June 22, 2015
The Simon Youth Foundation team traveled a cumulative 15,857 miles attending graduation ceremonies at Simon Youth Academies. Within the span of 5 weeks, SYF staff traveled to 18 academy graduation ceremonies at 15 different locations.
Simon Youth Foundation partnership districts graduated a total of 910 students for the spring semester 2015 year from our 22 academies. For the 2015 year, SYF awarded 300 scholarships in 38 states and Puerto Rico totaling $1,232,700. An interactive map of our travels can be found below.
Michael Durnil, President at Simon Youth Foundation, traveled to a portion of the academy graduations where he delivered greetings from SYF to the graduates of our Simon Youth Academies. The text of his speech follows.
It is my great honor to represent Simon Youth Foundation to share in this celebration with you!
As I was thinking about this graduation season, a saying popped into my head: “You don’t always get what you wish for, you get what you work for.”
I thought about this the other day as I was walking through a Simon mall and came across our Simon Youth Foundation wishing well.
If you spend a lot of time in the mall, you know what I’m talking about. Every Simon mall across the country has a “wishing well” for spare change.
People come by – usually little kids, but I’ve seen you adults who race the coins around the drain and think no one is watching – they close their eyes, make a wish, and drop in their coin.
Did anyone here used to be a little kid? OK…a few of you. So you know what kinds of things little kids wish for: fame and fortune, to be able to fly, super powers. I used to wish my sister would get sold into the circus.
Regardless of what your wish was, needless to say the wishes of little children do not usually come true.
Why is that? First, because they aren’t realistic. Second, because most people don’t actually try to make these wishes happen.
While I never really worked at selling my sister into the circus, I’m not sure they would have even taken her even if I did.
We don’t get the things we wish for. We get the things we work for.
But on days like today, the thing we wish for and the thing we work for intersect, and to me, and all of us at SYF – that is what is inspirational.
I have been fortunate enough to meet hundreds of SYF students over the years, and almost everyone started out wishing:
Wishing that there was a school where they fit in.
Wishing that there were teachers looking out for them.
Wishing that they could just graduate and get a job that pays more than minimum wage.
Wishing that they could somehow find a way to get to college.
Wishing for something better.
If these were only wishes none of us would be here today. Instead, you showed up. You worked hard. You studied. You made this happen. Of course, you didn’t do it alone.
I’m sure each one of you can think back and find one inspirational person – maybe several inspirational people – who believed in you and help you get to this day.
Maybe it was a parent or grandparent who supported you, encouraged you to continue your education, and worked long hours to provide for your family.
Or maybe it was one of your Academy colleagues who believed in you, challenged you, and pushed you to do your best.
Now, as a graduate, you have a role in helping out the next group of Simon Youth Academy students.
Across the country, we have 22 Academies like this, and there are more than 13,000 Simon Youth Academy graduates across the country.
Today, you are joining that alumni group and you have the opportunity to be an inspirational figure for someone who comes behind you.
So I encourage you to stay connected with us and tell us about your success. You can find us online (and for those of you who posted your Class of 2015 selfie, you may have already found us).
Or you can walk back through your classroom doors and reconnect with your teachers. I’m sure they’ll love it.
And whenever you’re back in the mall, I hope you find the SYF wishing well. You’ll never be too old to stop, take a coin from your pocket, and make a wish.
Before I end my comments today, I want to ask you to do one more thing for me.
Close your eyes.
Now, instead of making a wish – take in this moment – this is what it feels like when a wish comes true.
On behalf of the Simon Youth Foundation Board of Directors, I offer my sincere congratulations to you, the graduating class of 2015!
View photos from those events on our flickr page . If you have your own photos, be sure to upload them to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #SYF2015.
June 16, 2015
Coast High School was one of the 41 high schools to participate in the nation's largest solar-powered boat competition, the Solar Cup. Despite being one of 9 first-time participating schools, Coast took home the Bart Bezyack Memorial Spirit of Solar Cup Trophy Teamwork Award.
Solar Cup is a seven-month school program where students build and race 16-foot, single-seat boats powered using only solar energy. The team-based competition allows students to use their skills in math, physics, engineering and technology. Throughout the program, students are able to learn about water resources, alternative energy resources and electrical and mechanical engineering. The Solar Cup features a 1 kilometer endurance race and a 200 meter sprint race that teams compete in.
As part of the program, students must create a public service message lasting 30-60 seconds and incorporate this years theme of "Don't Waste Another Minute Wasting Water". Coast High School received the highest score for their public service message with a perfect score of 250. Teams were scored based on their creativity, originality and message effectiveness, among other categories.
The three-day annual event began on May 16th at Lake Skinner in Temecula Valley, California. Participating teams come from six counties in the metropolitan area.
Congratulations, Coast High School!
Simon Youth Coast High School Academy is located in Huntington Beach, California and is in partnership with Huntington Beach Union High School District.
June 9, 2015
Before I go into my speech I need to thank many valuable people. I would like to first thank The Academy students, staff, district leaders, and family members for making my first year as principal so magical.
Now, to the graduates. Congratulations graduates for completing a major milestone in your life that no one can ever take away from you. YOU earned your diploma and you deserve it! Graduating from high school is a rite of passage, a stepping stone into the adult life.
