Our first blog comes from Aim High, a nationally recognized, results-driven, free, summer enrichment program, and a two-time New York Life Foundation Excellence in Summer Learning Award winner.
“Receiving the Excellence Award for the 2nd time was a tremendous honor for Aim High. It validated our commitment to relentless improvement and quality/deliberate expansion in the service of youth with limited opportunities but unlimited potential. The award also celebrated our distinctive model.” – Alec Lee, executive director, Aim High
Is there anything better than making lists? I love crossing things off the to-do list, reminding myself of what’s coming my way and always, always anticipating the magic of summer. Because of Aim High, summer is my full-time job. I’m Alec Lee, executive director and co-founder of the Bay Area’s largest summer learning program for low-income middle school students. Below are a few reminders for me and my team about the power of summer learning, as we prepare for “Summer Number 35!”—because we all know that time of year will be here before we know it!
I. Dare to Be Different
High quality summer programs improve math and reading skills, and also build critical social emotional skills of students. These are skills that will help them not only in school but also in their careers and life. Summer also is a time to show students that learning—especially in the summer—can be joyful, adventurous and fun. Our high-quality, multi-summer model utilizes project-based learning, a social/emotional curriculum, small class sizes, and tons of collaborative experiences to engage students and prepare them to thrive during the academic year. If you’d like to dig deeper, ask about our Issues and Choices class, which is more critical than ever during these fragile times.
II. Role Models Matter
Each summer, Aim High grads (high school and college students) make up 50 percent of interns and assistant teachers—evidence that our alumni are energized, rooted and committed to our program for the long-haul. These staff members play a pivotal role for our first generation college-bound youth, reminding them that high school success and college matriculation is not just possible, it’s achievable.
III. Know Your Values
Aim High’s CORE Values: Community, Opportunity, Respect, and High Expectations, are infused into every aspect of our summer program. As one of our students said recently: “Aim High staff made me feel like I mattered at a time when I felt worthless. They showed me it was okay to be who I really am, to love who I am, and to not be ashamed of myself.” Restorative practices, community building, and open dialogue ensure that our middle schoolers feel seen, heard, and valued in safe and supportive environments.
IV. Honoring Our Families Voices and Choices
Family involvement is central to Aim High’s model. We hold three parent events during our five-week program: Family Orientation, Futures Night and Celebration Night. At these events, families explore high school and college options, learn about financial aid opportunities, and connect with our community-based partners (College Track, Legal Aid, etc.). We also are responsive to the needs of our families and take their feedback seriously. To learn more, ask us about Future’s Night and Opportunity Coaches.
V. Investing in Quality Educators
Aim High relies on over 550 educators each summer. Over the last two years, our organization has made a commitment to increase their salaries. Our program simply would not exist without our summer staff’s expertise, passion, and dedication to summer learning. Full disclosure: Finding enough quality teachers is our greatest organizational challenge. We hope by offering higher pay, alongside flexible schedules and embedded professional development will strengthen our teacher recruitment efforts.
If you’re reading this blog post, it’s because you recognize the power and potential of quality summer learning. I’m always looking for ways to make the case for magic and impact of summer. Please take a few minutes to listen to this episode of “Get Schooled”: https://www.soapboxproject.org/getschooled/aimhigh
We invite you to visit our website at https://www.aimhigh.org to learn more about our organization and our work to create life-changing opportunities for youth in our communities during the summer and beyond.
About the Authors
Alec Lee is an accomplished educator who co-founded Aim High in 1986 and serves as full-time Executive Director. Alec has an M.A. in Education from Harvard University, and received a Klingenstein Fellowship from Columbia Teachers College. He taught history at Lick-Wilmerding High School, a college preparatory high school in San Francisco, for 17 years.
Alix Joslyn recently leapt West from Portland, Maine and landed at Aim High in April 2018 and serves as a Grants Associate. In the cozy New England city she called home for nearly five years, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and assistant director of a halfway house. She received her B.A. in Music History and M.S. in Professional Communication from Clark University in Worcester, MA.