Simon Youth Foundation Names Lauren B. Rapp as New Communications Director

Simon Youth Foundation (SYF) announced that Lauren B. Rapp has been named Director of Communications. In her role, Rapp will lead strategic communications efforts to elevate the Foundation and its mission to provide educational opportunities and scholarships in communities that are home to Simon Properties and Simon Youth Academies.

“As a former teacher, Lauren understands the critical issues facing today’s students and teachers,” said President and CEO J. Michael Durnil. “We look forward to leveraging her deep experience in the classroom and in the education nonprofit sector to help the Foundation achieve its ambitious goals in the years ahead.”

A Chicagoland native, Rapp most recently served as Manager of Communications and Development for The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund), a nonprofit that has raised and invested more than $74 million to improve Chicago’s public schools. She joined The Fund as a Policy and Advocacy Fellow through Leadership for Educational Equity in 2013, with increasing roles and responsibilities over the last five years.

Among her accomplishments, Rapp conceptualized, designed and executed Chicago’s first-ever Principal Appreciation Campaign; built and strengthened The Fund’s digital, social and earned media presence; and helped raise $20 million by stewarding and cultivating investors from corporate, civic and philanthropic backgrounds.

Prior to her work in the nonprofit sector, Rapp was a classroom teacher in traditional, charter and private school settings for five years. She began her career as a Teach For America teacher on Chicago’s South Side, and then taught at The Oaks Academy, a private pre-K-8 school that serves children of diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds through three campuses in Indianapolis.

Rapp received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in Communications and Culture from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2008. She completed the Illinois Teaching Certification Program through her coursework at Dominican University’s Graduate School of Education in 2009. She is married to John T. Rapp, an Analyst for the Knall/Cohen/Pence Group of Stifel. They have one daughter, Elizabeth.

Academy Student Finds Authentic Self and Academic Success

The featured student address this week comes from a member of the 2017 Simon Youth Clark-Pleasant Academy graduating class, Eric Robinson.

Eric’s Graduation Address:

I made an unspoken promise to myself to spend a maximum of two hours on this speech. Please understand that it took a lot to make that happen. The recovering perfectionist inside of me would much rather have spent countless days and nights typing and retyping this speech to absolute perfection.

2017 graduate, Eric Robinson, receives award from Principal Lesleigh Groce

If you would have asked Eric Robinson four months ago where he thought he would be right now, he most definitely would not have said, “at the Clark-Pleasant Academy.” He probably would have said that he thought he would be studying his butt off at a Starbucks and working for those “oh so perfect” semester grades.

I have always been an overachiever. Typically students would take pride in such a descriptor, but my compulsiveness to constantly succeed got in the way of my own personal happiness. At high school, I was that silent studier with a dangerous ambition to succeed. To get the highest grade. To outperform every living, breathing human being in what seemed like my infinite radius. This egocentrism and perfectionism all rooted from one central desire: to gain the respect and praise of others. I know, it sounds selfish. Modern psychology would indicate that those who need others’ respect are compensating for a steady lack of self-respect. Herein lies the issue that brought me to the Academy.

Although I was that seemingly perfect student, president of my choir, even an athlete, I did it all in search of some praise or respect from others that would make me feel better about myself. But the thing is that even when I did receive praise, I only wanted more. It took coming to the Academy to even begin realizing that my self-worth is in no way contingent upon my performance. And also that overachieving is of no value if your motivation is only to earn the respect of others.

In September, when this pulsing need for perfection resulted in a mental breakdown, I realized that what others think or will think or could think about Eric Robinson does not matter. Being the best does not ultimately matter. Being the star athlete /singer/student does not matter.


No amount of success or praise will change my personal happiness if I lack self-acceptance anyway. I can proudly say that the Academy helped me begin to develop self-confidence. I also knew that I had to develop self-respect and have the ability to believe my life philosophy whole-heartedly. Which brings me to my life philosophy: success is not measured by anything other than how well we, as human beings, love and pour into the lives of others. Mother Theresa, St. Francis, Jesus Christ; these individuals experienced success because they set aside personal desires and devoted their lives to helping others. I honestly do not believe success is determined by what rung you make it to on the fiscal ladder, or what Ivy League college you attend. Upon having a mental breakdown and coming to the Academy, I was able to humble myself and start to realize that.

