Aim High teacher, Crissy Emmons, spoke at our Annual Shorenstein Luncheon on May 28th. Our theme ‘Being 12’ was inspired by the WNYC series. Please enjoy Crissy’s speech below, in which she sheds light on the difficult transition that is adolescence.

In my first years of teaching, I vowed to stay away from 12 year olds because I knew that they lived on a different planet. They are all over the place… they are in love-hate relationships with their friends; one day they have all of their materials  and the next they can’t even remember to bring their backpack. Hot Mess I tell you!

Now, I call them MY 12 year olds. I started teaching middle schoolers in 2002, and over the last 13 years, I’ve learned to love and embrace each one who walks through my classroom. They challenge me everyday. What they need  is more than someone who can teach them about the Renaissance or the Civil War. They need a mentor, a friend, a counselor, and a teacher who will embrace every aspect of who they are and give them a safe place to figure out exactly who that is….

12-year-olds  are so curious that they want to be many different things.. an athlete, musician, chef, artist, lawyer, doctor……..but if you ask them how they are going to get there, they have no idea. They’re too busy surviving middle school to figure it out….

Aim High intervenes at exactly the right time.

12-year-olds are searching for direction and identity, and Aim High provides that safe place where they can find themselves. The “Aim High magic” we pride ourselves on conjuring up every summer is rooted in how we enrich students’ learning and support them in making sense of who they are and want to be.

Alicia and Kiere are an example of this very “magic.” Alicia was part of our first cohort of 7th graders at our Mission High School site. She took two buses to our campus everyday and still was always there on time with a smile on her face and willing to help whenever needed. She thrived in all of her academics and electives.When I looked at her, I thought “what a happy child.” One day she didn’t show up at Aim High – we were concerned. We could not reach anyone at home to find out why she was absent. A day later we learned that her mother, who had been struggling with addiction, had been arrested. While anticipating Alicia’s return, my instinct was to console her; however, when she arrived, she had the biggest smile on her face. She carried on as if nothing had happened. At that moment, I realized that Aim High was her safe place… we were her family and where she could be 12, and be happy. The place where she could read The House on Mango Street, think about her future goals, discover her creativity through paper mache, and visit the college of her dreams.

It was the magic of Aim High that allowed her to be 12–and to JUST be 12–and experience the nurture, guidance, and friendship that is rare during the regular school year.

Alicia graduated from Aim High as a 9th grader in 2013. Last summer she returned to volunteer and mentor the young Aim Highers. Alicia reminisced with me about prior summers and our exciting adventures together. We also talked about the tougher moments of being 12.

Which brings me to Kiere – I knew Kiere from the regular school year. In fact, everyone at our school knew Kiere. He was a spirited and passionate 12-year-old. In fact, he was so spirited that  he was sent out of class almost every other day. He shared with me how frustrated he was with the adults around him, particularly in school. He felt they singled him out for not always having the right materials or for shouting out in class instead of raising his hand. He was angry and disappointed  that some of his teachers didn’t take the time to get to know him. School made Kiere anxious. His guard was up with teachers who he believed didn’t want him in their classrooms. As a result, his grades suffered, and he barely passed 7th grade. Before the school year ended, I was excited to see his application for my Aim High site. His start was rocky at Aim High –  he wasn’t sure how he would fit into a program where his classmates had already-established friendships from the previous  summer. Nevertheless, Kiere had a positive energy and spirit, so he quickly found his place in our community.

Aim High supported Kiere with individual attention, words of encouragement and opportunities to shine. We were able to do this because we have small classes, multiple teachers per classroom, and a mix of academics and enrichment that transform the learning experience.

Kiere discovered his love for Science while engaged in hands on projects. He energized ourcommunity with his participation and leadership. I fondly remember the big smile he had on his face every Tuesday and Thursday when he left for his swimming elective. He would come back giving shout outs to his swimming crew for passing swim tests and thanking his teachers for taking him to the pool. He was a different student at Aim High. When Kiere started 8th grade, I have to admit that I was unsure of how much his positive summer with us would impact him during the regular year. I am happy to say that I have heard nothing but wonderful news from his teachers of how he’s matured and blossomed. I know that his positive interactions with teachers and the opportunities he embraced at AH, played a crucial role in his success.  And what’s so exciting for me to share with you today, is that this morning Kiere graduated from the 8th grade and is on his way to Wallenberg High School in the fall.

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 5.24.44 PMAlicia and Kiere’s Aim High stories are a testament to the tenacious spirit and resilience of 12-year-olds and how Aim High believes in their promise and potential, and their ability to persist through challenges. Our teachers love each and every student who walks through our doors. We cherish them as the unique, curious, and evolving people they are. Aim High creates an environment in which kids are supported to share and appreciate their special qualities, and discover themselves and the world around them.

Thanks to our inspiring speakers and generous supporters, we raised $30,000 at this year’s Shorenstein Luncheon. If you were unable to attend but feel compelled to support our work, you can make a gift in honor of our 30th summer online. 

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