Aim High Celebrates 25th Summer

By Nora Fleming — August 09, 2011 3 min read
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While there has been growing interest in summer learning loss, Aim High, a Bay Area-based summer program, has been reducing summer brain drain and improving academic outcomes for underprivileged students for two and a half decades.

Aim High, a nonprofit, just served 1,200 middle school students in this, its 25th summer, and was recommended as one of the top summer programs in the country by the National Summer Learning Association . NSLA awarded Aim High its Excellence in Summer Learning Award in 2008, which, according to the NSLA, commends outstanding summer programs that demonstrate excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for young people.

Middle school students, who typically come from minority, high-need backgrounds, begin the five-week Aim High program after their 5th and 6th grade year and are guaranteed attendance for several consecutive summers. Many attend up until the summer before 9th grade, as they make the transition to high school.

Aim High Director Alec Lee said that while the program is academically rigorous with a curriculum linked to state and common-core standards, it still tries to provide a different experience from what students have during the school year.

Students take core classes in the morning in math, science, humanities, and issues and choices, a class in which students talk about values, ethics, and the future, particularly the path to college. In the afternoons, students move to enrichment activities of their choosing that range from HipHop dance to astronomy to bike repair. There are also college-preparation days and cultural days, and rising 9th graders spend a full week of the summer in a residential outdoor education program learning environmental stewardship and working on project-based activities.

This past summer, 325 teachers and other instructors taught at a total of 13 Aim High campuses.

Middle school students are the focus, Lee said, as Aim High sees that the academic foundation built in middle school can be key toward transition to and success throughout high school. Students are tested in core classes pre and post program, and the majority are tracked into high school. Most all Aim High graduates finish high school and go on to two- or four-year colleges, Lee said.

“One of our fundamental beliefs, backed by research such as the recent ACT study, ‘The Forgotten Middle,’ is that middle school is a critical juncture in the lives of kids, especially kids with fewer opportunities,” Lee said. “It’s a time when kids are making choices about their future, who they want to be, and the kind of path they want to follow.”

The program was particularly effective for Viviana Montoya-Hernandez, who participated in Aim High in her youth and now serves as site director at one of the campuses. Montoya-Hernandez said the program dramatically changed her sense of self and life choices, particularly influencing her attainment of a master’s degree and her career choice to become a teacher.

“Aim High is all about providing new opportunities and teaching you to be a self advocate,” she said. “I really believe that it only takes a few caring adults to teach a child they have the ability to control their own future.”

Photo 1: Students construct model bridges from household materials in a science class.
Photo 2: Students and a teaching assistant in a science class dissect a pig’s heart.
Photo 3: Students learn to keep a plant journal at the Headlands Environmental Home, the week-long outdoor education program for 9th graders.
Photo 4: Students distribute fresh produce from the San Francisco Food Bank to hundreds of families as part of a community service activity for afternoon enrichment.
All photos courtesy of Aim High.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.