Since being at the Academy, I have finally relinquished what insecurities were keeping me from respecting myself and accepting this philosophy that puts others first.

Simon Youth, this Academy that you so graciously fund has helped me to respect myself, see perfectionism as the enemy, and ultimately live in a way that rejects the concept of personal success defined by a fiscal ladder, academic success and popularity.

Thank you.


My Summer at SYF

On my first day as SYF’s Communications Intern, I did not really know what to expect. I had never worked in a corporate office before, let alone held a real, full time job in the summer, with the exception of nannying and the summer I worked as a camp counselor. I started my first day, excited, nervous and eager to learn. On that first day, my new CEO, who would later become a great mentor and friend, dabbed in the staff meeting, my boss, at the time, filmed a video of us promoting the new SYF Simon VISA Giftcard for a social media post and I spent the rest of my day updating our social media pages and writing sample social media posts. I remember going home and telling my parents that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Within the first few weeks, I was given a lot more responsibility than I was expecting, due to some unforeseen circumstances. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise truthfully, as I was able to learn more and do more than I would have otherwise.

Looking back, my favorite memories from this summer have been from SYF’s Tees For Education golf outing and the Founders Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After the staff’s preliminary duties were completed, it was great to be able to socialize with my coworkers out of the office, and the guests of the events as well.

My least favorite part of the summer was creating the Q3 Media Board Report and the Q3 Awareness Report. I had never done anything like this before, which resulted in feeling insecure about my abilities to do so. As much as I hated doing it though, it was a great learning experience and I will now be able to create more media reports with ease, should a future employer task me with such.

Throughout the summer, I have learned more about social media and communications than I ever thought I would. In thinking about my future as a journalist, I was sure that I would not need to know how to use Microsoft Excel or know how to create a quarterly media recap for the Board of Directors. This internship has opened my eyes to how naïve I was, to think I was only going to be writing articles and that was all that I needed to know how to do.

The work that SYF does on a daily basis is not easy for me to put into words, because at times it can leave you with overwhelming emotion. I had the privilege to spend some time with the staff and students of the 2017 Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre Mall graduating class. While these students were close to me in age, the experiences and hardships that some of them faced was unfathomable to me, and that they were still able to come to school with a smile on their face. These students showed me firsthand that no matter how hard life gets, there is always a way for you to come out on the other side.

I am very thankful for colleagues who embraced me with open ears and arms, and who made coming to work everyday fun…not to say that working in and of itself is not fun! I am so thankful for the relationships that I was able to build while at SYF and will continue after my internship is over.

In a small office space, on the second floor of Simon Tower, lives the world of SYF, full of people who were once strangers, but are now, my friends.

In Blog

Academy student transforms challenges into success

2017 graduate and scholarship recipient, Zoe DeSantis, with her mom and Burlington Mall Manager, Matthew Bourassa.


The featured student address this week comes from scholarship winner and member of the 2017 Simon Youth Academy at Burlington graduating class, Zoe DeSantis.

Zoe is the recipient of a four-year scholarship, totaling $32,000. She will attend Mount Ida College, in Newton, MA, with the hopes of earning a degree as a veterinary technician.

Zoe’s Graduation Address:

Good evening family, friends, teachers, our special guests from the Simon Youth Foundation and most importantly, my fellow graduates.  Can you believe it? Four years ago we walked into these halls as nervous, little freshman.  Now, those same four years later, we are leaving the school behind for a whole new crowd of students, most of whom will be just as scared and nervous as we were when we walked into these unknown halls.  It truly has been a long four years. four years filled with drama, hard homework, boring projects and blank essay papers.  It has also been a short four years because of the long filled friendships, fun lasting memories and truly the most amazing and interesting things that we have learned about here at Burlington High School.

