KINGS BEACH, Calif. — The Tahoe Truckee Aim High Summer Program just wrapped up its first year in Kings Beach. Aim High, celebrating its 27th year of operating in the Bay Area, is a five-week summer enrichment program for under-resourced middle school students, and combines intensive academic and personal enrichment with an added emphasis on outdoor and environmental education.
The Kings Beach Elementary School is the Aim High program site for 53 Tahoe regional students entering sixth and seventh grades, and plans to support 120 students from sixth to ninth grades in the next two years.
Aim High classes are typically fifteen students with three teachers, allowing for individual attention and a focus on project-based learning. A typical day begins with an all-campus meeting for announcements, games and appreciation. Students then begin classes in Math, Science, Humanities, and “Issues and Choices.”
In total, students receive sixty hours of academic instruction over the course of the five-week program. Afternoons are spent exploring student-selected activities from an extensive menu, which includes Computers, Sports, Drama and Music Appreciation.
One of Aim High’s primary objectives is to address summer learning loss for students, which has shown to be a significant contributor to the achievement gap in schools. For example, designed to support algebra readiness by 8th grade, the Aim High math curriculum includes skills assessments at the beginning and end of the summer. While Aim High students are building math skills, past research has shown that their peers, who get no academic practice over the summer, lose as much as two months’ progress in math.
On July 26, Aim High held a Visiting Day, opening their classes and students to local supporters of the program with more than 30 attendees. Dr. Rob Leri, TTUSD Superintendent, was “highly impressed with Aim High’s instructional strategies and the engagement and learning of the students.”
Many attendees commented on the high energy of both students and teachers and the “sense of magic” that pervaded the air. Results speak for themselves: 95 percent of the students who go through an Aim High program graduate from high school, and 90 percent go on to higher learning.
One of the classes highlighted during Visitor’s Day was “Issues and Choices,” Aim High’s unique youth development class, where students explore health, relationships, community and environmental issues with an emphasis on self-reflection, leadership, and college/career awareness. This week the topic was creating a Life Notebook — where a student described past life milestones and plans for the future. Froi Gaitan Meza, a local Sierra Expeditionary Learning School student, plans on “contributing to a cure for diabetes and earning a Nobel Peace Prize.”
“This is what I am going to do with my life,” he said.
Katie Jamison, a TTUSD teacher and co-director of the program, was very enthusiastic about the program: “Our ability to have smaller classes and give attention to those kids who are otherwise lost in a larger classroom setting is awesome. Three teachers in a classroom of 10-12 kids make all the difference in the world. Student behavior is modified, problems are solved immediately and there is no chance for lost opportunities.”
Alec Lee, the Director of Aim High San Francisco, lauded all the planning efforts of the past: “We have been building relationships with the local school district, local educators, and the Boys and Girls Club here in Kings Beach over two years to ensure the success of this educational opportunity. With the support and help of The Tahoe Community Foundation, The Queen of Hearts, Rotary Club, Excellence in Education, plus many private individuals, we now have the funding to continue the current student base for the next two years. We also received a significant investment from the Cowell Foundation. But our challenge is not over. The local need is great and our goal is to grow the program from the current 60 students to 90 students next year and then sustain 120-160 students over time. So we still have more work to do.”
Jamison added, “our biggest problem this year was convincing parents that this program was actually offered for free. Next year our biggest challenge will be selecting students from a long list of applications. I already have emails from parents ready to sign up now for next year. This adventurous journey has begun!”