Teacher Stories | Aim High
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Teacher Stories

Aim High magic isn’t just for students. Our teachers also experience the life-changing, inspiration-sparking power of our program every summer. Meet the team that cultivates our exceptional learning communities and hear their inspiring stories.

Aim High Graduate and Site Director

“I started off as a student, moved to TA, Intern, and Lead Teacher.” Today, Michelle is the founding site director for Aim High’s Bayview campus at Willie Brown Middle Jr. Middle School, where she also teaches math and student government during the regular school year.  “I want to help students and families see the greatest in themselves,” she says. “That is why I teach.”….

 

Michelle earned good grades in middle school. So when her mom insisted she attend the Aim High summer program, 12-year-old Michelle was reluctant at first.

She was in love with Aim High after just one week.

Years later, as a recent high school graduate, Michelle returned to Aim High as a teaching assistant. It was her first summer job. She planned to stay no longer than one summer, but every time June rolled around, Michelle found herself back in the Aim High classroom.

It wasn’t until she was well into an economics degree at Howard University that Michelle finally considered a career in education. Her Aim High site directors pulled her aside and asked if she had ever thought of becoming a teacher. “They said that I had what it took to make a difference and inspire the people around me,” Michelle says.

Fifteen years later, Michelle is now a celebrated educator and a role model for students and teachers everywhere. She credits Aim High for shaping her approach to teaching and learning. Aim High’s team-teaching model, Michelle believes, promotes collaboration among educators, enabling them to create curriculum and experiences that change students’ lives. “I come into the classroom with the spirit of collaboration and student experience,” she says. “Aim High set the bar for what I wanted to see in my classroom and work community. It creates a culture where the student becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the student.”

Michelle is a self-proclaimed proud product of Aim High: “I started off as a student, moved to TA, Intern, and Lead Teacher.” Today, Michelle is the founding site director for Aim High’s Bayview campus at Willie Brown Middle Jr. Middle School, where she also teaches math and student government during the regular school year.  “I want to help students and families see the greatest in themselves,” she says. “That is why I teach.”

Viviana Montoya-Hernandez TorresSite Director and Aim High Graduate, Class of 1996

Viviana’s life changed at Aim High one summer. She was reading Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street in her seventh grade humanities class. Like the main character Esperanza, Viviana spoke two languages, had immigrant parents, and was negotiating two cultures. For the first time, Viviana saw herself depicted in literature. “It validated my experience as a young person of color,” Viviana says. “This was the beginning of my transformation.”

 

At Aim High, Viviana was exposed to new and exciting opportunities by teachers who came from her community. They nurtured Viviana’s potential and encouraged her to take risks; Viviana performed onstage in front of her peers, visited college campuses, ventured outside of her neighborhood and made new friends. “Aim High was a safe place with positive role models who were committed to personal growth,” Viviana says. “Aim High helped me transform from a nice kid with good grades to a daring young woman with a thirst for new experiences and a hunger for true education.”

As a result, Viviana was accepted into St. Ignatius Prep, an elite high school that had always seemed off limits to students like her. At first she struggled to make friends, and her teachers discouraged her from taking advanced classes. But with the resilience she gained at Aim High, Viviana eventually found her footing. “I had acquired enough positive experiences with risk-taking to know that success would come.”  Viviana took five AP classes, landed a solo in choir, and applied and was accepted into Santa Clara University, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from college in the United States.

Viviana is now a dedicated educator. She serves as a New Teacher Mentor for the Fremont Union High School District in Silicon Valley and holds two Master’s’ degrees in education. Since 2006, she has been an Aim High Site Director in East Palo Alto. In 2015, she was named Aim High’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year for her inspiring story and commitment to transforming lives through education.

Jessie Aim High MissionAim High Graduate, Class of 2001

Jessie is a born-and-raised San Francisco educator. For 18 years, Aim High has been a part of his life. He joined as a seventh grade student and participated for three summers. After he graduated from Aim High, Jessie returned to serve as a high school volunteer, college teaching intern, and Humanities lead teacher at same campus he attended as a student in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood.

For the past five summers, Jessie has co-directed Aim High’s campus in the Mission District.  “At each stage of my growth through Aim High, the opportunities have been life changing,” he says.

I decided to keep coming back to Aim High because I wanted to make sure the same opportunities that existed for me are available to students today.Jessie Escobar, Aim High Graduate

During the academic school year, Jessie works to improve student’s health and educational outcomes as the Community Health Outreach Worker at Thurgood Marshall High School’s Wellness Center. As part of the Wellness team, Jessie organizes collaborative partnerships that provide health resources to students where they are most likely to access them: in school.

Jessie holds a BA in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is currently pursuing an MPA at the University of San Francisco. Upon graduation, he plans to continue to work in the public and nonprofit sector at the intersection of health and education. In 2017, Jessie was honored as an Aim High Rising Leader. Watch his story:

Aim High Graduate, Class of 2011

Trinidad Martinez is a San Francisco native and proud Aim High alumnus and teacher. He attended Aim High’s campus in Visitacion Valley and graduated in 2011. He then went on to attend Riordan High School and graduated in 2015. At the behest of his former Aim High teacher Jessie Escobar, Trinidad returned to the program in 2015 to work as a teaching intern at Aim High’s Mission District campus. Trinidad has taught humanities and led the popular afternoon basketball elective Ballin’ in the Streets. His favorite part about Aim High is the impact it has on young people. “Aim High is life-changing,” Trinidad says. “It’s a place of unity, a safe space for students from different backgrounds and cultures; a place where kids can be kids and enjoy life.”

In May 2019, Trinidad graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in English. He plans to become a social worker or counselor to help foster youth. In November 2019, Aim High honored Trinidad with the Rising Leader Award at our Annual Gala. Learn more about his story: