Whenever SYF comes up in conversation, Milt Burnett’s enthusiasm takes over.
Milt is the former superintendent of schools in Peabody, Massachusetts, and currently an Expert in Residence consulting with Simon Youth Academies across the United States. The Expert in Residence (EIR) program was designed as a support mechanism for Academy administrators. Milt and the other EIR’s meet a variety of needs, alternately giving advice and encouragement while helping administrators forge relationships with school boards, advisory councils, Simon management, mall retailers, parents, and students.
“Sometimes,” Milt says, “Academy administrators simply need someone to talk to.”
One of the most important issues EIRs and administrators discuss is maintaining the regular attendance of students who are on the verge of dropping out of school. These students, who may have felt neglected or forgotten in prior educational environments, must be assured that the academy is an inviting place.
“The kids who come to Simon Academies thrive in a small environment,” Milt explains. “They are not lost.”
The small classrooms of Simon Academies (which serve no more than 50 students) make them an ideal place for these students who have fallen behind in more densely packed classrooms.
Milt’s involvement with SYF began while he was still the superintendent of schools in Peabody. Peabody is a small city north of Boston with a population just above 51,000. One year, 74 students dropped out of high school, the highest rate the city had ever seen.
“That’s a lot,” Milt said, “and it’s certainly a lot for a school system like Peabody’s.”
At the time, Milt recalled an SYF presentation he had attended at the invitation of Mark Whiting, general manager of Northshore Mall in Peabody and a member of the Peabody Education Council. Milt admits that his initial reaction to the presentation was skepticism.
“They were talking about building classrooms in the mall,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!’”
Now faced with the growing drop-out problem, Milt began to reconsider SYF. He visited the Simon Youth Academy at Granite Run Mall in Philadelphia, where he had the opportunity to speak with some of the students. One 16-year-old student said that, without the Simon Academy, she would have dropped out of school. Milt was convinced that a Simon Academy was just the thing that Peabody needed. On the flight home, he and Mark Whiting sketched out how they would bring one to their school district.
“As of last year, they have graduated fifty-two students,” Milt said, with a note of pride in his voice. “That’s fifty-two young people who were on the verge of dropping out of high school who now have high school diplomas.”
Since his retirement, Milt has remained active in SYF through his role as an EIR. He regularly attends Simon Youth Foundation’s annual regional conferences. The Academies, Milt says, is a key component of these gatherings. EIRs lead discussion groups on a wide range of topics, sharing experience and ideas for better serving students. Administrators return from these meetings with new ideas to implement in their classrooms, and perhaps more importantly, a feeling of support and community that EIRs like Milt help to reinforce throughout the year.
Bill Warren, Simon Youth Academy at Old Cockrill (Nashville, TN)
The text was simple, yet overwhelming. These two words were not the way I wanted to start my day, but had I allowed the message to interrupt work at SYF, Elaine would have been disappointed. So I tied my orange bow tie, and I did my best to shake off the sting of this sad news.
In Orlando, SYF has partnered since 2001 with Orange County Public Schools and Simon Malls to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program. When the program outgrew its former site, Outlet Marketplace on International Drive stepped in to help create Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace. As the first student walked through the door for the first day of school on September 25, 2014, he exclaimed to his classmates, “Wow! This is the best school ever. Can you believe this is ours?”
September 17th is Constitution Day in the United States. Since it’s not a national holiday in the outdoor BBQ sense, it will probably not be on anyone’s radar.
And that’s a shame.
In all of recorded history, are there any documents that rise above the U.S. Constitution in its impact on human freedom? Perhaps a few…but in the family photo of such things, our Constitution is in the first row, front and center.
Civic literacy is something we associate with the social studies curriculum in primary and secondary school. Based on statistics gleaned from just about every poll and survey in the public domain, civics—government, history, etc.—is something perhaps learned, but quickly forgotten.
According to the Civic Mission of Schools web site (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org), the numbers reflecting the adult population’s understanding of basic American civics is less a report and more of an indictment. One-third of Americans could name all three branches of the federal government; one-third couldn't name any. Only 47 percent of Americans know that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same weight as a 9-0 decision.
Not yet worried about the future of our democracy? In mid-term elections (when
the presidency is not on the ballot), turnout has not broken 50 percent for the past 16 cycles.
What is the foundation of this apathy? Is it the polarization of our political discourse in general? The busy lives of people as they go about their daily business? The weather? All or none of the above?
Or, sadly, is it weakness in civic literacy education? A sense of civic responsibility is best planted when our children are surrounded by smart teachers who inculcate the benefits of knowing how our system of government works, how it was constructed, and why men and women have fought and died to preserve it.
The Simon Youth Foundation is dedicated to working with our schools and ancillary organizations to raise the level of civic awareness among our students. Through an increased understanding and enthusiasm about the role of citizens in government, we hope to make civic literacy a point of pride.
Our nation is passing through one of its greatest periods of trial in our 238-year history. We need everyone—regardless of income or education level—to pay attention to the currents of democracy.
While rising to the occasion has always been a hallmark of the American people, we cannot rely on this phenomenon as a means of addressing the critical problems of our country and its future. The civic responsibility inherent in the freedoms we all enjoy demands a literacy rate far above our current standards.
For more on Constitution Day, please visit http://www.constitutionday.com. For more information about civic literacy, including access to national resources and research, please visit http://civicliteracy.iupui.edu.
|Jeremy Garriga, Scholarship Recipient|
The calendar tells me it’s “back to school” time, but I am still thinking about an experience I had during this past spring’s graduation season. I have the privilege to represent SYF at Simon Youth Academy graduations, and my very favorite part of this experience is standing in the receiving line of well-wishers and shaking the hands of graduates as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas.
|2014 Graduates from Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall|