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Live From San Francisco: Celebrating 25 Years of Aiming High

I'm writing here from San Francisco where I've been able to do field reporting on some STEM-focused out-of-school-time programs in the Bay Area. Look for stories in the coming weeks.

Fitting that this week, the National Center on Time & Learning also released its report on the importance of using more time for science learning, which my colleague Erik Robelen blogged about.

As luck would have it, I happened to be in town this week for Aim High's 25th anniversary gala. You may remember the blog item I wrote back in August about Aim High, a program that works to curb summer learning loss for disadvantaged students in the Bay Area. The National Summer Learning Association awarded Aim High its Excellence in Summer Learning Award in 2008 and continues to affirm the high quality of the program.

Aim High, which started in 1986 with 50 kids, served more than 1,200 middle school students and employed 400 teachers at 13 campuses in the San Francisco area this past summer. In a typical Aim High summer, students spend five days a week for five weeks taking core academic and enrichment classes. Most students spend three consecutive summers in the program.

On Wednesday night, 450 guests celebrated Aim High's 25 years at Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco. In addition to wining, dining, and general merriment, guests were privy to a presentation of Aim High's two and half decades. Executive officers, teachers, and alumni, including Malia Cohen, San Francisco supervisor and Aim High alumni, spoke candidly about the impact the program has made.

City officials and other notables were present, including members of the San Francisco school board and Superintendent Carlos Garcia, my own tablemate. Over the course of the evening, guests pledged donations to help support Aim High, totaling $1.5 million.

Sam Chaltain, an education writer and advocate, delivered the keynote address. Chaltain said he has asked many, from politicians to educators to students, to describe a learning experience that made a significant impact on their lives.

While varied, they all had a few common traits, he said, mainly that they were "challenging, engaging, and relevant" to the learner. These experiences often changed the way the person saw the world, but didn't always take place inside the classroom walls, he said.

"We tend to overvalue academic learning," Chaltain said. "We need to recognize it's not just the school year that's important. Our objective [instead] should be to give young people as many experiences, in and out of school, after school, and over the summer, as possible."

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