Infographic about the student teachers trained.
Infographic about the student teachers trained.
Amelia Bush


On April 20, Breakthrough held an end of the year student graduation.
The Environment

     This environment has continued to have paramount importance to the program in more recent years, even as the program has shifted and joined the national chapter, rebranding as Breakthrough Minneapolis at Blake. Former LearningWorks student and current Upper School student Clara Stamm ‘26 described the environment as “very different and fun because they’re around the same age as us, so you get to know people very well,” which allowed for Stamm and other kids in the program to develop strong and lasting bonds with the tutors.

     Breakthrough tutor Shireen Dalton ‘25 described the kids in the program as “some of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” which no doubt makes it easier for bonds to be formed. Dalton also described the program as “a cool and unique opportunity to give back.” To create community, program executive Tricia Crossman said, “you have to build relationships with people, we gotta create spaces where young people feel seewn and celebrated… We work very hard from the second they walk in the door to make sure they think ‘This is our space; we are welcome here.”

On April 20, Breakthrough held an end of the year student graduation. (Max Vezmar)
The Story

It all started with a nearly 1,000-mile bike ride from Harvard to Minneapolis in 1998. This is the bike ride that an ambitious and dream-driven Amie DeHarpporte took where she called the then Head of School John Gulla, informing him that she wanted to start a program that would allow students from Minneapolis Public Schools to be supported in their path to college by upper schoolers and college students. This phone call birthed the program LearningWorks. According to DeHarpporte, who was the first head of the program, the program started with the goal of “aiming for the kid who is like reading under the covers at night with a flashlight cause they don’t wanna stop, they don’t wanna stop reading their book, and we want to give every opportunity, every chance for this kids to have that spark to be lit.” In the first year, “What ended up happening was that it was just kind of like what it became but on a much smaller scale… we only had 12 teaching faculty that first summer, and we only had like 30 kids” as described by DeHarpporte. This first year created an electric atmosphere that grew to define LearningWorks. Gulla describes this environment in the early years, saying, “The hugs and tears and emotion were so great that… I wanted people to be there at Celebration because they would fall in love with the program.”  DeHarpporte concurred, saying, “I remember leaving that night caught in this mix between just joy, elation, and almost tears because it was over.”

How it Began

 DeHarpporte, a student at the Harvard Kennedy School and Minnesota native, saw a case study about the SummerBridge program and she said she was “captivated by the idea of it, and my immediate thought was we should expand this to Minneapolis.” I called the SummerBridge national office and talked to the executive director and told her that I wanted to start a program in Minneapolis.” She proceeded to come back to Minneapolis to start a program and call the director, which led her to a conversation with the director of SummerBridge in which she said, “I was just on the phone earlier today with Gulla, who is the head of the Upper School at Riverdale Country School… in the Bronx in New York. He was leaving Riverdale to take over the head of school position at Blake. And so she said, you should give him a call.” So, born out of coincidence, DeHarpporte decided to create a chapter at Blake. DeHarpporte had contacted Gulla before he had even gotten the job. This was quite typical of her as according to Gulla, “she wanted to get started yesterday.” The only timeslot in which he was available was while she was completing a ​​1,000-mile bike ride from Harvard to Minneapolis. As described by DeHarpporte, “he said, where are you? And I explained, and I think it clicked for him of ‘this is someone who likes a challenge,’ and this is someone who’s persistent. And I think he’s the same way.” 

This set forth the creation of a new chapter at Blake. But when DeHarpporte and Gulla contacted the national office, they were rejected. So, Gulla said on the topic of the national office, “I was too excited, she was too excited that we said, okay, to hell with you, national office, we’ll just do one on our own.” Instead of joining the SummerBridge program, Blake went in a new direction and created their program under the name of LearningWorks. The first year, it was only around 30 kids and 12 counselors, and according to DeHarpporte, “it was a little microcosm of what it would later be.” This program was a resounding success in the first year, and what was noted by both Gulla and DeHarpporte was the celebration at the end of the year where “There was a big dinner, performances and the emotion that was present when these, middle school students had this intense and beneficial summer experience would be saying goodbye to their teachers who also had this intense and beneficial summer experience” as Gulla described. This was a time when the whole program came together to celebrate. As DeHarpporte described it, “I remember leaving that night caught in this mix between like just joy, just elation, and almost like tears because it was over. It built to this combination that was so amazing. And then it was over. And I thought, I, never again [will] be a part of an organization like this.”

Equal Education

The Executive Director of Breakthrough since 2020 has been Crossman, whose goals remain similar to the paramount ideals that started LearningWorks. She had seen numbers on the discrepancy in achievement for Minnesotan children and realized, “We are really failing when it comes to equitable education opportunities for everyone.” She found Breakthrough to be a strong fit for how she wanted to help in her community. As continues with the tradition of this program, her goals remain to be to build relationships with people and create spaces where young people feel seen and celebrated. We really intentionally weave SEL (Social Emotional Learning), which is the application of social understanding and emotional understanding to teaching] through everything we do. It is meant to be a lot of fun. We want them to be excited about learning. We work very hard from the second they walk in the door to make sure they think, ‘This is our space; we are welcome here.’”

 The ability to be seen is often not given for those whom the program targets, which includes, according to Breakthrough, the demographics involve “about 37% Black… 27% White, 15% Latinx, about 10% Asian American, [and] 10% multiracial students.” The reason for this specific targeting is because “we [Minnesota] are really failing when it comes to equitable education opportunities for everyone.” Additionally, Crossman believes  “we don’t know yet the full impact COVID-19 is going to have, but we can be pretty certain that those who have faced the most barriers will be those with the most consequences.”

According to Crossman, Breakthrough graduates are 31% more likely to graduate college than their peers, with a rate of 70%. This is a notable increase over the typical demographics of the communities they serve. COVID-19 led to a large decrease in the number of enrolled students, but this program has the potential to rebound and become more influential and helpful than ever. 

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