In 1986, Alec Lee and Eleanor McBride co-founded Aim High with the idea of giving urban middle school students a summer of high quality learning in an environment that promoted education as a way to unlock the future. They chose to focus on middle school students because research pointed to the time between elementary school and high school as a critical juncture for keeping at-risk students engaged in their education, a moment when a little intervention could go a long way to helping students graduate from high school.
Aim High began with one campus at Lick-Wilmerding School, where Alec and Eleanor were teachers. The San Francisco Foundation gave them a two-year grant to get the program started. “We didn’t even have a name for the program,” Lee says, “but we had an idea of what it might look like. We wanted to create a place that celebrated progressive teaching and learning, a place where it’s safe for kids to learn, make new friends, take risks, and try new things.” What students now call the “Aim High Magic”– the idea that opportunities are available all around us if we know how to make the most of them – was present from the beginning.
Over the past 27 summers, Aim High has expanded from one campus to 14, from 50 students and 12 teachers to over 1,300 students and 400 teachers. The program has become a pipeline for developing young teachers by giving them an opportunity for hands-on experience while working with a master teacher. In addition, many of Aim High’s graduates continue to work as teaching assistants and interns during their high school and college years, often working alongside the very teachers who inspired them while they were in the program.