I keep having to remind myself that it is not the end, it’s just the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. Some of us are going to college while others are joining the military or starting a family.  We are all here tonight because our stories are not traditional.  For reasons as unique as all of us, we decided to attend the Simon Youth Academy at Burlington.  Many of our stories include difficulties and challenges, but we have finally made it to this important day.

It is those difficulties and challenges that have made us who we are today.  It hasn’t always been easy, but we have made it through.  None of us would be here this evening if we had not put in the effort over the last 12 years of our education.  As many of you know, that effort does not always come easily.  Over the last 12 years, I switched schools districts four times.  It was very difficult for me, especially, to always be known as the ¨new girl¨ and having to make new friends all over again.  At times, it was very challenging to put in the effort to start a new school or to make new friends.  At times, I just wanted to give up, and at times, I know that many of you wanted to give up as well.  We all have many challenges that we face in life, but I want to applaud all of you for never giving up or never throwing in the towel.

In closing, I want to thank my mom for her endless love and support, and more importantly, for dragging me out of bed many mornings.  I wanted to also thank my brother, who is currently serving our country over in Afghanistan, for always believing that no matter what people said.  I can do anything that I put my mind to. I also want to thank my aunts for their endless texts and nagging to get me to school; I now realize it was all done out of love.  Finally, I want to wish my fellow graduates the best of luck in everything that you do in life, and I want to leave you with one of my favorite inspirational quotes from Dr. Seuss:

“You have brains in your head.  You have feet in your shoes.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Congratulations class of 2017!


Former Student Returned to Share Her Advice

The featured student graduation address this week comes from Briana Johnson, a 2016 graduate of Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall, who returned to her Alma mater to give an encouraging message to the Academy at Westminster Mall’s 2017 graduating class.

It is a true testament to the work that the Academies do when former students are able to give back and share their wisdom with new graduates.

Since her graduation, Briana has attended Cerritos College to pursue a degree in Nursing.

Briana’s graduation address:

Good evening fellow graduates, Principal Curiel, Mr. Villamor, Trustee Ms. Iverson, Dr. Bryan, Dr. Durnil, honored guests, family and friends. Thank you for being here tonight to honor these graduates, and congratulations to the Class of 2017. You did it, with determination.

Last June, I was sitting here just like all of you graduates. Anxious, with my cap and gown on, wondering what life had in store for me when I finally held that diploma in my hand. The teachers and staff of Simon Youth Coast High School Academy helped me realize that I had more potential than I knew.


In fall 2015, I finished my high school credits. However, I saw an open opportunity to strive to become the most successful person I could be. Shortly after finishing my credits the Coast High School Academy, I enrolled at Cerritos College a few months later. College was challenging and a huge step for me considering I was the first to graduate high school, let alone go to college, in my family. I can now say that I am one step closer to becoming a physician. I can now say I am one step closer to making an impact in our community. Along the way, there have been trials and tribulations, but I’ve managed to always take the good with the bad and I think we have all done that.

I know pursing your careers in times that are troubled is a challenge, but it is also a privilege because it’s moments like these that force us to try harder, to dig deeper, and to discover gifts we never knew we had and to find the greatness that lies within each of us. So don’t ever shy away from that endeavor and don’t stop adding to your body of work. I can promise that you will be the better for that continued effort.

Whether it is your dream to further pursue college or not, just remember: this is another milestone that you have created for yourself.

Since entering college, I’ve managed to learn what it is like to be an adult. There are nights where I just feel like falling asleep after studying for back-to-back finals, or days where I just felt like not going to school at all; I have felt this struggle, and you will too. Hard work will pay off, though. You can ask anyone, like your professors standing up here, dentists, doctors, the architects who helped design this mall, entrepreneurs. You will persevere and strive with excellence along the way!

Just remember, if you ever feel overwhelmed, which we all have at one point, don’t be afraid to seek help, whether it’s from a family member, friends, colleagues, teachers or counselors.

I also want to give a huge thank you to the Simon Youth Foundation, as I was one of the three recipients last year of their generous scholarship. They believed in my potential every step of the way.

So I want to end with this quote, as it has been an inspiration and kept me motivated for some time now.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It literally means a journey that will take you a thousand miles away from where you started.”

