Breakthrough Miami is defined by the people who lean in, learn and lead together. As we commemorate 30 years of breakthroughs, we celebrate the stories of vision, commitment, and engagement that our legacy has been built upon. Our “30 for 30” reflection series featuring some of our most engaged, focused and impassioned members of the Breakthrough Village.

Breakthrough is a place of purpose and we invite you to take a part in this important work.

Joe mauro, Faculty, Ransom Everglades School, 30for30

John and Kendra Malloy are long-time supporters of Breakthrough Miami and for them, like many other families in our Village, volunteering has always been a family affair. Each of their four children, who all attended Ransom Everglades, have engaged with Breakthrough on various levels as volunteers, tutors, Teaching Fellows, and planning committee members, carrying on a family tradition of service and leadership.

Over the years, Breakthrough Miami has become one of the Malloy family’s most cherished nonprofit organizations. Kendra talks about the natural alignment between their family’s values and Breakthrough’s mission,

“Individually and collectively, education has been a top motivating priority for our family. We understand that by giving students access to educational opportunities, you’re cultivating the next generation of leaders.”

John is inspired by Breakthrough’s exceptionalism as an organization that consistently produces sustainable outcomes. He explains, “The results are huge. No other real, direct, long-term organization gives you that type of investment return.”  Through his intimate involvement with Breakthrough as a volunteer and corporate partner, John believes that with more community support Breakthrough Miami could reach even more students to, “level the playing field for education and opportunity.”

When asked about how Breakthrough has grown and evolved over the years, their son, Liam, recalled how Breakthrough leadership nurtured and supported two of his Ransom Everglades classmates who wanted to bring their passion for swimming and water polo to Breakthrough’s Summer Institute. Breakthrough volunteers, Ashleigh and Chelsea Johnson conceived the idea and over three summers were able to expand the student-led Johnson Sisters Swimming Program to all 5th graders at Ransom Everglades’ Summer Institute site, eventually expanding the swimming and water polo program to all Breakthrough Summer Institute sites. Liam explained, “Breakthrough just grows that way because students come in starting things and it just keeps going.” Kendra agrees,

“It [Breakthrough] is one of those programs that’s not afraid of changing, adapting, and creating that entrepreneurial spirit of inclusion.” 

Impressed and inspired by Breakthrough’s innovative, entrepreneurial and collaborative ethos, John and his daughter, Karlee, saw an opportunity to build on the organization’s already agile and immediate response and adaptation to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, John and his partners at RWC were looking for a way to support and engage the communities in which they worked during such tough economic and social times, and Karlee was looking for a way to merge her passions for running and education to support a cause greater than herself that might help connect people virtually during the pandemic. Breakthrough was also exploring creative ways to keep supporters and donors engaged during the pandemic. Birthed at the convergence of opportunity, mission, and space to innovate, the 2020 QuaRUNtine engaged over 200 supporters and raised $125K in just two weeks with support from RWC, providing critical funds for nearly 50 incoming 5th graders to begin their Breakthrough Scholar journey. Kendra recalls, “People, no matter where they were in the world, were joining in and really excited about it. So we thought here’s a benefit of us not being able to do something in person that we can raise money around and get the word out to a broader audience.”

John and his partners at RWC continue to support the race as lead sponsor. Karlee encourages Breakthrough supporters to start or join a team today and stay engaged on social media to bring awareness to Breakthrough’s mission of advancing educational equity, and the importance of mindfulness and healthy living.

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

Joe mauro, Faculty, Ransom Everglades School, 30for30

On October 10, 1989, a History teacher at Ransom Everglades penned a letter that would set in motion the formation and founding of Breakthrough Miami. Joe Mauro known as “Mr. Mauro” to his students, came across an article in the Spring ‘89 edition of Independent School magazine that profiled a ‘rigorous preparatory program’ and innovative ‘school of education’ called Summerbridge. The cutting-edge program model, which was founded in 1978 by Lois Loofbourrow, had demonstrated proven success in, “preparing talented middle school students to attend academically strong high schools and college-age summer staff to go into teaching after graduation”. The program participants were primarily high-achieving traditionally marginalized youth who were top students at their schools. Staff members were recruited from independent schools all over the country, many as young as 14 years old because the program directors learned quickly that age seemed to have very little to do with innate teaching and leadership ability.”

