Teacher Appreciation Week: SYF Teacher Receives Emmy

There’s a lot to be gained from work on Astronomy: a knowledge of the space, a greater understanding of our place in the universe, and…an Emmy?

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.


ABCs of Simon Youth Foundation

This post was written by Eric Chamberlain, who will serve his last day as SYF's Major Gifts Officer at the end of April.
In my time with SYF, it’s been my privilege to work each day to support education opportunities for young people in communities all across the country. But it’s an even greater privilege to work alongside the many caring individuals who make our work possible. I thought it would be fitting (and a little bit fun) to write an ABCs-themed post in praise of just some of the supporters and educators who have made 12,000 graduates and $12 million in scholarships possible.
B is for Bill, Billy, and Mr. Brown, the three school leaders at our Academies in Nashville, Tenn.
C is for Courtney a teacher in Seattle, Wash.
D is for Dee Dee, the mall manager, and Dennis, an Academy administrator, in Westminster, Calif.
E is for the employees of Simon Property Group, #poweroforange.
F is for Fifth Third Bank, a long-time supporter who recently donated financial literacy curriculum to each of our Academies.
G is for golf and all of the sponsors of Tees for Education.
H is for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, SYF’s most recent school partner.
I is for Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, an event partner and supporter in Indianapolis. By the way, you should sign up.
J is for Jack, the leader of our Academy in Port Charlotte, Fla.
K is for Kay, an Academy teacher in Nashville.
L is for Lena, an SYF Board member from CVS in Detroit.
M is for Masquerade, SYF’s premier gala in October this year honoring Jim Morris.
N is for Nashville Predators Foundation, a foundation supporter in Nashville.
O is for Orlando Premium Outlets, one of two Premium Outlet malls that host an Academy.
P is for PNC Bank in Indianapolis.
Q is for quality education in Simon Youth Academies.
R is for Ryman Hospitality Properties Foundation, a foundation supporter in Nashville.
S is for SMS Holdings and Service Management Services.
T is for The Travelers Companies.
U is for US Security Associates, a corporate supporter in Roswell, Ga.
V is for the volunteers who help us partner with The Color Run Indianapolis.
W is for Mrs. Wyatt, lead principal for our three Academies in Wichita, Kan.
X is for Experts in Residence.
Y is for YOU if you’re reading this.
Z is for Mr. Zobel, an administrator in Whiteland, Ind.
THANKS for all you do for SYF!


To Be Good, Do Good

SYF Board member Sandra Cath with her husband, David Contis,
President, Simon Malls.
David Contis is not an easy man to pin down.

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.


Experts In Residence play a vital mentorship role at Simon Youth Academies

Contributed by Kevin Cutrer, Office Administrator, Copley Place

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.

Two Weeks In: How's Your Resolution Coming?

We went down to the gym at Simon corporate headquarters today to get an unscientific feel for how things are going for New Year’s Resolutions.

The scene was desolate compared to Monday, January 5, but not altogether surprising. A recent study showed that almost 30 percent of resolvers have failed to keep their pledge just two weeks into a New Year. Less than half are still plugging away after six months.

So individuals – who may have vowed to shed a few pounds, stop smoking, or find love – have the odds stacked against them. Most people just can't overcome the hurdle of fulfilling a resolution. But what happens when you ask some folks who are used to being the underdog?

The school leaders at Simon Youth Academies are facing long odds every day. They are working to motivate hundreds of young people with extraordinary circumstances towards a high school diploma, and they do so with a 90 percent success rate. We asked several of them what their resolutions were for their school, and here’s a sample of what we heard:

My goal is to have more community involvement for 2015. I am bringing in a group of mentors for this semester. Go Colts.
Bill Warren, Simon Youth Academy at Old Cockrill (Nashville, TN)

Rose Tree Media Simon Youth Academy's resolution for 2015 is to increase student participation in dual enrollment with Delaware County Community College.
Joe Fuhr, Simon Youth Rose Tree Media Academy (Media, PA)

Improve Students and Staff Attendance
Update & Improve Curriculum and State Level Testing
Have patience
Monitor Student Progress Weekly
Motivate and Engage Disengaged Students across Content Areas.  
Cynthia Bosie-Colbert, Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy (San Antonio, TX)

Implement the Dave Ramsey financial literacy curriculum given to us by 5/3 Bank.
Get at least 50% of our graduates to apply for an SYF scholarship.
That should keep us busy.
Steve Curiel, Simon Youth Coast High School Academy (Westminster, CA)


In celebration of Elaine A. Fahrner - SYF advocate, champion, friend

Contributed by J. Michael Durnil, Ph.D., President and CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

“Elaine Passed” 

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.  

On November 11, 2014, Simon Youth Foundation lost a great friend, advocate and champion. Elaine A. Fahrner served until 2013 as Principal at the Academy at Old Cockrill in Nashville, Tennessee.  In addition to transforming the lives of thousands of her own students, she was instrumental in creating a strong relationship between Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and SYF that is helping thousands more students.