So, what’s next? College, Charlotte Technical Center, Military, or the workforce? I hope it’s one of those four options and not the fifth option which is living in your parent’s house until your 40 eating cereal, playing video games, and getting lost in social media.
I don’t want to put pressure on you, because you will find your way, and it will take some time. You will go through several life transitions, different jobs, and possibly various careers before you finally find your true calling.
The key is that you must be persistent and determined to be successful. Whatever you may choose, I wish you all the success possible. Always remember that you have a caring and loving staff at The Academy who will be there if you need support, guidance, or just hug.
My advice to you is short, sweet, and to the point: Pursue your happiness.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? When asked what one wants out of life, most respond with the statement, “I just want to be happy.” Easier said than done.
What is happiness? Many would say that having plenty of money, achieving social status, or owning many materialistic items will bring them happiness. Deep down all of us know this is found not be true.
This is evident when my wife makes me painstakingly watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians. They seem to have money, status, and the finest things money can buy, but are they happy? No, they are a train wreck.
This show and many others give young Americans a false perception of what happiness truly means. The happiness that I am discussing is long term. The happiness that will get you through your most trying times.
I personally cannot tell exactly what will bring you happiness. What I can say is that your achievement of receiving a high school diploma today brings everyone in here happiness.
I can tell you that waking up each day to go to a job that you love will bring you happiness. I can tell you that the day you find your true love and best friend will bring you happiness. I can tell you the day you’re watching your favorite sports team win a championship will bring you happiness (Go Irish).
How about when you are driving in heavy traffic and make every green light? Sweet. What a great sense of happiness when you are the one who found the last three cookies in the cookie jar.
What am I getting at? I am referring to the simple things in life that make us happy. Keep life simple. Surround yourself with others who are in the pursuit of true happiness and you will find it.
Don’t mistake me, it will not be an easy journey. What eases my concerns is that through your choice of attending The Academy and finishing gives me a great indication that you will fight until you find your happiness.
Sydney Harris said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place.”
Are you headed in the right direction?
You are a great class. I wish you all the best!
I love you guys!
May 4, 2015
That’s what happened to Dennis Tabor, the Science Chair at Wichita Public Schools and a teacher at Simon Youth Academy at Towne West Square. According to a recent report from Cowley College, where Tabor serves as an adjunct professor, Tabor served as a subject matter expert for the series “Astronomy: Observations & Theories”.
"I collaborated with a team of subject matter experts to update the video series and the supplemental materials,” Tabor said. “At one point, I had the brief pleasure of discussing house renovations with one of the actors in the series, Neil deGrasse Tyson. My main job was to revise and edit script and video treatments for specific programs in the series."
A year later, Tabor received a phone call that the video series had won an Emmy Award in the “Best Instructional Programming” category.
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and we would like to thank the faculty and staff at the 22 Simon Youth Academies across the country. Every day, these public school teachers are doing amazing things with at-risk students. That work will never be forgotten. But these world-class teachers are also making a significant impact outside of the classroom. Tabor’s Emmy is a perfect example of that.
The only drawback seems to be that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is slow. The series was chosen in 2006, but Tabor’s Emmy just arrived this year.
From an astrologist’s perspective, nine years is just a blink of an eye.
April 24, 2015
March 12, 2015
|SYF Board member Sandra Cath with her husband, David Contis, |
President, Simon Malls.
Contis, President, Simon Malls, has been the Executive Chair of Simon Youth Foundation's annual Employee Contribution Campaign for the last four years. In that time, employee donations to SYF have nearly doubled, this year topping $528,000.
A few months ago, we set out to thank David with a small token of appreciation: a framed saying that his mother has always reminded him. "Do good to be good."
It took us months to find the right time to formally present David with the gift. It took SYF Board member Sandra Cath, David's wife, to convince him to attend a reception for our new board members.We used that opportunity to present him with a special gift capturing a special quote in his life.
This small ceremony wrapped up a month of appreciation for us at SYF. Earlier in the month, hundreds of Simon employees from around the country came to Indianapolis for the Simon Annual Meeting.
SYF always looks forward to these company-wide meetings, as it gives us an opportunity to thank individual employees from all Simon properties for the things they do every day to help change students' lives.
For us, the biggest opportunity to thank the employees came at the SYF Appreciation luncheon. We turned the Grand Ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel orange, and told those in attendance how much their commitment of time, energy, and money, how they are making a difference.
|SYF Appreciation Luncheon guests had thank you notes |
signed by Academy students at their tables.
This year, Simon malls -- through events, wishing wells, collecting donations at Guest Services, and more -- contributed more than $2 million to the Simon Youth Foundation, allowing us to continue reaching at-risk youth at our 22 Simon Youth Academies and through our Simon Youth Scholarship program.
Search the hashtag #THANKYOUSIMON on Facebook and Twitter to see some of the amazing ways Simon employees helped this year, and see more photos of their contributions by visiting our #THANKYOUSIMON flickr page.
February 10, 2015
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.
January 13, 2015
Bill Warren, Simon Youth Academy at Old Cockrill (Nashville, TN)
November 14, 2014
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.
October 9, 2014
October 3, 2014
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 26, 2014
September 17, 2014
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.
September 10, 2014
|Jeremy Garriga, Scholarship Recipient|
September 3, 2014
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|