So, take that first step this evening, with your diploma in your hand, and create endless opportunities for yourself. The future is waiting for you with open arms. I wish you good luck and great success. Thank you all very much.

Navigating High School As an Anxious Teen

This week’s featured graduation address comes from Hailey Warhol, a 2017 graduate of Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall.

Hailey is the recipient of a two-year scholarship, valued at $8,000.


She will attend North Seattle Community College in the fall, studying Art, Music and Drama Education.


We wish Hailey all the best in her future endeavors.


Hailey’s Graduation Address:

 My name is Hailey Warhol and I have been asked to share my story with you all today, which is something I don’t usually have a problem with. I mean, if you ask me on any random day, I will gladly recount my entire life story in great detail. But, I’ve found that there’s something about sitting and writing it all down that makes me feel like I have to do it justice and tell it right… so I am going to take a shot at this.

Our struggles do not define us, they are only a part of our narrative. What I will be sharing today is only one chapter of my story.

In the seventh grade, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a panic disorder, depression and ADHD. That was one of the best days of my life. After years of telling people that I was hurting someone finally told me “I hear you, I know what’s wrong.” After being diagnosed and thinking back, I have never known a life without anxiety. One of my biggest fears was losing my parents, which made it hard to be away from my mother. I also developed a type of social phobia, where even the thought of school would induce a panic attack.

Halfway through my freshman year at Ingraham, I was withdrawn from all but two classes; the rest I took online. Thinking back, my high school experience before Middle College ended when a teacher I admired asked me what I was going to do when my parents died, which I had just confessed as one of my biggest fears. It was at this point that I fell into darkness. I stopped going to school entirely and shut myself away from the real world. I couldn’t do it any longer. I was tired of pretending that I was okay.

The darkness was a period of my life that lasted two years, where I didn’t leave my house. I lost contact with my friends, I stayed home, I watched TV, sorted little plastic beads and played with my cats. For about two years, that was my life.

I would like to take a moment to thank my mother; the bravest woman I know. Without her I probably would have dropped out of high school. She took on my battles when I could not fight for myself. My mother spent years fighting with schools and the district, searching for accommodations, making sure I was not forgotten. She has never given up. When I felt like people were upset or disappointed in me she’d say “They wouldn’t blame you if you had cancer.” She fought to get me what I needed so that I could succeed. She is the reason I am here today.

I don’t remember much from when I started at Middle College but what I’ve heard is that Courtney spoke with my mother on the phone for almost two hours discovering that MCHS would be my next chapter.

I started in the Home Study Program meeting once a week with a counselor named Geri Parker. We worked on classes at my pace, taking breaks to talk about our favorite shows and shared passions. With the help of Geri and Courtney I discovered that I was good at math, despite it always being my worst subject. Slowly but surely, we increased our time and began venturing out of her back office and into the classrooms.

Now you may ask “What changed? What happened,” and you know what to be honest I don’t know. One day something just clicked. I wanted to be with real people and I wanted a real life. I was done living in my imagination. My desire for friendships, relationships and life was stronger than any of my fears or worries.

That year I made the transition from Home Study to full time Direct Instruction. I joined the Japan and Leadership clubs. I met and got to know amazing people some of whom would turn out to be family. I founded the club Current Events. I represented our school by attending the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. In the last month of school, I was in charge of the first yearbook the school had in over ten years. This year, I served as President of the Leadership club and head of the Prom Committee.

I often talk about my old life like it was a past one, and in a way it was, because that Hailey, she’s gone. She is a part of me but I am not her. Climbing up from the darkness, I was able to pick up the pieces that I had once loved and put them together into who I am today. I would not be that person if it were not for Middle College High School and the people who love and support it.

Earlier I said I have never known a life without anxiety, but I feel something changing. While I will always struggle with it for the first time in my life, I feel that I am more than my worries.

Congratulations to the class of two thousand and seventeen. We did it!


Be Phenomenal, or Be Forgotten

Ruth Sarai Pumarejo with her mom, Monica, having fun in SYF’s photo booth at graduation.

Our featured student graduation address of the week is  from Ruth Sarai Pumarejo from Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA.

