Authentic Relationships Lead to Academic and Life Success

When kids feel connected, they’re more likely to succeed academically and socially. Aim High School makes that happen.

For the typical student, the middle and high school years are as much about social experiences and friendships as they are about academics. But for some students, the traditional school environment is overwhelming and socially challenging. Or worse, it’s hostile.

But given the right surroundings and support, students with learning and social differences can excel, make friends and grow socially, says Michael Earls, Head of School at Aim High School, a private school in Farmington Hills for students in grades 6-12.

“Before they come to us, our kids have had big struggles in school and because of that they have had a difficult time forming meaningful relationships. Most have been ostracized or traumatized by that experience,” Earls says.

Aim High helps students grow personally, academically and socially by fostering authentic relationships between teachers and students and between students and their peers — overcoming barriers and achieving positive outcomes.

“It sounds simple and may be taken for granted by most,” says Kelly Fitzsimmons, Director of Administration and Advancement at Aim High School. “But when I talk with parents that come to Aim High, the concept of their child building positive relationships with teachers resonates. They’ve seen what failure in school settings looks like but know that if their student has a teacher who connects and devotes time to build a relationship, their student can thrive.”

For better or worse, socially awkward kids can find solace in social media and digital devices, affording them even fewer opportunities to build social skills — and that breeds isolation, says Earls. “Think about the 11-year-old who gets dropped off at a school where they have no connections or friends, where they struggle academically. They often act out. It takes courage to walk into a hostile environment day after day. It adds up,” he says.

Getting to know you

At Aim High, teachers who were carefully selected for their skill of connecting with teens reduce students’ isolation by getting to know them and showing an active interest in what makes them tick. “In larger schools, you don’t always have that luxury, but that effort helps our students begin to trust the adults in their life, and they learn to trust their peers,” says Earls.

Through an innovative approach, teachers at Aim High spend extra time with their students. They’re available for extra academic support in the mornings before class, they eat lunch with students, then join them outside to play frisbee or basketball. “In addition to their core classes, most teach an elective that they are passionate about, like digital art or robotics,” explains Earls. “That helps foster relationships and trust.”

Earls says once students know they are safe and connected, they work hard to succeed because they don’t want to let their teachers down. “And they’re more willing to go outside of their comfort zone,” Fitzsimmons adds.

In the hallways of Aim High School, students and teachers make eye contact and acknowledge each other, an act that is largely absent in the culture of large, traditional school environments.

Ultimately, the relationships students build give them the courage to change their feelings about themselves, Earls says. “It changes their trajectory. If they struggled in school and felt like the square peg, that can take a long time to come back from and sometimes it never happens.”

At Aim High School, educators are proud of the students’ success stories. “A parent stopped by just this morning to share her son’s success at college,” Earls says. “When he came to Aim, he had already attended many schools that just did not get him. He found a place here at Aim and is now thriving.”

Expertise brought to you by Aim High School. Learn more at

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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