In the 20 years since then, the AHEH program has stayed true to its three pillars: environmental stewardship, habitat restoration, and personal responsibility. “In this program, the kids are partners,” recounts Lautze (the founding AHEH Program Manager). “They have a stake in taking care of the environment and making it more their own.”Students spend time completing active restoration projects such as clearing areas of invasive weeds and replanting native species. All the while, they learn about the value of taking responsibility for and ownership of their environment. “Stewardship is taking care of something that isn’t necessarily owned by you,” explains Marcus Espinosa, current AHEH Program Manager. “We often use the example of family heirlooms: yes, they’re yours right now, but they’re meant to be passed on to someone else.” Beyond environmental stewardship, the AHEH program stresses stewardship of the self and the community. “You’re taking care of yourself so that you can take care of the people around you,” explains Espinosa. “And once you’re taking care of the people around you, you can focus on your environment.” Another way in which the AHEH program promotes stewardship of the self is by engaging in the practice of “council.” Students sit around a campfire and talk about what it’s like to be at this pivotal point in their lives. Lautze believes that the unplugged nature of council and AHEH in general is why students find it so powerful. “When we go out in the semi-wilderness, you remove some barriers,” Lautze says. I think it’s a chance for kids to decompress and be in a different environment that is calmer and safer. No phones, no tablets. Just being outside and feeling nature. I think it’s more important everyday.” Espinosa also believes that taking students out of their comfort zones and placing them into an entirely different context allows them the opportunity to reconnect with themselves. “In ninth grade, you’re so concerned with being cool and being accepted by your peers. You wear many masks. We offer [students] a place where they can take off some of these masks and… be a little bit more like themselves.” This summer, 450 ninth graders will have their chance to create their own legacy of environmental stewardship. This legacy is what makes AHEH different from your typical outdoor education program. Lautze says, “Ninth graders know that previous students have been there and that it gets better and better every time.” Click here to learn more about AHEH Click here to work at Aim High this summer
In our third edition of 30 Years, 30 Stories, we take a closer look at the launch of our flagship program, the Aim High Environmental Home. Over the last twenty years, the Aim High Environmental Homes (AHEH) Program has been a capstone experience and a rite of passage for our ninth graders. For one week, students venture out into the Bay Area’s not-so-distant wildernesses to participate in restoration projects, maintain trails and remove invasive plant species. AHEH began as the brainchild of co-founder Alec Lee and teacher Richard Lautze. Richard was already teaching an outdoor stewardship class at our Urban School campus, and saw students so inspired outside that he wanted to provide the opportunity to more young people. In the summer of 1996, in partnership with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Aim High opened the first AHEH campus at Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands. Around 75 ninth graders from all five of Aim High’s campuses embarked on their first foray into environmental stewardship.