Students give back to community through Breakthrough Houston

Breakthrough Houston is a non-profit organization that provides educational assistance to underserved youth in Houston. Breakthrough offers a school year program at Episcopal and a summer program at St. John’s. Sophomore Jackie Ferrufino, freshman Marcela Madrid and senior Johan Fotso are three current Breakthrough teachers who have been former Breakthrough students. The Review Online talked to each teacher about their anecdotes, reflections and feelings about Breakthrough.

Sophomore Jackie Ferrufino

Reygan Jones
Jackie has been teaching for two years and was a Breakthrough student for five years. She currently teaches 7th grade pre-AP math and and ISEE classes in the school year program.


The program actually used to be called Summer Bridge.  During every morning assembly, the teachers make a bridge with their arms while students run through it. Why do you guys do this?

Jackie:  The bridge is symbolic to the program; we’re trying to cross a bridge of education in preparing these children. Breakthrough thinks it’s important that everyone gets the education they need and deserve. We do it every morning to remind ourselves what we’re trying to accomplish. I love the community, and I love being a part of a group of people that accepts me for who I am and who always encouraged me to do everything and anything I can.

You’ve had both the teacher and student perspective. How has that affected you?

Jackie: As a student, I took for granted all the work that my teachers did and I never paid attention to what really happened behind the scenes. But once you’re in the teacher’s position it’s nerve-wracking, and you realize that you have to prepare and spend a lot of time on lesson plans. I’ve become very grateful for everything my teachers do, even the ones outside of the Breakthrough program.

What is your routine on the Saturday mornings that you teach at Breakthrough?

Jackie: I procrastinate a lot so I like to wake up, print a copy of my lesson plan, go over it, bring all my materials and arrive at 8 a.m. at Episcopal. Then the day starts and we go to assembly.


Freshman Marcela Madrid

Reygan Jones
Marcela is currently teaching 7th grade English in the school year program and was a student at the Breakthrough summer program for four years. She just completed her final summer in 2016.

How has your perspective of Breakthrough changed from your first summer to your last summer as a student?

Marcela: My first summer really changed my perspective on the program. The classes weren’t very “class-like,” and the teachers were college students. They made learning more exciting and were very relatable. We played a lot of games that helped us learn and demonstrate our skills. The teachers were laid back–not too formal or rigid.

My last summer was the most memorable because, well, it’s my last. Breakthrough is like a second family because everyone is so close. I really enjoyed having everybody there. 

Tell us about Olympics Day.

Marcela: Olympics Day is an event where all of the students gather into their family groups and compete against one another. My favorite activity was the sponge activity, in which you pass a sponge through a line without losing any water. I won Olympics Day during my second summer, something I will forever brag about.

Do you think Breakthrough played a role in helping you go to St. John’s?

Marcela: The people there showed me that I had a shot at getting into St. John’s. The program also offered an interview workshop, and without it I probably would have failed my interview.

Senior Johan Fotso

Nyla Jennings
Johan currently teaches 7th grade Pre-AP math at the school year program and was a Breakthrough student for six years.

Breakthrough students often bond within their “families,” or groups of students in the same grade. Why are these families important? Is it unique to Breakthrough?

Johan: It’s important because of the relationship and personal bonds you form with the group of people you’re with. It’s something unique to Breakthrough because you get a different family every year, so you get the chance to bond with many different people in the Breakthrough community.

What is it like teaching in the School Year Program?

Johan: It’s actually really cool because I have a really good relationship with the kids. I was also in their place when I used to be in the Breakthrough, so I know how to teach them and how to get them engaged because I knew what type of things would interest me or what keeps me bored. It feels really good giving back to Breakthrough.

If you had the chance to right now, what would you say to Morris Nwogwugwu, the Director of Student Services and Kathy Heinzerling, the Executive Director?

Johan: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to be a Breakthrough student. I was able to get a head start on what I was going to learn the next year and was able to have fun with my friends. I met a lot of awesome people during the program and I’ve matured and grown up as a person. I’ve also been to look up to Breakthrough teachers who were college students. I’d be like thank you for making my time at Breakthrough memorable and fun.

How would you describe Breakthrough to somebody that doesn’t know about it?

Johan:  It’s a community of high spirits with hard working and smart individuals. You’re going to have great teachers, students, and faculty around you. Everybody’s nice. It’s so energetic and just so hard to not be happy.