By the end of the Dance Marathon a couple of weeks ago, the students had spent 12 hours dancing, playing dodge ball, jumping in the bouncy houses and meeting a genuine Survivor contestant. It was a great day and a great night, but it was still hard to believe that hundreds of high school students would voluntarily give up so much of their weekend. At the end of the night, the student body president, Donald Soffer, called the students together, and they lifted up poster board numbers over their heads revealing that the students had raised $21,000 to support Aim High St. Louis. At final tally, that number was more than $22,000.
While it was exciting, I think some families may have asked the question, what is Aim High St. Louis?
In the early 1990s, Rick Sandler (English) joined with then JBS history teacher Ellen Moceri to start the program. Fashioned after a program in San Francisco created by JBS alum Alec Lee ’76, Aim High was designed to support promising middle school students who may have been in danger of dropping out of school. Its goal was to keep them engaged in their education over the summer. Since Aim High’s inception, Burroughs has donated classrooms, labs and athletic facilities each summer, and the program has become a remarkably powerful public-private partnership.
Students in Aim High come largely from the St. Louis Public School system (though other districts send students as well), and they begin in the summer after their 5th grade school year. For four summers and for one Saturday a month, students come to Burroughs, where they take core academic classes as well as arts, athletics and electives. In many ways, the program is modeled on the Burroughs experience.
The statistics about the success of the Aim High program are staggering. Virtually all Aim High students ultimately complete high school, and most of them go on to get post-secondary education. The goal of Aim High is not to recruit students to Burroughs (only a small handful of Aim High students have ever matriculated here) but to get them to succeed in their own schools, and they do.
Why does it work so well? Quite simply, it is the people — and that list is long. Kevin McKone from the Burroughs Math Department is in charge of the Burroughs campus program (there is also now a program on the Priory campus), and over the years, aspects of the program have been run by Daniel Harris (History; Diversity and Multicultural Education; PE/Athletics), John Merritt (History; PE/Atheltics), Mylin Johnson (Academic Support; PE/Athletics) and Scott Heinzel (Science; College Counseling) — all great Burroughs teachers and administrators. I was privileged to spend two summers teaching at Aim High and to this day remain as a member of the board of trustees. But beyond Burroughs, the executive director of the program, Julie Angelica, has been able to recruit and retain excellent teachers from the sending schools and school districts as well, and they team beautifully with the independent school teachers.
Over the years, hundreds of Burroughs students have served as teaching assistants in the program, and almost to a person our students have found working with Aim High to be one of their most rewarding and fulfilling experiences. They get the opportunity to work one-on-one with the students and frequently to teach classes, and the relationships they develop last long after the summers are over.
I am very proud of the partnership that Burroughs has developed with Aim St. Louis, and I hope that we will be able to continue to work with our public school neighbors for years and years to come. Both groups profit from the relationship and have been improved by it. If you are interested in learning more about Aim High, feel free to contact Julie Angelica or me. The Aim High offices are located on the Burroughs campus.