Program marks 25 years of educational support

Breakthrough Atlanta students receive additional educational support in the summer and the chance to participate in additional programs throughout the year.

Breakthrough Atlanta students receive additional educational support in the summer and the chance to participate in additional programs throughout the year.

Twenty-five years ago, a program first launched in California arrived in Georgia and took up residence at The Lovett School in Buckhead. The national initiative created a summer session for middle schoolers led by student teachers.

Since its 1996 debut, Breakthrough Atlanta has maintained its residence at Lovett and expanded its mission to promoting college readiness and encouraging college students to consider education careers.

“That’s our dual mission,” said Executive Director Monique Shields. “We want to build a strong pipeline of teachers and to close opportunity gaps in under-resourced communities.”

Breakthrough begins with a six-week summer session for seventh graders who work on reading and math skills. Throughout the year, they participate in leadership development, STEM and career exploration programs. By high school, they’re on a college-prep track working one-on-one with instructors on topics both educational and practical, such as financial planning and counseling for college.

“The goal is for all of our scholars who want to attend college to do so without taking on a lot of debt – a factor that prevents many first-generation and economically disadvantaged students from attending,” said Shields.

Breakthrough staffers work closely with school counselors and liaisons to identify students who might benefit from the extra support. This summer, about 300 participants from public schools across the metro area were accepted after showing an avid interest in additional learning opportunities.

“It’s a competitive process, and students need to demonstrate they enjoy learning, are motivated and have goals that might require college,” said Shields.

Jean Mulika’s daughter has been part of the program for two years. The Marietta mom said her now eighth grader has made significant strides in English and math.

“She’s already done much better on her school tests,” said Mulika. “I’ve been so impressed with the program. She learned things at Breakthrough she hadn’t seen before. And she loves it there; she cried when she left.”

While Mulika’s daughter was learning, so was student teacher Jenica Walcott, a junior at Agnes Scott College who heard about the opportunity through an internship fair.

“I’d never done anything like this before, and it showed me how much I’d like teaching,” said Walcott, who worked with seventh graders on classroom lessons as well as a bit of ballet, modern and jazz dancing – her college major. “Empowering the young ladies through dance was something that stuck with me. I tapped into not just their academic needs but their social needs as well.”

About a third of Breakthrough’s teaching fellows are education majors, and about 75% go on to careers in the field. This year’s 44-member cohort included students from Agnes Scott, Spelman, Georgia State, Emory, University of Georgia and Georgia Tech who for the first time received a stipend for their work.

The program marked another first this year by awarding four of the 2021 graduates with $10,000 scholarships. “Especially during COVID, their college careers were being impacted, and this helps them continue their education,” said Shields.

An anniversary celebration is set for November. Details are online at

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