Remember middle school? And how much it sucked?

Mom at Work
Jun 30, 2016 · 4 min read

I spent my lunch yesterday being moved and inspired. Given my work, both at and as a board member for a school and nonprofit, inspirational moments come often. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do what I do every day and get paid to do it. None the less, it didn’t stop me from pinching myself as I ran from the lunchtime event back to the office for meetings.

I am both board chair at Children’s Day School and a parent of a rising fourth grader there. There is so much I love about CDS, especially its founding focus on social justice. It is why I am so committed to the school and so happy to be able to send my daughter there. As the current board chair of CDS, I had the opportunity to rally CDS trustees around an exciting partnership brought to us by the administration of the school — becoming a partner site for Aim High.

Aim High is the largest academic summer program provider in the San Francisco Bay Area. They focus on the middle school years because studies show middle school matters. Aim High’s outcomes are proof that their decades of experience are making a difference. 97% of alumni graduate high school on time and enroll in college, compared to 49% of low-income students nationally. But not only does Aim High focus on Bay Area students, it also focuses on our teachers. Aim High will train 1,000 educators in the next 5 years, many of those teachers of color.

And those numbers are great and resonate with me, but seeing the program in action at the Visiting Day hosted at Children’s Day School made these numbers come to life in a way that really had an impact.

I had a rough time in middle school. I attended three schools during that time, didn’t quite fit in (think “freak” from Freaks and Geeks), and developed a significant chip on my shoulder. Oh, the things I did! I won’t mention them here, I should tell my parents face-to-face first… My life could have taken a turn for the worst, but thankfully, because of my awesome parents and some special teachers, it didn’t.

Visiting day kicked off with a tour of the various classes in action. Then we had lunch during which a panel of students and teachers shared their experiences with Aim High.

Middle school student Joshua talked about how difficult things were for him at school. And how it was these weeks in the summer with Aim High that changed everything for him. It was here for the first time that he felt he could truly be himself. And amazingly that carried through for him when he went back to his regular school. He talked about his Aim High teacher, Omar, and the impact he has had on him. Omar has his back.

Omar shared a bit about why he teaches at Aim High. I was struck by how much love he brings to his job and the relationships he forms with his students. I was truly blown away. It was clear that the Aim High model — high teacher to student ratio, project based learning, and teacher autonomy — was driving Omar’s passion for the work and his impact. He and I chatted a bit after the panel and it was clear that his time with Aim High over the summer has a big impact on the work he does with SFUSD during the school year. And brings him a ton of joy.

Middle school is hard. In order to learn, you need to be present. But in order to be present, you need to bring your full self to school. In middle school, I, like many kids, just wanted to hide. But it’s awesome, caring adults like Omar, that see past a kids middle school behavior and show them that there are adults who care, believe in you, and have your back.

I was heartened by what I saw and I am so happy that CDS can be a partner to such a great organization with an important mission. This is a mission I care deeply about. I sit on the board of First Graduate, another Bay Area nonprofit focusing on closing the achievement gap.

If you have a chance to attend an Aim High Visiting Day, you should. You will leave changed.

    Mom at Work

    Written by

    Cheryl Porro. Thoughts are my own.