“If you were here in [Miami] in the late 1980s, it was a very divided city and I thought there was a real screaming out need for a way to address that. I saw that Summerbridge offered that opportunity.” When asked about why the Summerbridge model caught his attention, Joe recounted, “I saw in my own life what the opportunity to go to an elite school on a scholarship did for me and I didn’t see that opportunity being offered in Miami. I saw this as a way to bring Miami together.” 

As Joe reflected on the letter to the Head of School he wrote over three decades ago and its lofty charge, he stated proudly that, “It [Breakthrough Miami] has done all those things for Ransom Everglades and beyond what I had initially envisioned. Joe hopes to see Breakthrough Miami continue its tradition of academic excellence and outreach to the people who need it.

Joe Mauro is the History and Social Science Department Coordinator at Ransom Everglades Middle School and will be celebrating his 40th year of teaching next fall.

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

Doug Weiser and John Flickinger, Breakthrough Miami Founding Leaders

John Flickinger and Doug Weiser, Breakthrough Miami’s founding leaders, met over 50 years ago while students at Ransom Everglades. Neither John nor Doug knew then they would go on to build an enduring education pipeline model that would graduate 3,000 students with the majority being accepted into 4-year colleges.

In search of meaningful work that aligned with his unyielding focus on social justice and educational equity, John followed the spark lit by Joseph ‘Joe’ Mauro, then a Ransom Everglades teacher, to bring the Summerbridge student teaching model from the West Coast to Miami. A few months into the start of the program, Doug joined John as founding chair of the Advisory Board, motivated by a belief in the power of community, personal responsibility, and teamwork, in changing educational outcomes for Miami’s traditionally marginalized youth.

“Having the opportunity to be involved in a program that I believed was going to have measurable, tangible and visible results was important to me.” – John 

John and Doug’s goal was two-fold: give highly motivated students from under-resourced communities access to the tremendous academic and social opportunities they were afforded at Ransom Everglades, while educating and transforming mindsets at Ransom through authentic connection to the community that was located just outside their walls.

“One of the things we wanted to see happen at the school was to help it become more diverse and expose the students, teachers, and families there to direct relationships with people they would not have otherwise met and interacted with.” – John 

In the early 1990s Miami’s educational climate was ripe for a breakthrough – countywide high school graduation rates were less than 60%, college acceptance rates were less than 30%, and few programs addressed the root causes of poverty and underachievement. Breakthrough offered an asset-based vision from the start, “seek out talented students who lacked opportunity, open a door for them, help them step through it, and then see what happened.”

Breakthrough’s novel students-teaching-students model directly addressed the opportunity gap by exposing students to relatable “near peer” teachers who reflected the diversity of their community, a rigorous learning environment, intensive summer and weekend instruction, and a college-going culture that embraced high expectations.

As John and Doug reflect on the past 30 years, they’re reminded of how far the program has come from its humble start as a small cohort of 40 Scholars. One of John’s proudest moments as a co-founder was graduating Breakthrough Miami’s first class of Scholars in 1999, and “…seeing so many of them be accepted into reputable 4-year colleges. They did what we hoped that they would do.” Doug recounted the flood of emotion he felt when Breakthrough Miami reached the 1,000 Scholar mark in 2011, “When I learned that this program was serving over a thousand kids a year, that brought tears to my eyes.”

To date, the program has graduated approximately 3,000 Scholars.

When asked about the impact Breakthrough Miami has had on the Miami community, Doug was reminded of the exponential effect the program had on its volunteers from the community. “Breakthrough Miami gave them the opportunity to jump in and take part. All of those students who had that opportunity to engage with Breakthrough Scholars went out into the world and are now making their impact on education and other fields. It’s hard to quantify, but that’s the impact.” John believes that although Breakthrough predominantly operated in partnership with private and charter schools, the impact was felt in the public school arena. “I know that we impacted the [certified] teachers who worked with our program, our method of teaching and the culture we created – and found value in it.”

John and Doug’s vision for the future of Breakthrough Miami is to further expand the access and opportunity they helped open doors to thirty years ago. John sees more opportunities for Breakthrough to engage with the public school system, “It’d be great to see Breakthrough Miami expand with our public schools, while also inspiring young people to go into the teaching profession because there’s a desperate shortage of teachers nationwide.” Doug agrees

“I’d love to reach more people and more students, not only by inspiring partnership with the public schools, but also by inspiring teachers to teach the way students learn. That’s the way we reach more people.”

John and Doug continue to demonstrate their dedication to education. John has been integral with Beacon College Prep in Opa-Locka and Doug remains civically engaged and serves on the University of Miami’s Alumni Board of Directors.