She narrates her journey through high school, which ultimately led her to where she is today. We are excited where the next phase of her journey takes us!

Ruth received a four-year scholarship valued at $32,000. She will attend Endicott College in the fall, studying Business.

Ruth’s graduation address:

There is one major difference between average people and achieving people: their perception of and response to failure. Good morning, class of 2017. Before I begin, I would like to welcome my family, friends, teachers and those of you who have travelled a long way to be here today. You are special to me and have played a significant part in my life and in my academic journey. When my alarm clock went off this morning, a smile spread across my face and I thought, “Yes! This is it! Today I am graduating!” It’s funny because I use to think I’d be stuck in high school forever, but to my surprise, these last four years have gone by all too fast. Each year had its own ups and downs, its failures with its successes, the embarrassing moments, the coming of age moments, and the ones that made me, me. The next few minutes will be comprised of highly personal anecdotes I now plan to take full advantage of.

When we were five, our teachers asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up. We answered with things like astronaut, president, or in my case, the Little Mermaid. When we were ten, they asked us again, to which we answered- actress, cowboy, or in my case, a writer. But now that we’ve grown up, our elders want a serious answer. How about this- “who cares and who knows!” This is not the time to make hard and fast decisions. This is the time to make mistakes, travel the world, fall in love and marry. You have the ability to change your mind and change it again because nothing’s permanent. So make as many mistakes as you can so that way someday when they ask us what we want to be we won’t have to guess, we’ll know.

Now to those of my classmates and teachers who have told me that I am the most “positive” person at the school… today I want to take a moment to tell you the part of my story that I oftentimes omit and shy away from when I am talking to friends and those that I meet. Before the PLA, I was an introverted girl who didn’t believe in herself. I was not sure how to live in the moment. And when you worry about tomorrow, it can be very difficult to live in the today. When I began my journey at traditional high school, I quickly realized that the environment was too big, and I simply could not find a place to fit in. Transitioning to high school life was not an easy task for me, and for many. It’s ironic, because the space is so big and people are bustling everywhere, but I still felt lonely.

But if only I could have had a glimpse of what my future was going to look like fast-forwarding 5 years, I then would have never imagined life to be as bright and beautiful as it is today. The life that I live now is unlike anything I envisioned God had stored for me. A future immersed with visiting foreign countries, developing new relationships and embracing the faith I practice today. For a while, my road was very bumpy and I had difficulty seeing when the road would clear up. But like I tell everyone, anything good takes time. And it is no question that one must go through rough patches in order to achieve great things.

Towards the end of my freshman year of high school, a miracle came. I met a tall man with a shiny, bald head who offered me an opportunity to recover the high school credits I needed due to my numerous absences. Of course, I was skeptical. Would I succeed at the PLA? What would happen once I recovered my classes? Would they send me back to the high school? Sure, I had my doubts, but don’t we all? The good thing is, I was able to connect with this human being right away because I was able to understand that he only wants the best for all of his students. After thinking about his offer, I consulted with my mom and told her that I wanted to give it a try. I wanted to see what would happen if I gave my best to succeed in school because I wanted to be someone one day. So like that, I waved goodbye to yesterday. And this here was the first lesson I learned and one I hope you’ll take home with you today. The lesson is that you create your own opportunities.

I’m amazed at the wonderful things that can happen when you have enough courage to lose sight of the shore. You can discover new oceans, and like the butterfly effect, my whole life changed because of that one decision. You know what they say about change- change yourself, and the world changes. After this, I found myself succeeding in many areas. My grades skyrocketed, I made new friends; I even started my own business. Essentially, I became the young woman that I had originally aspired so hard to be and gratefully am today.

