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Aiming High for the Summer

Aim High classroom
Students at Aim High's San Francisco Mission District Campus.
Photo: Matthew Reamer, courtesy of Aim High.

Alec Lee, Ed.M.’85, has long understood that summer learning can be transformative. For more than three decades, Lee and his Aim High organization have ensured that San Francisco middle-schoolers continue to achieve their academic goals even after school lets out, becoming one of the most celebrated summer initiatives in the country.

Alec Lee and his Aim High organization have proven the transformative power of summer learning — with exciting classwork and a focus on creating a safe, welcoming climate.

Aim High, a free summer learning and enrichment program that brings high-quality educational experiences to low-income middle school students, has grown from an initial class of 50 students to become the largest summer academic program in the Bay Area, with 18 campuses serving 2,400 students.

It offers its students — primarily low-income, first-generation, immigrant youth — small classrooms and a range of curriculum, from STEM courses and environmental education to career exploration and conversations around social justice. But the program does more than just instruct — it is also meant to be a space for students to find joy in learning and feel comfortable taking risks.

“Aim High is an academic program, no question, we’re doing 25 days of math, and science, and literacy, and that’s hugely positive, but the other piece that really works is the focus on school culture and the sense of belonging,” Lee says.

Aim High is the first organization to be twice awarded the Excellence in Summer Learning Award from the National Summer Learning Association. In 2016, Lee was one of nine leaders selected from 450 nominations as part of President Obama’s Champions of Change program, recognizing leaders offering high-quality summer learning experiences for students.

In recent years, Aim High has also become a platform to propel young people of color into careers in teaching. Its employees, many of them former students, can now fulfill credit requirements toward their teacher training thanks to formal partnerships between Aim High and local school districts and schools of education.
“The commitment to supporting aspiring teachers has been with us all along, but for the last five years we decided to elevate and formalize that piece of Aim High, and part of the reason is that school districts kept telling us that Aim High is a great place to find creative, dedicated, inspiring young people who want to become teachers,” says Lee.

In 2020, as the global pandemic continues to disrupt education, Aim High has pivoted to a remote model and has had to reimagine the way its brand of summer learning can work.

“We really said, let’s address the needs of kids in this moment,” says Lee. “I can’t emphasize enough that social-emotional needs are the focus: creating safe spaces for kids to reflect and process, to grieve, and also to see their friends from previous summers.“ – Andrew Bauld

Learn More and Connect

Learn how Aim High is reimagining summer learning for its students in the face of COVID-19.

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