Aim High St. Louis builds confidence and skills in middle schoolers over the summer

Damya Long, who is going to be in the 9th grade at Gateway STEM High School, learned about being an entrepreneur while developing her visual art skills at Aim High St. Louis this summer.

Photo by Wiley Price

From an early age, Damya Long knew she wanted to be artistic. She wanted to open her own nail shop. Since her school only had art classes, she didn’t know where to start. However, when the summer comes around, Long had the opportunity to enroll in an entrepreneurial class at Aim High.

“I knew I wanted to open my own shop, but I didn’t know how,” said Long, who is going to be in the 9th grade at Gateway STEM High School. “I saw the opportunity for the class, and I took it.”

Aim High St. Louis is a non-profit tuition-free five-week summer academic enrichment program for middle school students who come from a challenging background with difficult circumstances. The program span from when students are rising 6th graders through entering high school in the 9th grade.

Aim High partners with the Normandy Schools Collaborative, University City School District, Saint Louis Public School District and Ritenour School District, and within those districts the program recruit students from 41 schools.

Even though the organization wants to serve the community, it cannot take everyone. What makes officials at Aim High recruit a student is something that Imani Harris, director of Programs, says a student must have.

“It starts with confidence,” said Harris. “It starts with the confidence in their education, in their future, and what we want to do with them is to bring that out of them and to build that hope and foster that faith and trust in our students.”

To get into the program, students have to go through a rigorous application process with essays and short answers that show the candidate’s true worth.

“It is a long process, but it shows who is motivated and who is not,” said Harris. 

Aim High hosted an Open House on July 16 to showcase what students and teachers have accomplished this summer.

At the showcase, Long showed items she has created in her entrepreneurial class along with art she created.

Caleb Farr and Taylor Wayne created a solar oven in their six grade class that teaches students about the reflection and absorption of light.

While some students showcased science and art, others showcased what they learn about their history and Math.

Sabrina Brown and Sky learned about the flag and the reconstruction of the U.S. flag and the effects of slavery on African Americans.

The goal of the program is to teach, motivate and  push students towards post-secondary education, according to Harris.

“We just want them to start thinking about college early,” said Harris. “We want them to be confident and to do that, you know, we need them to go through this program, and we see them grow over the four years.”

For more information on the application process for next summer, visit

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