Aim High creates life-changing opportunities during the summer and beyond. That’s our mission. It’s what we do. Today’s installment of Thirty Years, Thirty Stories is about “and beyond.”
Of the twenty staff members working in the Aim High central office, one quarter are Aim High graduates! (Among our 17 summer sites, about one-third of our teaching staff are also Aim High graduates.) In this feature, we will profile two graduates in particular who truly exemplify the spirit and magic of Aim High: Terrence Riley and Maya Nieto.
Terrence Riley (Aim High Class of ‘96) is currently the Director of Admissions and Student Opportunities, Aim High’s newest department. However, 21 years ago, Terrence was just a self-described nerdy middle schooler who loved to make bad jokes and dance while preparing for his first summer at Aim High. Thinking back to his very first day at the Urban School campus, he remembers being very nervous.
“I attended the same school from kindergarten to 8th grade, so coming into a new environment was very intimidating for me,” remembers Terrence. “It was a new school in a neighborhood I had never been to, with people who had already formed friendships and relationships the summer before. But as soon as I stepped onto campus, I knew I had nothing to be nervous about.”
From day one, Terrence felt welcomed and accepted by the other Aim High students. He learned, he participated in awesome activities, and he made some great friends. Even then, Terrence knew that he had found something special in Aim High and that Aim High brought out something special in him.
“From that first summer, I knew that this was a magical place,” said Terrence, “My experiences at Aim High took me out of my neighborhood, out of my comfort zone, and exposed me to new people, new places, and new opportunities. It really showed me and others that our community went beyond where our school was located or where we lived.”
Terrence’s time at Aim High influenced him so greatly that he returned while in high school to work as a teaching assistant. Working as a TA was not only his very first job, but it also instilled in him a sense of responsibility and purpose that would remain with him forever.
After a career change in his 20s, Terrence was looking for a job that he found more fulfilling, specifically one in which he could help students coming from backgrounds similar to his.
“I wanted to educate and empower others so that we could all serve our community in meaningful ways. Once I knew that, I knew that I needed to be at Aim High. I wanted to be on the team that doesn’t give up on their students, that doesn’t give up on communities, and that exposes so many people to such a unique and infectious culture that you can’t help but call it magic.”
Another central office staff member and Aim High all-star is Maya Nieto. Maya (Aim High Class of ‘05) is currently Aim High’s Alumni & Student Engagement Manager. Maya has done it all: she graduated from, TA’d, interned, and led her own science class at our Urban School campus. Although she has many years of experience under her belt, she remembers her first day of Aim High like it was yesterday.
“I remember knowing only one other friend who had signed up with me from my middle school. I was nervous, but I quickly made more friends (some of whom I discovered went to my middle school),” she said. “My first summer, I had such an amazing science teacher. He made us feel like a part of the community from the first day we stepped on campus.”
Maya’s time at Aim High influenced her in such a profound way that she decided to go to a high school and a college that gave her the same feeling.
“Aim High gave me the lens to see what I wanted out of my educational experiences,” she said.
She decided in college that upon graduation she wanted to work in education. She returned to San Francisco to work for Aim High as a lead teacher.
“Although I was young, my site directors trusted me to be responsible which, in turn, made me believe in my own ability to teach and to work effectively with youth.”
It is safe to say that, in the cases of Terrence and Maya, Aim High has made a powerful and lasting impact on both their personal and professional lives.
Maya adds that, “Aim High has been a part of my life for over half my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”