Destination: Circle Centre
The following guest post was written by Teresa James-Robinson, the coordinator at SYF’s newest school: Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre.
“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you about your destination.” -Drake
In May of 2015, I found myself at a crossroads. I loved my school, my students, and my job, but there had been a change in leadership that required me to leave. In spite of the usual frustrations that many educators experience, I held my position for three years, and during that time, I built meaningful relationships with students and staff.
There were some students who I was powerless to help. I often lacked the resources and the time needed to provide my students with the support they needed to graduate. Many of my students faced the insurmountable odds we all hear about in inner city schools; challenges that would have derailed me, but were just a part of their everyday life. Although I cared and I did all I could, it never seemed to be enough. Kids were simply disappearing from our school before graduating, and in May 2015, it looked as though I was going to disappear as well, leaving many of my students with one less supportive adult.
As I was trying to figure out my next step, I found an interesting prospect. There was a new program opening in the Indianapolis Public School Corporation, and they needed a school leader. This program would be opening in, of all places, the mall! This “mall school” would cater to the students I struggled to help; students who were at risk of not graduating. Since I am a lifelong urban educator and shopper, I joked with many of my friends by telling them that God had sent me the perfect job: A school for the kids that I gravitate toward IN A MALL! Genius! I applied immediately and was fortunate enough to be given the position.
Thus began my journey.
The first person I met from the Simon Youth Foundation was John, our architect. He spent the past few months working on the school and planning the build out process. I couldn’t believe that anyone would spend that much time and pay that much attention to a school for students most people want to keep hidden away. He was committed to providing our students with a warm, welcoming, first class environment that was focused on them and their needs.
I have always said that if a school wasn’t good enough for my own children, it wasn’t good enough for my students. I felt like John was designing a school I would be proud to have my children attend. I couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Over the next three months, I watched the transformation take place. I met John at the space every week and was initially greeted weekly by this huge black wall in the lobby area, which I was assured would one day display the signature Simon Youth Foundation orange. I told John that when I saw the orange wall, then I would know that everything was real.
The journey was slow but steady. Each week there was something new. I celebrated the HVAC installation. The carpet brought tears to my eyes. By the time the orange wall was REALLY TRULY SYF Orange, I screamed! It was really happening! My students, the students that I couldn’t support in my past position, were really going to get the school they deserved! I went out and found them. I told them about my new school, and how there would be a place for them where they could go and be a part of a small, caring community. A community that would provide them the resources they needed to graduate, as long as they had the desire. We received over 100 applicants.
Eventually, we had our opening day. I cannot describe the joy I felt when the first students began to file into the academy. They looked around in awe, almost afraid to sit down or touch anything. It was as if they couldn’t believe that all of this was for them. They were so amazed that someone cared enough to give them this space to learn. It was heartwarming.
Our students take so much pride in our school. I have caught them wiping crumbs off of tables with their hands and looking for cleanser to remove dry erase marker from tables. One afternoon, the custodian inadvertently knocked over a mop bucket extremely close to the carpet, and the students practically dove on the ground to catch the water! I’m not sure if it was their pride or their fear that I would see a mess in the academy, either way, they recognized that this place was special.
In addition, I have seen the light in my students’ eyes where I once saw darkness. This is a place where they know they are safe, they know they are cared about, and they know that they will be supported so that they can be successful and achieve their dreams. It is nothing short of magical.
So what did this journey teach me about the destination? Well, I know that achieving our goal of graduating students who had no hope of graduating will take a lot of planning, a lot of patience, and a laser-like focus. There will be challenges and setbacks (like the lift that backed into that orange wall!), but perseverance will get us through. In the end, the most important lesson I have learned from the journey is that it takes many people working together toward a common goal to make it a reality. I am so thankful for the journey thus far, and I look forward to our continued travels toward the destination.