Meet Jessica, a Recent Breakthrough College Graduate Leading Her Own Classroom


Jessica Manzona-Valdez joined Breakthrough in 2007 when she was just a 6th grader in the magnet program at Kealing Middle School. She recalls listening to an info session given by Breakthrough advisors and leaving so excited about her future as a first-generation college graduate.

Jessica graduated from St. Stephen’s in 2013, and went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Pomona College in Claremont California in 2017.


When I think of Breakthrough, I think about the determination, strength and resilience of the community. I think of the people that attended Breakthrough with me. I think of how awkward we were during our first summer program and the successes we experience now – our college degrees, the careers, and the younger Breakthrough students that we’ve impacted through giving back. When I think about the people that I’ve met through the summer program, I always think about how we have each other’s back. Every Breakthrough occasion I go to, there is an alum, younger or older who says, “Anything you need, just let me know.” I think that speaks volumes to the sense of family that Breakthrough students have and the love we have for the program.  

Breakthrough really changed my life. Not only did it change the outcome of my academic career by providing me with amazing resources, but it also gave me a family. In my Breakthrough family, I have my Breakthrough dad, Michael Griffith, who cares about me and is always willing to answer the phone though I’m not technically in the program anymore. I have my siblings Thelma, James, Marissa and Gloria. We’ve been together since 6th grade, and I am so proud of everything they’ve accomplished. I also have my sister Sophie, who is my actual sister and a part of the first class of Breakthrough students in Manor. These are just a few members of my Breakthrough family.  Thank you for your continuing support of Breakthrough and our family. It’s incredible the number of lives that are being changed by this program and it is all possible through your generosity.  


I’m writing this from my very own classroom—a space that I have designed to help my 6th grader students develop their writing and reading skills but also develop a sense of purpose. I started my job as a 6th grade English/language arts and reading teach last September and since I’ve stepped into this space, I’ve reflected a lot about my own growth as a middle schooler into a first-generation college graduate.”