Breakthrough's Amazing Staff
Dr. Robbin Washington-Smart
I am honored and excited to be the new Executive Director of Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia. My life's work has been devoted to a career in the leadership of educational institutions, in addition to having years of experience as a classroom educator. I am personally committed to the lifelong learning and advancement of all students in an atmosphere that is dedicated to achieving excellence. As the challenges facing first-generation college students in this country deepen and the need for qualified, committed educators grows, I am proud to be part of an organization that has developed a bold new vision to support students to and through college, and to establish the organization as a key element within the teacher pipeline and certification process.
Let me share a bit more about me. Prior to joining Breakthrough, I served in several leadership capacities including the Interim Director of Enrollment Management at Girard College, the Principal and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of a charter school, and as a mentor and coach for novice and experienced teachers. I began my career as a teacher at Friends Select School in Philadelphia.
I was awarded a Doctorate in Educational and Organizational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's Degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University, and Bachelor of Arts, with a major in Political Science, from Swarthmore College. I also have principal certifications in Pennsylvania and Delaware. My focus on education extends outside the classroom. I have served on the Board of Directors of the Eastern University Charter School in Philadelphia and on the Board of Directors for A Better Chance, Strath Haven.
Bruce Bekker, MA
Director of Development
I am delighted to serve as Director of Development here at Breakthrough, leading and partnering to increase our mission impact and sustainability. It feels great to be part of this creative, high-energy team. Breakthrough connects two passions I've pursued throughout my career -- urban education and collaborative engagement -- and it does so in a way that totally transforms lives.
Prior to coming to Breakthrough, I led development at two cultural institutions and two institutions supporting underserved youth. I most recently served for six years as Director of Institutional Giving at Girard College, a residential college-prep academy in the heart of North Philadelphia, and an ongoing collaborator with Breakthrough.
As a parent of a Germantown Friends School graduate, I am honored to serve at a key partner institution and to know that Breakthrough is further expanding GFS's extraordinary commitment to the community and to Philadelphia region-wide.
I received an Honors BA in English from the University of Rochester, and I received an MA and completed doctoral coursework in Musicology at the University of Pennylsvania. During my two-plus decades as a development professional, I've also served as a teaching artist in inner-city schools and libraries and as a volunteer for historic-site educational programs.
Tascha Chalmers, MHS
Director of Academic Programs, Community Outreach, and Special Projects
Hello, my name is Tascha Chalmers and I am excited to join the Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia team as the Director of Academic Programs, Community Outreach, and Special Projects. I come to Breakthrough after a long career of working to improve equity and access in Philadelphia. I have experience working in non-profit organizations, the government, mental health institutions, and college access programs. I am excited to lend my experience to the team. I am a proud graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Lincoln University.
Miriam Leisman, MSEd
Director of Operations, Quality Assurance, and Instructional Design
My name is Miriam Leisman and I am the Director of Programs at Breakthrough. I have been involved with the organization as an Instructional Coach since 2010, and I am thrilled to direct a program of so many engaging and talented students and staff members from throughout the Greater Philadelphia area.
For the past nine years, I have taught Mathematics to middle and high school students in the Philadelphia area. I earned my Masters of Education in Secondary Mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and my Bachelor of Arts in Jewish Studies from Scripps College in Claremont, California. I look forward to working with our students, families, and partners to provide the best possible programs for our community.
"My favorite thing about Breakthrough is the commitment at all levels of our organization to grow and develop the individual person - whether that person is a student, a teacher fellow, or a member of staff. Every member of our community is developed as a whole person and learning moments are always present when two members of the Breakthrough community interact!"
Hope Elizabeth, BA
Manager of College Persistence
I am Hope Elizabeth and I am currently serving Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia as the Manager of College Persistence. After two years of serving as a Breakthrough Teaching Fellow, I am so excited to come back to the organization in this new capacity.
During my undergraduate education, I studied Education and Sociology/Anthropology. My studies culminated with a thesis assessing how high-achieving, low-income students from rural parts of the US access elite higher education institutions. In 2014, I had the privilege of being named a Harry S. Truman Scholar as a result of my committment to college access issues. I am a firm believer in the transformative power of education and believe that every child, no matter their background, deserves access to top-quality education.
