As the city of Atlanta was preparing to welcome athletes from around the world to the 1996 Summer Olympics, the organization that would become Breakthrough Atlanta was preparing for its own milestone: to welcome 40 motivated middle school students from underrepresented communities to begin a transformative learning experience. Twenty-five years later and Breakthrough Atlanta has touched the lives of thousands of students and their families — and hundreds of future teachers — through life changing educational experiences.

1978: Before Breakthrough

Our history has origins dating back to 1978 when the Breakthrough program was originally founded under the name Summerbridge, which was designed as a six-week, summer program to combat summer learning loss for middle schoolers at the University High School in San Francisco. It was a multi-year, tuition free program with the only cost being a student’s full commitment. Soon after, the students-teaching-students and teachers-coaching-teachers model was born when college-aged teachers were hired to teach students, and professional teachers served as mentors.

1990: A National-Affiliate Model

Summerbridge’s program directors helped New Orleans open its own Summerbridge chapter and the affiliate model was born. More programs would eventually open across the country.

1994: Setting Sights on Atlanta

At a National Association of Independent Schools conference in San Francisco, Jim Hendrix attended a breakout session on Summerbridge. After the conference, he returned to the school where he worked in North Carolina with the intent of starting a Summerbridge chapter there. But The Lovett School had other plans for Jim. He was hired as Lovett’s headmaster, and he, along with then assistant head of school, Dick Hall, immediately started championing the idea to open a Summerbridge program in Atlanta.  Jim and Dick gained support from Lovett’s board of directors, the Atlanta Board of Education, city leaders, and others. 

Summerbridge Atlanta was poised to begin as a program hosted by The Lovett School.

1995: A Leader with a Vision

Atlanta became one of the first five Summerbridge affiliates in the nation and Keno Sadler, a Summerbridge Miami veteran and Morehouse College graduate, was hired by The Lovett School as Summerbridge Atlanta’s first Executive Director.

1996: It’s Official

While the city was focused on hosting the summer Olympics, Summerbridge Atlanta was focused on a significant milestone of its own: the program officially started when 40 students gathered for summer classes.

2001: Summerbridge Becomes Breakthrough

Summerbridge National became the Breakthrough Collaborative national office. Affiliates changed their names and Summerbridge Atlanta became Breakthrough Atlanta.

2002: College-Bound

Breakthrough Atlanta’s inaugural class graduated high school, and 34 of the students went on to pursue higher education in a university or college setting.

2016: Inaugural Fund-A-Scholar Event

To commemorate Breakthrough Atlanta’s 20th anniversary, the organization hosted its inaugural Fund-A-Scholar fundraising event, co-chaired by Hilton Ball and Erin Cay—two Lovett moms. The event is now held annually and brings together sponsors, volunteers, and community members to raise much-needed support so students from underserved communities can benefit from the life-changing educational opportunities Breakthrough provides.

2020: Adapting to COVID-19

When COVID-19 drastically changed our world, Breakthrough Atlanta was quick to respond and adapted its annual summer program into a high-impact, student-centered virtual learning program. Throughout the school year, students participated in virtual enrichment courses that promoted transferable skills such as public speaking, technology, digital literacy, and leadership skills.

2020: Preparing for Future Growth and Sustainability

The strong foundation laid by The Lovett School since Breakthrough Atlanta’s inception—and its ongoing support—enabled Breakthrough Atlanta to become a self-sustaining nonprofit organization. Lovett continues to be a critical resource as Breakthrough Atlanta cultivates new partnerships and increases its support base toward future growth.

2021: Breakthrough Atlanta Celebrates 25 Years

Breakthrough Atlanta celebrated a milestone anniversary: it turned 25!

Today: Breakthrough's Growing Impact

As one of 24 Breakthrough affiliates across the country, Breakthrough Atlanta has touched the lives of thousands of students and their families — and hundreds of future teachers — through life-changing educational experiences. We continue setting priorities to help us further grow our mission impact in the communities we serve. At the heart of our future is our unwavering commitment to our mission and to enriching the lives of our students and future educators.

Leader Spotlight

Keno Sadler

“One of my fondest memories from that very first day was seeing the bus full of kids driving over the hill and hearing the students, and then seeing them walk across the bridge at Lovett while our staff greeted them.”



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