PAYING IT FORWARD: Young Educators of the Peninsula
Previously, we shared with you the origin story of Aim High on the Peninsula and the people that helped make it happen. Now, we want to share with you the stories of two individuals who truly embody the values and spirit of Aim High on the Peninsula, and everywhere else. Diana Vargas and Lucia Gonzalez are two young women who are deeply committed to Aim High’s mission. And their stories certainly reflect that. In 2008, Diana Vargas was a high school sophomore looking for a summer job in East Palo Alto. “I knew I wanted to give back and be that support for someone else,” Diana remembers, “Middle school is hardly ever a great experience for anyone, so any program designed to help better that experience is amazing in my book.” Diana was excited to be able to give back to her community. The fact that the program was located at her former middle school, Costaño Elementary School, was just the icing on the cake. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of a program that is not there to ‘save’ the community, but to give people the the tools to help themselves and each other out.” That summer, Diana began her Aim High career working as a science teacher’s assistant. Over the years, she became a lead science teacher, helped out in math classes, and led yearbook, computer science, and journalism activities. Diana is still passionate about teaching, even after earning a computer science degree at Stanford University. She will return to Aim High again this summer and is currently working toward her teaching credential. “Ultimately, it is the students who keep me coming back,” said Diana, “Their enthusiasm and their energy are contagious, and I particularly enjoy watching a child blossom and find something they are interested in. Aim High has definitely changed me, for the better.” One of these students is Lucia Gonzalez, who is now one of Diana’s co-teachers. Lucia entered Aim High at Costaño Elementary as a shy and quiet 7th grader. Initially, her parents placed her in the program to keep her busy during the long summer months, but after a few days of academics and activities, she was hooked. She loved the program so much, she returned as a humanities teaching assistant after graduating from the program. Aim High has played a huge role in Lucia’s life and academic path. Through Aim High, she not only realized that she wanted to become a teacher, but she also gained mentors, like Diana, that truly understand where she is coming from and what she wants to accomplish. “[Aim High] was an integral part of my experience growing up. Aim High gave me the confidence to become a leader within my community and it also gave me the tools to advocate for myself and others. The curriculum was centered around issues that were important to me and have continued to be of relevance to my experience as a person of color.” As a young educator, Lucia’s goal is to prepare her students to be active leaders within their communities. She is currently pursuing that goal as a Chicana/o Studies major and Education minor at Loyola Marymount University. This summer she will be returning to Aim High as a humanities teacher. Lucia and Diana are just two examples of the passionate young educators coming out of our campuses. They see the Aim High magic take root in their students and themselves. Lucia put it best when she said, “Aim High allows students to become a part of a community that expects greatness of them. I have seen many students develop into great leaders who have continued to embody the Aim High CORE values upon graduation from the program.” Teachers like Lucia and Diana are not only committed to educating and inspiring youth, but also teaching students how to educate and inspire themselves. That is what the Aim High magic is all about.