At this moment, I will share my experience of what it was really like to enroll at the Peabody Learning Academy. From the first few days, I quickly learned that at PLA, we recognize that everyone learns differently. Some people learn best when there is a teacher giving a lecture at the front of the classroom, others prefer taking online courses or listening to audios. What fascinates me the most is that all associates at PLA respect each other and understand that everyone is different and that that it is okay to different. Here I was able to complete my high school credits in a shorter time span. By the end of April, I could come in and draw, or watch movies because I had finished my classes. There is no exact method of learning; everyone is different, and Simon Youth Foundation is starting a revolution around America by opening up more and more alternative high schools for the youth of today. Here, I learned more algebra than I ever would have anywhere else because the teaching is highly personalized. The best part is, I actually enjoyed it. Thank you Mr. Tanglis, for making that possible. Not every teacher is as patient as you and Ms. Murray are. Of the other things, I learned how to efficiently manage my time. In my opinion, my experience here was very much like college. I had to take my own notes and do my own research for the online classes; it was a very self-starting experience. Coming to PLA had its other perks too. For example, my peers and I would regularly go for a Starbucks run on the second floor of Northshore Mall after school. Those are the perks you can only have when your school is in a mall.

Next, I will summarize my four-year journey. Freshman year was the longest of them all. The puzzle of entering high school was presented before us. Most of us were nervous, anxious or scared. We became more concerned with what we wore and who we hung out with and less concerned with Polly Pockets and Pokémon cards. Like many of my classmates, I left the high school by choice in the spring of that year. Sophomore year was a blur. You are still an underclassmen so there is nothing new occurring and you just want time to pass by. So if you are like me, you try working at a home department store and hope that the time flies by. Thus, we coasted through sophomore year and soon, junior year came. We started exploring careers with Soren Balea, PLA’s career advisor. Some people found prom dates while others travelled overseas during school breaks to explore the vast and multi-cultural world we live in. Senior year came alas. Now, I’m not going to paint a shiny picture for you. That fall was a stressful period. New doubts had resurfaced. Our heads were filled with questions like “Is my GPA high enough? When are the deadlines for the SAT’s? Do I have enough activities in my high-school transcript?” Then, the three month college search began. I looked for colleges everywhere- from San-Francisco to London to Florida- everywhere except for home. Juniors and sophomores: do yourself the favor of not stressing out over college. I promise you that in the end, it will all fall into place for the very best. To my huge surprise, I ended up staying home, because well, home is really where the heart is, and also, where Endicott College is. There I will begin yet another journey and study what I love most: business, psychology and continuing, law. I learned this lesson the hard way, and it is that you don’t have to swing hard to hit a homerun, if you have the timing, it will go.

It turned out that the tall man with the shiny, bald head was and is none other than the director of the PLA. I’ll release the identity of the man because everyone here needs to know his name, Mr. Seith Bedard. Thank you for being the best teacher God could have ever given me. You are extraordinary and what you do every day for us is beyond words. The second to last week of school, my family and I drove into Boston and as I watched the city move beside me in pictures, I thought about Mr. B. All of a sudden, tears roll down my cheeks like an avalanche and I started crying like a newborn infant. I couldn’t believe that soon enough, I would be leaving the school that for as long as I can remember, had encouraged me to reach higher and to give my best. Mr. Bedard taught me many things that I will always value. He supported me in every academic decision I made and I cannot describe the sad, and overwhelming feelings I had as both my mother and I cried. The tears would just come out and they would not stop. I could not imagine what college was going to be like without Mr. B always guiding me on the sidelines. But sometimes, you have to let go because our planet is huge and there is even more opportunity that is waiting for us to discover. So we have no choice but to continue forth on our own paths and to keep to learning as much as we can.

Mr. Bedard, Mr. Tanglis, and Ms. Murray: I would be here all day just talking about you. Helpful, endlessly supporting, caring, funny, are some of the words that come to mind to describe some of the greatest people I’ve honestly ever met. You are quite unique. You have been here with me the whole way and I am so sad to have to let you go. But I am not saying goodbye. I’m saying I will see you all soon. Every now and then, I promise to visit and bring the three of you iced coffee and bagels, because that is how much I love you all. I have the highest respects to them, for they taught me how to see differently. You see, a good teacher explains, a great teacher inspires. Together they took my hand, opened my mind, and touched my heart, leaving me feeling all the more encouraged to go out and pursue my biggest dreams. A special thanks to Jess, for always listening to me and reminding me that we are all human beings and it is in fact okay to cry sometimes, as long as we always get up and get going.

