• March 2012

Students Teach Students at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia

By Jeanean Mohr, MSW
Acting Executive Director
Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia

Founded in 1995, Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia is a six-year academic enrichment program that builds a path from middle school to college for low-income students from Philadelphia’s public schools.

A member of the national Breakthrough Collaborative, which includes 33 sites in 26 US cities and in Hong Kong, our program has facilities at Philadelphia’s Germantown Friends School, Saint Joseph’s University, and Drexel University.

Annually, we serve about 250 middle-school and high-school students.

The fun begins each fall, when our recruiters work with dozens of public schools throughout the city. We go into 6th grade classrooms in search of the next group of outstanding students. What are we looking for? Bright kids with big dreams of becoming engineers, pediatricians, astronauts, and judges.

In fact, for most students in urban Philadelphia, the toughest question for them to answer is not, “What do you want to be?” but, “How are you going to get there?”

That’s why our students participate in three rigorous summers of academic coursework, before their 7th, 8th and 9th grade years.

Being part of Breakthrough is a commitment. Before students sign on, they must commit to completing two hours of homework each summer night, take additional classes during the school year in 7th and 8th grades, and participate in college preparatory activities throughout high school.

Beyond exploring force and motion in physics, writing five-paragraph essays in literature, and examining linear equations in algebra, our students engage in activities that turn the shyest students into leaders, spark creativity from boredom, and elicit spirit and playfulness from the most stoic of faces.

From silly songs and hand claps to organized debates, Breakthrough students persistently push the boundaries to challenge themselves academically, socially, and emotionally.

The secret sauce is Breakthrough’s unique “students teaching students” model.

Using the distinguished “students teaching students” model, Breakthrough engages outstanding college students from across the country to educate and inspire our students to achieve academic success.

Working under the guidance of experienced public- and private-school educators—whom we call “teacher coaches“—our teacher interns lead their own classrooms of five-10 students, implementing lesson plans, grading papers, and evaluating student performance. But they are much more than teachers. They are role models, mentors, and examples of hope and promise for the future.

What makes Breakthrough successful?

  • We intervene early, recruiting students in the 6th grade—a critical time for students academically, socially, and emotionally.
  • We make a six-year commitment to ensuring that students enroll in selective high schools, graduate from high school, and go on to college.
  • We deliver rigorous college-preparatory courses in an exciting and supportive learning environment.
  • We have a 6:1 student teacher ratio, allowing a level of individual attention impossible in most educational settings.
  • We engage talented college and high-school students from around the country to teach in the program—and to serve as role models and mentors to students.
  • We employ master teachers as “teacher coaches,” who provide comprehensive, hands-on training and mentor the young teachers.

It’s a winning combination.

For more information, visit breakthroughphilly.org.


About Jeanean Mohr

Jeanean Mohr worked as the development director at Breakthrough for almost four years becoming acting executive director. In addition to seven years of professional fundraising experience, she has worked directly with underprivileged youth providing education, mentorship, and family intervention. She earned her master’s in Social Administration from Temple University in 2004, and her BSW from Shippensburg University in 1998.

What she loves most about Breakthrough is “the energy and enthusiasm that carries through all aspects of Breakthrough … from the students and teachers in the classroom, the amazing staff and board who dedicate so much time and passion to making Breakthrough the best it can be, and to our generous supporters who open doors of opportunity through financial contributions and by spreading the word about Breakthrough.”

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