.S. in journalism from Boston University and an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Kyle van Leer

Kyle van Leer photo 2

Sometimes, the greatest gift that teachers give to students is a belief in themselves, in their own abilities and their own potential.

Books about good teaching inevitably say that an important foundation of a teacher’s work rests on their positive relationships with students. For the first time, I learned on a personal level that students will push themselves to their limit, take risks and try new things when they understand just how much you care about them and when you jointly celebrate their academic and social achievements. Breakthrough seared that learning in my memory, confirmed my interest in education and has made me a better teacher today.

Come to think of it, sometimes the greatest gift that students give to teachers is a belief in themselves, in their own abilities and their own potential.

And that is the inherent beauty in the students teaching students model at Breakthrough.


Ken Cail, Parent

Ken Cail Head Shot

In his own words: Breakthrough (formerly) Summerbridge is an amazing program that opened many doors for my two daughters. They were both students in the Manchester program and then both went on to be teachers in the same program. Standout students at Manchester Central, they graduated from two great universities and are now both teaching: my oldest daughter, Amanda, in the Boston school system, and my younger daughter, Melissa, at a Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. I think much of it had to do with their time at Summerbridge/Breakthrough.

Iliana Diaz

In her own words: Sitting in my fifth grade classroom, college seemed a millennium away. My teacher was explaining to us that if we didn’t go to college, life was going to be hard.  And then she started talking about Breakthrough; that it was college-bound and put us on the path to college. Fifth-grader me had a vague idea what that meant. Fifth-grader me knew it would involve a lot of work. Terrifying.  But I grabbed a packet, probably one of the best decisions I ever made.  I still didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, but I had just stepped into a multi-year commitment of cheers, team activities, and work. Terrifying? Not quite.  I didn’t realize how drastically Breakthrough had helped me until middle school, where I excelled and did things I didn’t know were possible. I have grown intellectually and mentally and, I have earned experiences I hold near and dear to my heart. I now have ambitions to become a doctor or perhaps a writer when I enter adulthood. Without Breakthrough I don’t know if I would be as hardworking and determined working towards that college goal. I don’t know what path I would have gone down. But I do know this. College? Not so terrifying after all.

Breakthrough Collaborative

180 Grand Ave #1225, Oakland, CA 94612, USA