Kalonya Jones, MS
Site Manager, Drexel University Program
My name is Kalonya Jones and I am ecstatic to begin my journey at Breakthrough as the Site Director for the Drexel University program..
I grew up all over, not really having a native state that I could call home, until high school. My father was in the armed forces and we continuously traveled throughout my childhood. I have lived in various cities throughout Virginia, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Germany and Philadelphia growing up. I stayed in Philadelphia for high school and attended Germantown High School and graduated from Robert E. Lamberton High School. I went to undergrad at Millersville University and directly after graduation I worked overseas in South Korea for almost two years.
Overseas I taught English abroad while being an expat in South Korea. While teaching in South Korea I took trips to Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Thailand, Canada and China. As you can see I love to travel. After returning to the states I became a substitute teacher and transitioned into an instructional assistant at Global Leadership Academy. Recently, I graduated from Villanova University where I obtained my Masters Degree in Counseling with a certification in School Counseling. Additionally, I worked at the Academy at Palumbo for two years to gain experience in college preparation and school counseling.
"Working as a school counseling intern ignited my passion, even more, to work with young scholars in assisting them with their journey of getting into a great fit high school and college that they can be proud of! I really enjoy working with the students and counseling families and friends!"
Miriam Harris, BA
Manager of College Access
I'm Miriam Harris and I'm excited to come aboard the Breakthrough staff as the Manager of College Access. After serving as Dean of Students for Breakthrough's Drexel Middle School site in the summer of 2016, I fell in love with Breakthrough and am thrilled to be joining the team in a greater capacity.
I am a Baltimore native and a Temple University alumna. During my time at Temple, I performed with the Babel Poetry Collective. After graduating, I turned my affinity for poetry into a love for working with youth, as I went on to mentor young poets at the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement. I have also coached the Babel Poetry Collective, who won the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in 2016. I was honored to serve for a year in the Student Life department at YouthBuild Charter School, where my work focused on mentoring and community impact.
As an artist and educator whose life has been deeply affected by the access to opportunities that I have received during my college experience, it is my goal to ensure that as many underserved youth as possible gain that same access. Education is a key component to liberation, and for myself and all of the youth I have come in contact with, liberation is absolutely necessary.
Nicholas E. Wilson, BS
Site Manager, Germantown Friends School Program
My name is Nicholas E. Wilson and I am the Site Director for Breakthrough's Germantown Friends School (GFS) site! I began serving at Breakthrough of Greater Philadelphia as a teaching fellow in 2011 and continued for 2 additional summers. The summer before my final semester at Cairn University, I served as the Dean of Students for Breakthrough's High School Program. Lastly, the summer of 2015 I served as the Interim Site Manager for Breakthrough's College Bound Program.
Breakthrough has played an integral part in my educational experience and development as a man and professional. I am honored to now serve as the Site Director for the same program that gave me my start as an educator and look forward to aiding in the necessary work of providing students and future teachers with the tools necessary to combat systematic oppression and disadvantages.
"What I love most about Breakthrough is that it fosters an environment that brings out the best in everyone and binds us all together in unity and not uniformity."
Debra Stevens, BS
Assistant to the Executive Director
My name is Debra Stevens and I am the Executive Asssistant to Dr. Robbin Smart at Breakthrough. I joined Breakthrough this year and I am excited to be a part of a program that provides academic enrichment to the students of Philadelphia. I am a native of Philadelphia and I attended Community College of Philadelphia, where I received an Associate's degree in Information Technology and then I attended Saint Joseph's University where I received a Bachelor's of Science degree in Healthcare Administration. Prior to joining Breakthrough I was a practice manager of a primary care office and also as a software analyst and training consultant for ten years at a large company.
Breakthrough is the best thing that ever happened to me.
It helped me bring my grades up, change my outlook on school, and made me want to learn more.
- Brittany, Breakthrough Student
"Breakthrough impacted my life in so many ways;
it made me want to learn more, it brightened my path to success, and it taught me things I never knew."
Destiny, Class of 2014
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