SYF gets national attention as American Education Week kicks off

This week is American Education Week, a week-long event that celebrates public education and honors the individuals who are making a difference in students’ lives. This year’s theme is “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.

American Education Week brings added significance to what is already an important week for Simon Youth Foundation. On Tuesday, we will cut the ribbon on our 25th school: Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre.

When SYF started in 1998, the decision was made to partner with public school districts to provide them with the resources they need — but often lack — to reach students at risk of dropping out of high school. Our support of public education remains strong to this day.

Our efforts earned national attention recently from U.S. News & World Report in an article about alternative education options.

In Nashville, students ages 17 to 21 at risk of not graduating or who need to graduate quickly to focus on their family or other outside needs can earn their diploma at three Simon Youth Academies ​located throughout the district, says Bill Warren, executive lead principal for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, who oversees the program.

“It’s a smaller setting where they have more support. They have the ability to formulate meaningful connections with the faculty, and we are really involved in their lives,” he says. “They get it and they understand that we are here to help them.”

Students can take classes year-round ​and hours are flexible, so students who have jobs or children can work school around their schedules, he says.

While operated by the district, the academies are funded by Simon Youth Foundation, a nonprofit closely affiliated with Simon Malls, which also provides scholarship opportunities to the students. The organization funds more than 20 of these academies across the country and many of them, including one of the academies in Nashville, are housed inside the company’s malls.

Since the academies opened in Nashville six years ago, more than 2,000 students have graduated, says Warren. And most of these students normally wouldn’t have graduated, he says.

School corporations in each of our partner communities are experiencing similar results. To date, more than 13,000 students have graduated from our 25 Simon Youth Academies.

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