Our SYF success story is still being written in Nashville and in many other communities today because of Elaine; she made it so that you couldn’t say “no” to her.

I remember vividly our first meeting. I was wearing my characteristic bow tie on that day too, and saddle shoes. Upon being introduced to each other, Elaine gave me a skeptical once over and pronounced in her most dignified, genteel southern accent, “You aren’t from around here are you?”  I laugh now, because, I think, she was not posing a question as much as she was offering a statement.

That’s what I loved most about Elaine. She was a keen observer of human behavior and the quintessential personification of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” In her case, a big stick was a heart as big as all get out and the desire to help every student she met, whether the student would admit to needing help or not. You see, Elaine was one of those “old school” teachers. She loved teaching because she believed in the transformative power of education and the basic principle that all students can and should learn.

I always enjoyed going to Nashville to see Elaine in action at her Academy. On more than one occasion, I was privileged to witness and participate in the graduation tradition hosted gleefully by Elaine.  The moment a student earned enough credits to graduate, activity in the halls of Old Cockrill would stop, and students would line up against the corridor walls. 

Elaine would take her place, commanding attention with her charm - and often an air horn - and she would introduce with great fanfare and the newest graduate of The Academy. I loved that the other students would erupt as if they were at a Friday night football game, and all eyes would fall on the graduate as they made their celebratory stroll into the open arms of Elaine and other teachers. As the graduate would strut or sashay down the hall, Elaine’s face would light up with pride and sincere happiness. I always thought, “I hope these students know how lucky they are to have a Principal like her!”

Elaine had an encyclopedic knowledge of each of her students. She knew their aspirations as well as the daily challenges they faced. As we’d walk the halls, she would carry on conversations with each of the students, making sure they knew that she knew. 

I was in awe.

Elaine taught me many things, from the meaning of “meat and three” (a Nashville restaurant that serves meat with three side dishes) to being fearless in support of her students.

Christa McAuliffe is famous for many reasons, but her words are what resonate the most with me. She said, “I touch the future. I teach.”  Truer words could not be spoken about Elaine.  She touched so many lives, including the teachers, students and colleagues she engaged on her path.

We are all better for knowing Elaine, and now we have the opportunity to carry forward her legacy.  I am grateful to her for trusting all of us with it.

All I can say is now is that St. Peter better have an air horn waiting. It’s Elaine’s graduation day, and she set a high standard.

Elaine’s obituary from her family, follows:

Elaine A. Fahrner, devoted friend, partner, sister, and educator-extraordinaire lost her battle with cancer on November 11, 2014.  Elaine was 65 years young.  She was, as always, surrounded by friends who loved her dearly. 

Elaine was born August 2, 1949 in Rushville, Indiana to her proud parents, Charles and Evaleah, who preceded her in death.  It was soon apparent that Elaine was too big for that small town and she left for Ball State after graduation – a band geek with a big future.   She knew she could change the world by helping children believe in their potential, so she became a teacher. 

She taught in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska - which was quite a feat for someone who hated to fly - then settled in Nashville at Glendale Middle School.  Many grateful children remember her classroom as a fun and creative place to learn.  Elaine was often hailed in grocery stores and restaurants around Nashville - “Ms. Fahrner!” – and she would look into their faces and see their 10 year old selves.  She would search her memory and recall their names and their smiles, and she would congratulate them on who they had become.  Once they walked away, she sometimes said “that kid was a mess!”  She obviously fixed them all.  

Elaine went on to teach at East Literature and Martha Vaught Middle School, where she eventually became principal.   Metro schools then made a decision that would impact the dreams and ambitions of hundreds of Nashville students when they gave Elaine the opportunity to fulfill her own dream of opening a non-traditional high school for Nashville students.  The Academy at Old Cockrill has been creating second chances for at-risk kids since 2009 by offering inspired, and inspiring, alternative curriculum to students who have not otherwise been able to earn a diploma.  Elaine had found her place – and in doing so, she helped so many others find theirs.  She gathered together other educators who believed in her vision, and together they changed our world by guiding their students in reaching their potential.  Ask anyone who went to Old Cockrill about Ms. Fahrner and they will tell you that she believed in them – every single one.

When she wasn’t changing lives at work, she was changing her golf score. We don’t want to say that she shaved strokes – that would be a lie – but she did win a lot.  She loved golf because it was a challenge, but mostly because she got to spend time with friends and have beverages delivered right to her cart.  For 10 years, she and her dear friend Suzanne Bradford hosted the Fahrford golf tournament - a coveted, invitation-only, best-ball scramble.  An invitation to the Fahrford signaled your arrival – not necessarily to the golfing elite, but to the elite world of special friends and extraordinary fun. 

Elaine is survived by her partner/spouse  Cindy Dempsey, sister Juli and her partner Tammy Hope and their daughter Kati, brother Greg and his wife Becky and their daughter Aimee Jo, her in-laws Jean and Ben Dempsey, Cheryl Dempsey, Ben and Sarah Dempsey and their daughters Elizabeth (Luke) and Paige.  

