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AIM Academy Students Make International Connections with the Global Portal

“If you’re passionate about something, they’ll do everything you can to help that passion grow. That’s what makes AIM so special.”

A transglobal dance party with kids in Lagos, Nigeria. A face-to-face talk with a teenager in a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. Last spring, these were just some of the interactions that students at AIM Academy had within the inflatable walls of the Global Portal when it came for a two-day demonstration. This year, the Portal—an immersive project by Shared Studios—will be at AIM for at least two months, thanks to the persistence of its students and faculty, a supportive administration, and the unique environment the school creates.


An independent, college-prep school for first through 12th grade students with language-based learning differences, AIM Academy provides an education that is both individualized and evidence-based. Though the entire school’s program is what AIM calls “Future Focused,” the Middle and Upper School curricula focus on what they call the Four Threads to the Future: Arts and Design, Science and Engineering, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Global Competency and Social Sustainability. While all students explore courses in these four areas of competence, they also have the ability to pursue their passion in a specific thread by applying to a concentration. In 16-year-old Jade McDonnell’s case, this was the Global Leadership program.


Global Scholars—led by director Amy Holt Cline—study themes such as social justice, equity, and sustainability through discussions, travel, writing, and STEAM-based projects. The senior seminar program includes an international journey that ends with an interdisciplinary capstone focused on global topics. Students at AIM also have the opportunity to travel over Spring Break for Service Learning. In her two years in the program so far, McDonnell has traveled to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic to work with communities—in Costa Rica they helped turtles safely lay their eggs in a hatchery to protect them from poachers; in the Dominican Republic they helped schoolkids turn trash into a mural. After these experiences, McDonnell’s interest in forging international connections grew.


When the Portal had its two-day demo at AIM, McDonnell went to every session she could, and the experience was incredible: “It’s not like Skype where you’re just seeing their faces and having a conversation. You see the whole community that they’re in. You see their outfits, you see their tables—everything is different. I felt like I was sitting right across from them and having a conversation.”


Evan Jackson, Director of Technology at AIM, explained that the innovative setup uses existing technology in a “revolutionary” way such that “it feels like you’re walking into the room with another person who is in another country around the world.” Jackson described watching students in amazement, and noticed that they came away with a better empathy and understanding that “those kids are just like me.”


McDonnell concurs, “I never thought I’d be able to meet people in Nigeria. It makes me change my whole perspective on life and be a lot more thankful for what I have.” She still keeps in touch with some of the kids she met over WhatsApp. After those two days, Cline approached McDonnell to discuss expanding the program. McDonnell presented a proposal to all of AIM’s principals and to Head of School Chris Herman, as well as the fundraising committee. “Moved by the passion of the students and the opportunity the Portal afforded our program, we worked hard all summer to secure a home for the Philadelphia region’s first and only portal at AIM Academy,” Herman said. This year the Portal will stay for the fall, and will be used not just by Global Scholars, but will be integrated into everything from foreign language courses to geography, history, math, and beyond.


“At AIM there are so many different interests. And the fact that they took the time out of their day to read my proposal makes such a difference,” McDonnell told us. “If you’re passionate about something, they’ll do everything you can to help that passion grow. That’s what makes AIM so special.”

Has your child found the right fit at AIM Academy or do you have questions for AIM Academy parents?

Join the conversation in the comments and visit AIM Academy at an upcoming Open House:
  • November 1, 9 am
  • November 24, 11 am
  • January 10, 2020, 9 am

Click here to register for an open house or sign up for a personal tour.

Photographs by Amrit Gluck, Perfectly Paired Photography.

AIM Academy is a coeducational, independent school in Conshohocken dedicated to providing extraordinary educational opportunities to children in grades 1-12 with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. Our rigorous, academic elementary, middle and high school programs, taught by experienced and creative faculty, incorporate evidence-based interventions in an arts-based learning environment that is college preparatory in scope and sequence. Our programs are designed to foster self-esteem and social responsibility both in the classroom and through our comprehensive athletics, extracurricular and summer camp programs.