Aim High Champions of the Peninsula
Aim High is celebrating its 30th year of providing transformative summer learning experience. We are also celebrating Aim High’s 10th Anniversary on the Peninsula! Since 1986, Aim High has been serving under-resourced middle school students across the Bay Area. Over the past thirty years, Aim High has grown considerably. By 2005, what began as a one-campus program in San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood had expanded to six sites throughout the city and Oakland. The tech boom of the mid 00’s had transformed Silicon Valley into one of the most lucrative and innovative regions in the world. But, the wealth and success also emphasized the disparity on the Peninsula. Aim High was ready to expand into another region at this time, and the Peninsula seemed like the perfect place to do so. Starting a new campus is difficult, especially in a new region, but Aim High was lucky to have the support of two individuals named Stephen and Hope Pilch. Their interest and passion for Aim High made our success on the Peninsula possible. Stephen and Hope had been introduced to the program by their good friend, Glenn Shannon, and had attended events in San Francisco. But it wasn’t until Stephen attended a campus Visiting Day that his personal connection to the program really grew Stephen grew up in a working-class town outside of Hartford, Connecticut, where few opportunities existed for young people. “Parents didn’t have the resources that other folks did in other neighborhoods,” says Stephen. “Visiting Aim High reminded me of the kids from the neighborhood where I grew up.” The enthusiasm and engagement Stephen observed in the Aim High classroom was unlike anything he saw in his the classrooms of his youth. “Students had smiles on their faces. They were engaged and had hope in their eyes,” he recalls. “You see the potential they see in themselves. They’re doing something different and are excited to be there” This personal connection and reminder of his childhood inspired Stephen to champion Aim High’s expansion into the Peninsula. When Stephen and Hope learned of the plans to open a East Palo Alto site in 2006, they swung into action. Stephen and Hope made their own contribution to Aim High and called on friends to help. “A bunch of people stepped up,” said Stephen, “and it just evolved from there.” One of the friends they called upon was Steve Westly, then Controller of California. Steve is deeply committed to supporting education in California and immediately stepped up. By the summer of 2008, their efforts had brought another campus onto the Peninsula, this time in Redwood City. Beyond enlisting the help of his friends, Stephen and Hope also got family involved. They encouraged their daughter, Katie, to apply to teach. After a little convincing from her father, she joined the Aim High teaching staff in 2009 “For a couple years, [my dad] had mentioned the organization and the ‘Aim High Magic,’ but I had never thought much of it,” says Katie. “But a week into my first summer, I saw the magic first-hand.” Katie worked for four summers at the Redwood City campus, teaching Math, Science, Humanities, and Issues & Choices. Her experience at Aim High played a huge part in shaping her academic path and career goals. “Aim High was my first experience in a classroom and working with youth. More importantly, this opportunity happened in my own community. The part of Redwood City where I worked had been unfamiliar. Teaching and getting to know the people in my greater community allowed me to connect to my own home on a much deeper level,” Katie says. Because of Aim High, Katie discovered and nurtured her love for teaching. She returned from college every summer to teach at Aim High, and her commitment to the program was so unwavering that she ended her semester abroad early to ensure she got back in time to teach. When it was time for college graduation, Katie knew she wanted to continue teaching. Today, she teaches history and math in Worcester, Massachusetts, and will graduate with her Masters in Secondary Education from Providence College in May. She hopes to return to Aim High in the near future. Our campuses on the Peninsula are successful for many reasons, but the support and commitment of individuals like Stephen, Hope, and Katie Pilch is certainly one of them.