The mission of Breakthrough Manchester at the Derryfield School is to launch promising Manchester middle school students, particularly those with limited opportunities, on the path to college while inspiring high school and college students to pursue careers in education. The following is an excerpt from a speech by Angela Romilla, a Central High School junior, at Breakthrough Manchester's Back to Summer breakfast on April 20. She attended the program from 2010-2012.
One of the fondest memories I have of Breakthrough was during a bus ride home after a long summer day. Since the bus dropped off students all over Manchester, these rides were often very long. Because of our fatigue and the blazing summer heat, my classmates and I would often get into very strange conversations. On one particularly hot afternoon, one of my classmates asked the entire bus: "Is air free? I mean, we don't have to pay to get it, but we have to work to breathe it in. So is it truly free?"
That single question sparked an argument that went on for the full duration of the bus ride. For every philosophical conjecture there was about the value of air, there were ten demands to shut up and drop the subject entirely. If you were to bring up this subject today to Breakthrough student alumni from 2010, the argument would continue as if it never stopped because we were never able to reach a defined conclusion.
The reason why I bring up this story is to highlight a side of Breakthrough that I often find to be lost in translation: the fun side, where friends are made and weird stuff happens that you never quite forget. I still have been asked many times by friends and family alike why I would want to go to school during the summer for three years. Why sacrifice eighteen weeks worth of summer vacation to work on homework? Why study in the summer when I already had good grades? Why bother coming back after the first year?
To me, Breakthrough is more than just a program. It is a support system. I made one of my closest friends over an egg, some duct tape, and a garbage bag during an engineering project. It made up for the many friends I lost during my discussion about free air.
Joking aside, the best way to get to a person is through their heart. The community at Breakthrough is extremely supportive, and it needs to be. Breakthrough targets high potential students, many of whom will be the first in their family to attend college or achieve a four-year degree. For example: a friend of mine who is now a senior qualifies as a "first generation" student and unfortunately, her family does not support her decision to continue her education. Without the support of her family she is left to fight for her education and navigate a complex system alone. This is a cycle that suffocates ambition and is very hard to break, especially when it feels like the only person who wants to commit is you.
Breakthrough surrounds students with like-minded people who all advocate a college education. Not only that, Breakthrough teaches students to dream big. it is Breakthrough's supportive community that gives them the courage and confidence to strive for goals that seem beyond their reach. The reason why I came back to Breakthrough was because it changed me as a person. It helped me realize the full extent of my academic abilities, and to become more active in the community.
I have applied to multiple honors societies and other programs. Sometimes I get in, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I reapply, and sometimes I'm given a second chance. The point is not getting accepted all the time; it's letting yourself take a risk, because every shot you don't take is an opportunity missed. Without Breakthrough's support, I would have never even bothered because I would have never believed that I would be capable of anything.
Breakthrough becomes family to many students. I know it has to me. And it is the reason why I find it easier to breathe.