Why I Chose Breakthrough as My Host Organization

When I was admitted into college, I could not express how unpredictable my journey up to that point was. Little did I know that, at a point when I thought I had a general idea of what my life would look like during and after my time in higher education, I would encounter the same unpredictability.

I was raised in an area where schools didn’t always have the most resources to cater to their students. During my time in elementary school, in parent-teacher conferences, my teachers would consistently express to my parents how they should pull me out of my current school and get me to apply to magnet schools, if not move to another district area. Initially, my family was able to get me to another school district for my fourth-grade year. The difference was immediately noticeable in the sheer amount of resources that the school and teachers had at their disposal. The school I attended had an ‘Exemplary Campus Distinction’ that followed them for years, indicating that the students performed highly academically. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sustainable for me to continue my education at that school, so I returned to my designated elementary school to finish my time there, all while looking into and applying to magnet schools to continue my middle school education. 

[Breakthrough's] devotion to long-term support for students, focusing on low-income students of color in sixth grade through college, is something that I wish I had growing up.

I completed the remainder of my middle and high school years in magnet schools. While my time in these schools proved to be very stress-inducing, challenging, and overwhelming, it overall prepared me for the standardized tests that would prove useful when applying to college. They also exposed us to many opportunities to grow professionally, from partnerships they had with outside organizations/institutions to providing us with courses diving into specialized topics of our choosing that we wouldn’t otherwise find in other schools. They taught us to write resumes, cover letters, answer college admissions questions, how to conduct ourselves in interviews, etc. As a first-generation student, these schools became a learning ground for both my family and me. 

All of that being said, it also was a very toxic space to be in. These schools train students to excel academically and do everything possible to present an impressive profile for recruiters, whether for college or their careers. However, they failed to create an environment where students were seen beyond their grades and achievements, they failed to create a space that allows for a student to view themselves holistically. I remember the competitiveness of students with one another reaching boiling points, with rankings hinging on minute differences in overall GPA between students. Some students who transferred out of these schools even managed to rank #1 in their designated public schools, a stark contrast to their standing within the competitive environment.

After being admitted into college, some of my colleagues and I, as first-gen students of color, imagined ourselves pursuing medical or law school, aspiring to become successful professionals in our respective fields. After having a long conversation with myself, and really questioning the reasoning behind my actions, I realized my passions didn’t align with medicine or law. So, I began to explore other areas of interest and found myself studying Anthropology and Race and Ethnicity Studies for the remainder of my time in college. In my final year, I focused my capstone project on the reproduction of whiteness in higher education institutions, with a specific focus on the Hispanic and Latinx communities. Through the project, I was able to reflect on my own experience, as well as interview others to gather narratives of everyone’s journey through the education system. 

My path post-graduation didn’t become clear until less than a month before attending my commencement ceremony. I remember the anxiety when thinking about my next steps and whether I would even find something that would fulfill me and allow me to continue to grow. I knew that I would be interested in joining a non-profit organization, but then found myself debating what cause I would search for. In my search, I came across the FAO Schwarz Fellowship and found myself intrigued by Breakthrough Greater Boston. Their devotion to long-term support for students, focusing on low-income students of color in sixth grade through college, is something that I wish I had growing up. The organization takes the valuable resources of magnet schools while eliminating the toxic competitiveness and individualistic mindset, and emphasizing key values like spirit and student-centeredness. I chose Breakthrough, as it was a natural transition toward my interests and future aspirations. 

Since being at Breakthrough, I have learned a lot of things that I did not even throughout my time in college. As my time in the fellowship is coming to a close, I find myself in a similar position as I have in the past, uncertain of what’s to come. What’s different now is that I’ve learned to live with uncertainty, embracing what’s to come in this next chapter of my life and carrying with me all the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Breakthrough has let me have a hand in college success work, engage in programming throughout the school year and summer, delve into development and operations, and foster alumni relations. Although my future remains uncertain, I feel better equipped to tackle what comes next as I continue pursuing my interest in the social impact sector.

Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica

Juan Mojica (he/him) is the College Success & Alumni Coordinator FAO Schwarz Fellow at Breakthrough Greater Boston.

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