It’s one thing to ask yourself if you’re doing a good job, but to ask someone else? Their response carries more weight, especially if they’re an expert. That’s why in 2014 Aim High invested in an external evaluation of its summer learning program. Thanks to a grant from the Louis R. Lurie Foundation, Aim High recruited Stanford University’s esteemed John W. Gardner Center to study how Aim High implemented its programming across multiple sites each summers.

The Aim High program goes beyond typical summer school to insure that the population of youth most in need of summer programming will experience optimal learning and strong relationships. The John W. Gardner Center

The study took a year and a half to complete. Researchers observed classrooms, conducted both surveys and interviews, and held focus groups with staff, students and parents. They produced a comprehensive collection of data and identified the following strengths of Aim High’s program:

  1. Intentional Program Design
    1. Low student-to-teacher ratio
    2. Excellent hiring and training practices
    3. High rates of student engagement, attendance, and retention
  2. Positive Program and Culture Climate
    1. Emotionally safe and supportive learning environment
    2. Positive peer relationships
    3. Strong student-teacher relationships
  3. Engaging Curriculum and Pedagogy
    1. Improved skills in reading, writing, math, and science
    2. Heightened social-emotional learning, access to college and career awareness
    3. Greater confidence
  4. Building Educational Leaders
    1. Embedded professional development and expanded knowledge of teaching methodology
    2. Informed beliefs about teaching and learning and importance of student-teacher relationships to student learning

Aim High Director of Strategic Initiatives Laura Foulke was pleased with the results. “We have always been committed to continuous improvement, but Gardner provided an incredibly valuable outside perspective that was very affirming.” Laura says.

The Gardner Center compiled research in a full report and executive summary where they concluded that Aim High “goes beyond typical summer school to insure that the population of youth most in need of summer programming will experience optimal learning and strong relationships.”

Students at Aim High

Luckily, in 2014 and 2015 when the Gardner Center’s implementation study was taking place, Aim High leaders were busy writing Vision 2020, the organization’s strategic plan. “If we had a question, we had a world-class team of education experts to consult,” says Alexis Bayley, Aim High Organizational Learning Specialist, who helped coordinate the study. “We were able to take the latest research in teaching learning, and summer and apply it to Aim High’s programming.”

“The research dovetailed well with our planning,” added Foulke, “resulting in a much stronger strategic plan.”

“Ultimately, the study resulted in better programing for students and better professional development for staff,” says Bayley. “We have a lot knowledge to share with our field.”

Aim High will share that knowledge with the field.  On February 3, 2017, they will host Data to Action, a conference discussing the Gardner Center’s findings with donors, foundations, district partners, and other like-minded organizations.




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