Elaine’s natural story-telling ability was well-known, with a delivery that was deliberate, embellished and perfectly timed.  She loved her mother’s deviled eggs made with candied dill pickles.   She loved her friends – relationships maintained over many years and in numbers too many to mention (but you know who you are).  Elaine never failed to mesmerize a crowd – we were all captivated students to her knowledge and wit.  She leaves a hole as big as her personality and as deep as her loyalty. She will be missed beyond words.  

Near the end, Elaine said this: “I lived a life with no regrets.  I was able to start the school of my dreams and I married the love of my life”.  What more could you ask?


Bullying is preventable. Learn how you can help stop it before it starts.

We’ve all been there.  Or we've witnessed it.  Or we’ve seen the damage and the hurt. ​Maybe, just maybe, we were the ones who were doing it.  We were the ones being the bully.  Or watching someone getting bullied, and we laughed or we did nothing.

​Depicted on television and in movies for years, a part of our literature for centuries, and an unfortunate corollary to the Information Age, bullying (and cyber-bullying) have entered the forefront of the public consciousness as behavior that is no longer either cool or acceptable.

​October is Bullying Awareness Month.  We at Simon Youth Foundation encounter the effects of bullying in our Academies every day.  Many of our students come to our schools because they have been bullied to the point of wanting to drop out. And we all know the average economic and career prospects of a high school dropout in 21st-century America.

​Cyber bullying is particularly harsh due to its very nature—the threat and the consequences are there every hour of every day.  A note passed in class is one thing, but the same words written on Facebook or other avenues of social media carry a sting that is nearly impossible to escape.

​Simon Youth Foundation embraces our role in serving students who have been bullied and helping them chart a course that rebuilds their self-respect, emphasizes consideration for others, and creates a new path to Graduation Day. ​It is our mission to provide these students with opportunities to succeed, and it is our responsibility to deliver and reinforce the message that bullying and cyber bullying are unacceptable in any environment.

Bullying is, without question, a circumstance that leads many students to Simon Youth Academies. And it is a circumstance that is largely preventable by a concerted effort from fellow students, friends, adults and mentors in these students' lives. Learn more about bullying, cyber bullying, and how to stop it before it starts. Visit to read about the effects of bullying on kids and their educational opportunities. 


The ribbons are cut at two new Simon Youth Academies!

Within the span of two weeks, Simon Youth Foundation opened two new Simon Youth Academy spaces – one in Orlando, FL and one in Westminster, CA.  Both Academy spaces will expand the capacity of existing successful programs.  Both offer at-risk students a welcoming, state-of-the-art alternative high school setting.  Both demonstrate the power of partnerships . . . and the Power of Orange.

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?”

In Westminster, CA, SYF has partnered with Huntington Beach Union High School District and Westminster Mall to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program since 2003. The new Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall will expand capacity to serve students at the mall, and now through an affiliated second site, Simon Youth Coast High School Academy.

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace, Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall and Simon Youth Coast High School Academy will be among 22 Simon Youth Academies nationwide that exist to help at-risk students stay in school. To-date, SYF has graduated more than 12,000 students, awarded more than $12 million in scholarships and maintained a 90% cumulative graduation rate across all Academies.

In Orlando, the existing program has served more than 650 students, and Simon Malls in the Orlando area have awarded $234,000 to local college-bound high school students.  In Westminster, the existing program has served more than 600 students, and Simon Malls in the Orange County, CA area have awarded $98,000 to local college-bound high school students.  

Join in recognizing our graduates on American Graduate Day

At Simon Youth Foundation, we believe graduation day is an amazing stop on life's journey. No matter how you got there, the challenges you faced, or the obstacles you overcame, the day you graduated from high school is one that you will never forget.

American Graduate Day is Saturday, September 27th, and we're marking this national conversation about education by celebrating the achievements of our Simon Youth Academy graduates.  We will join the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WFYI, and in touting not only the importance of the day, but also brag a little bit about the achievements of our students.

We are enormously proud of our graduates, and we salute them, their families, their teachers, and their mentors on the collective work it took to reach this day.  SYF remains committed to working with our partners to ensure that our students attain this goal.  Anyone familiar with our work knows that we fight every day to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth and help them develop the life skills and devotion necessary not only to graduate from high school, but to succeed beyond that.

Please listen to your local public broadcasting station for stories about students achieving the goal of becoming a high school graduate.  Listen to their stories as they recount their journeys and make it clear that the best is yet to come.

In Indianapolis, tune into WFYI at 4:24 p.m. on Saturday, September 27, 2024 to learn more about SYF.  Follow @wfyi and @simon_youth on Twitter, and use #AmGradIndy to join in the conversation and celebrate our graduates!


Celebrate Constitution Day by Supporting Civic Literacy

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 (, 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 For more information about civic literacy, including access to national resources and research, please visit