From the archives: April/May 2009
More than just a great youth development and education program, Aim High is an organization that develops outstanding teachers who go on to be leaders in the field of education. This month’s e-news features three of the teachers who have made Aim High a great place to learn and grow over the past 24 years.
VENTURA RODRIGUEZ – From the Bay Area to Nairobi and from classroom teacher to charter school pioneer, Ventura Rodriguez has carried the Aim High magic into myriad corners of the education landscape.
Ventura was a teacher on the founding staff of Gateway High School, a charter school in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood, when he met Alec Lee at a teacher training program offered by Aim High and the Bay Area Teachers Center. Drawn to the sense of community and fun promoted by the Aim High program, Ventura joined the summer teaching staff at the Urban School, Aim High’s second site, in 1999, then served for thee years as site director at the Ben Franklin and Roosevelt sites.
With education leadership skills honed at Aim High, Ventura went on to teach at the International School of Kenya in Nairobi, then returned to the US to take part in the prestigious New Leaders for New Schools principal training program. In fall of 2008, Ventura founded the St. Hope Leadership Academy Charter School in Harlem, New York City.
For Ventura, a critical part of the Aim High experience was the opportunity for young educators to be innovative in the classroom. “One thing Aim High does powerfully is creating a school environment where kids like to be there and adults feel that they are growing and having fun.” Aim High also offers leadership opportunities for young educators, giving Ventura his first experience managing a staff. “When I think of myself as a leader running a school,” Ventura says, “I think back to Aim High.”
Though he has moved on from Aim High to great accomplishments in the field of education, Ventura still considers Aim High a touchstone of his experience in great teaching and learning. “In education there are a lot of fads, but Aim High has been a constant.
Aim High figured out what kind of support is critical for kids and stuck with it.”
CAMERON YUEN-SHORE – From the moment he stepped into an Aim High classroom the summer after his 6th grade year, Cameron Yuen-Shore recognized the unique feeling of community that defines Aim High – and he’s been a part of that community ever since.
Cameron began his story with Aim High in 1999 as a student at the Lick-Wilmerding site, and has served on the faculty as a teaching assistant, intern, and master teacher. This year, Cameron will spend his 11th summer with Aim High before beginning work on his teaching credential in the fall.
“For me, Aim High magic is a feeling of unity and support. As a 7th grader, I felt encouraged by other students as I tried for the first time things that were completely terrifying. As a teaching assistant, I was reassured by the support of more experienced faculty, and as an intern, I felt the support of my students as I led my first lessons.”
“What is most special to me is that now, as a master teacher, I see that supportive experience happening all around me, every day. It’s not a unique phenomenon – Aim High is touching the lives of thousands of people.”
After he graduates from Occidental College in a little over a month, Cameron will return to San Francisco for his 11th summer at Lick Wilmerding, then begin working toward his teaching credential through the Bay Area Teacher Training Institute (BATTI).
“I want to try and duplicate the magical experience of working at Aim High,” says Cameron of the BATTI program, which features small class sizes and 2-year placement with a mentor teacher. Cameron will work at the Nueva School, which he describes as “kind of like going to school at the Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium put together.”
Cameron’s interest in being a great educator, in changing the lives of Bay Area youth by giving them rich, memorable learning experiences, is rooted in his own experience of being a student at Aim High, and it keeps him coming back. “If I can duplicate for one student anything close to the feelings that I had every summer at Aim High, it would be enough to keep me coming back every summer for the rest of my life.”
ZOE DUSKIN – Zoe Duskin has been on the path of education since her first summer as a TA at Aim High, back when she was a student at Lick-Wilmerding High School. After graduating from Barnard College, Zoe taught high school history at a charter school in Washington, DC, and returned to the Bay Area in 2007, working on curriculum development, professional development, and strategic planning as the Instructional Reform Facilitator at Galileo High School.
Throughout her work in public schools and in education policy, Aim High has been an inspiration to Zoe. “Aim High helps me maintain my own idealism, my belief in what education can be – because I’ve seen it.”
“I think it’s very easy in today’s educational environment to think that nothing is really possible. For me, Aim High is proof that, if education is done effectively, schools can serve students. It’s not a fairyland dreamy bubble. Aim High is real, and we’re involving a lot of kids.”
Zoe’s site at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Oakland serves about 100 kids– roughly 5% of the number of students served at Galileo. Despite the difference in scale, Duskin finds herself asking, “How can I make this place more like Aim High? How can I make 110 teachers feel like a collaborative team? How can families be invited to get involved more effectively? When I’m looking at a school or an education system, I default to that Aim High lens.”
Zoe’s Aim High lens is being put to good use this year as she finishes her Masters in Education Policy and Organizational Leadership at Stanford. She intends to go into high school administration and continue as a site director at Aim High.
Though her focus has broadened beyond the classroom, Zoe’s interest in education is all about doing great things for great kids: “the stiflingly shy 7th grader who learned to take the risk and answer questions in class; the disruptive 8th grader who was brought to tears when he heard us say ‘we want you to be here,’ as if it were his first time; and the tiny 5th graders who arrive nervous and leave Aim High ready for what’s ahead” are the memories she takes away from her many years with the program.
For these reasons and more, Zoe says, “I’m really grateful to be involved with Aim High and honored to be a part of its staff. Aim High raises the bar in education.”