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

BTM-30for30-Terence

Terence Williams understands firsthand the power of Breakthrough Miami in bringing out the best in Scholars academically, socially, and creatively. After being introduced to the program by a close friend, Terence was anxious for his daughter, Morgan, a rising 4th grader at Palm Springs North Elementary in Hialeah to apply. They patiently waited a full year before Morgan was eligible to apply to Summer Institute, and in the summer of 2018, Morgan started her journey as a Breakthrough Scholar. Terence recalls his first impression of Breakthrough’s summer site staff,

“We didn’t know them and they didn’t know us, but from the very onset of our first day at the Gulliver site, we felt welcomed. It’s just the energy that the Teaching Fellows bring and everything’s a clap!” 

Four years into Morgan’s Breakthrough Miami journey, Terence reflects on what the program has meant to him as a father, Breakthrough means opportunities. As a parent, you want to give your child every opportunity.Over the years, Morgan’s involvement in Breakthrough has exposed her to opportunities and relationships that have had a meaningful impact on her academic trajectory.

TM-30for30 - Terence Williams FamilyThrough the school options counseling provided to Breakthrough Scholars, Terence and Morgan were exposed to the full myriad of middle school enrollment opportunities available across the County. Site Directors engaged in one-on-one coaching with families that not only opened their eyes to the broad range of resources available to students but also provided a clear plan for getting their Scholars into the middle or high school of their choice. Miami’s only organization offering families comprehensive school options advising, 90% of Breakthrough Scholars are attending specialized programming including magnets, charters, and independent schools such as MAST Academy, Coral Reef Senior High, School for Advanced Studies, TERRA, and iPrep Academy. Terence recalled, Site Directors also challenged the families that participated in these sessions to expand their thinking around what was possible for their children. In their school options sessions, Site Directors encouraged Scholars to ask themselves, “Why not us”? That question really resonated with the Williams’ and a few months later, Morgan applied and was accepted into all of her top choices for schools. This fall, Morgan will be entering her third year at Ransom Everglades. Opportunities like school options counseling, unique to Breakthrough, provide another pathway for Breakthrough Scholars to reach their full potential.

Another benefit of Morgan’s involvement in Breakthrough was the opportunity to prepare for Morgan’s success in the school year, “Academically, Breakthrough provides that precursor of the next grade level that gives students a leg up.” This aspect of the program became especially valuable to Morgan once she matriculated into a more academically rigorous program. Terence also appreciated the intentionality behind Breakthrough’s students-teaching-students model, “the teaching fellows can relate to the students because they’re still young; they make academics fun.” 

However, it’s the relationships Morgan has developed with Breakthrough staff that has left the greatest impression on Terence.

“The Site Directors make you feel like family. I know my kid is taken care of. It’s almost like having a godparent looking over your back. You feel safe.”

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

Breakthrough Miami - 30 for 30 - Laura Koffsky - 1/30

Senior Directors, Lauren Kellner Rudolph and Webber Charles joined Breakthrough Miami during a significant turning point in the organization’s life cycle that created opportunities that have helped shape them into the visionary leaders they are today. 

As former educators in the Miami-Dade County Public School system, Lauren and Webber came to Breakthrough in 2007-08 with an eye towards supporting students in a more holistic and impactful way, building on the experience they gained teaching at schools located in under-resourced communities. At the same time, Breakthrough was expanding – solidifying new school partnerships – and generating new opportunities for team members like Lauren and Webber to grow and develop quickly within the organization. Very early in their Breakthrough careers, Lauren and Webber were given the latitude to lead confidently and boldly, inspiring their curiosity and desire to reach more Scholars in the community. Lauren lauds Breakthrough’s enduring culture of cultivating leaders,

“Anybody who spends any time, on any level, within the organization has the ability to grow. It is truly a learning organization for everybody it touches across the Village.”

Over the years, Lauren and Webber’s involvement with Breakthrough has shaped them tremendously, both personally and professionally. Lauren reflects, “I am who I am as a professional, social justice advocate, educator, and mentor because of being at Breakthrough the last 15 years.” 

Webber recalled how he was personally impacted by his work with School Options, where he was more closely engaged with Scholar families helping to demystify the middle and high school application processes. The time he spent with parents in this program gave him a window into the unique struggles that many Breakthrough families face and how those factors impact their ability to advocate for their Scholars. Webber’s conversations with Scholar’s parents underscored the importance of addressing the needs of whole families to achieve more sustainable outcomes. Webber was also struck by the impact Scholar success had on their families, “Being successful in getting them (Scholars) into quality schools, I began to see the impact on the parent, as you improve the lot of the student, it inspires the parent to reach and consider the possibilities for themselves.” Webber saw a unique opportunity to further support our Scholars by empowering Breakthrough parents through programming options that inform families on topics such as mental health, financial literacy, and education advocacy. “A rewarding aspect of doing this work is seeing parents be able to empower themselves to hold the system accountable, and at a minimum, explore all the options for their children and seek them out.”

It’s been 15 years since Lauren and Webber were recruited to a small summer program embedded at Ransom Everglades Middle School campus. Today, Breakthrough helps more than 1,300 Scholars across Miami catch their dreams. Lauren and Webber have both witnessed Breakthrough’s evolution from the best-kept secret in education to one of the most respected education equity organizations in the region. Lauren recounts, “We went from “who are you?” to doors are opening because of who you are. There’s a respect for the work that we do and the quality of our Scholars.” A key ingredient to Breakthrough’s success has been a consistent focus on growth. Just as we nurture and encourage our Scholars to grow to their potential, we too, as an organization strive to optimize our impact. In just 30 years, Breakthrough has grown from a single site at Ransom Everglades serving grades 5-8 to eight sites serving grades 5-12. Breakthrough is one of only two affiliates under the national collaborative that can boast this level of growth and impact. And if the key ingredient is growth, the secret sauce is leaving no opportunity on the table.

“We look at partnerships in a really great way and leverage what this community has to offer.” Breakthrough plays a much larger role in the education ecosystem because of staff’s willingness to take on multiple roles and wear multiple hats. As a team, “we are wildly ambitious – we shoot every shot.”

As they look forward to the next 30 years, Lauren and Webber offer visionary outlooks for Breakthrough’s future. Webber envisions a more laser focus on organizational development to sustain Breakthrough’s growth and momentum. He also visualizes an expansion of the Breakthrough model to key metropolitan markets across the State capitalizing on the proliferation of school choice options on the horizon for Florida’s communities. For Webber, this expansion throughout Florida is important because of the generational impact Breakthrough has had on our Scholars and their families, “All of the impossible has become possible. They have greater faith in what they’re able to do in action. More control over destiny. There’s a level of empowerment that allows them to do that. Which is really powerful.”

Lauren’s vision for the future conveys an understanding that Breakthrough is more relevant and vital to student achievement than ever before. “We are uniquely aware that we are preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist yet – for careers that don’t exist yet.” Breakthrough has been deliberate about exposing Scholars to non-traditional courses in entrepreneurship, commercial real estate, and design-thinking to prepare them for the workforce of the future. As Lauren continues to conceptualize new student programs, she’s consistently asking, “How do we prepare a whole people for the diverse and challenging and innovative world ahead?”

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

Breakthrough Miami - 30 for 30 - Laura Koffsky - 1/30

Laura was introduced to Breakthrough through her daughter, Emily, who served as a volunteer at the Ransom Everglades host site. It was through Emily’s transformational experience as a volunteer leader that Laura fell in love with Breakthrough’s mission:

“Through my daughter’s involvement, I had a front-row seat to what a students-teaching-students model looked like, and having recognized the advantages afforded to private school students I wanted to work to ensure that other students were afforded the same… Watching how this organization has been able to impact the lives of so many Scholars and their families over the years has been a true privilege to be a part of. I think Breakthrough Miami is one of the best examples of the power of people working together.” 

Since she joined the Board of Directors six years ago, Laura Koffsky has been a deeply committed and engaged supporter of Breakthrough Miami. As Development Committee Chair, she has been instrumental in growing Breakthrough’s generous and resourceful network of donors and partners. As an active civic leader both locally and nationally, Laura leverages two decades of communications and nonprofit board experience to drive support for initiatives that strengthen Breakthrough’s community-wide impact. A passionate advocate for education and community, Laura is excited to work with our Board and Support-A-Scholar Host Committee this year to honor 30 years of breakthroughs and to salute the pioneers and stories of leadership, which have shaped Breakthrough Miami’s tremendous growth and impact over the last three decades.

As Laura has shared, Breakthrough Miami is a place of purpose and we invite you to take a part in this important work. Our virtual tribute ceremony and in-person celebration this Fall present new opportunities to expand our diverse Village of passionate and engaged visionaries.

Help us make more Breakthroughs Happen – make a donation to Support-A-Scholar.

Check back for more features on some of our esteemed and valued members of the Breakthrough Village.

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Contributions to Support-A-Scholar include invitations to the two-part events.