Class of 2017, where are you? Make some noise!

I am weirdly going to miss all of the times that I had to ask Mr. T and Ms. Murray to turn the heat up because the weather at the PLA was very, very cold. Oftentimes, I’d come into school like an actual Eskimo, with a huge puffer coat, ear-muffs, gloves and a scarf. Families and friends, the entire PLA student body sitting around you can serve as testimonies to this. I will miss the funny, yet bright conversations between Ms. Murray and I, I will miss watching Netflix’s Life series with my classmates and laughing at the flying fish. Because there are fish that fly. Or more so, glide as I learned and there are monkeys that can crack gigantic tree nuts. I will miss eavesdropping on the one on one conversations about black holes in space and Carl Sagan between Mr. T and Luciano because, if you know me well, you know of I love space science. Mr. B’s HD military style lectures, the cloudy days and the warm days. I will miss the silence everyone would make in the lunchroom because someone had done or said something too loud, or broken a rule. I will miss the flexibility between my classes, I am going to miss it all so much. But I am going to miss you the most, my brave and hardworking class of 2017.

Of the many I have to thank, my mother is certainly at the very top. Monica Weinstein, I would like to thank you for all the times you went out of your way in my cause. I will always be indebted to you. Thank you for raising me to be the young woman I am now. You taught me to be headstrong, independent, faithful, and to have compassion for others. You are the purest love I will ever know. Mama, you are the motor to my dreams and one of the biggest reasons they proceed in full scale. No matter where I go, I will always remember to take you with me. You are beautiful as can be. Noor. (In Arabic that means light). When I could not sleep at night, afraid that things would not turn out right, you were there to hold me and sing to me.

Rony, you have been the greatest father I have come to know. For all these years, you drove me to school and everywhere else I needed to go. When I look back, you were always there. You are as constant as the sunrise, the moon and the stars; I can always count on you.

My parents are truly an excellent bunch. For 13 years, they have fed me delicious food from Gallo Nero, crusty pizza from Plum Tomatoes on midweek days just because and Dunkin Donuts Vanilla Chai. You are amazing, but not just amazing for these worldly reasons, you are amazing because you have shown me undying love in every down point in my life and for showing me right from wrong. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you for believing in me when I did not believe in myself.

Thank you to God. You have helped me find myself through the years and taught me how to breathe, and how to have ultimate faith in only you, the greatest. Thank you for teaching me to see with my heart, because you cannot see some of the best things in life, you can only feel them. Without God nothing is possible.

So now it is time to say goodbye to high school, and say hello to the future.

As I graduate today, I see this as a huge accomplishment, but I want to see more of my underclassmen up on here as well.

Whatever you do, (underclassmen) try to make the most of your time. It is so precious, and once you spend it, it will not ever come back. Strive to be the best versions of yourselves. Fly through the turbulence, and live life because you are a warrior. Remember that it is not about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It is about how much you can take, and keep moving forward. If you know what you are worth then go out and get what you are worth, but you have to be willing to take the hits. Fail forward like me, be a dream chaser and chase your dreams.

Thank you to my cousin Jabriela. You are also noor. I feel so happy knowing I can endow my life to you. That is not something you can say to everyone. You are my sister in faith, and in every other way.

A hug and thanks to the beautiful and hilarious Angelica Luna. You were my friend when I really needed one and ever since then all I see in you is light. I can always share an interesting yet good laugh with you. God bless you on whatever path you take.

I would like to shower upon everyone here a final note of gratitude and thanks for supporting me.

Today I feel immensely determined and empowered to live my life to the absolutely fullest. But I would not feel that way if it were not for all the love and help you have mercifully shown. The only thing left to say now is congratulations to the Peabody Learning Academy class of 2017 and to those who helped us get here. Think of it this way: the world we live in is plagued with dangers: Zika virus, global warming and facial acne. But despite all the odds, we still managed to graduate. So let’s give each other a big round of applause, because we did it!

Be phenomenal, or be forgotten.

The Bigger the Obstacle, the Bigger the Future

Nacole C. with members of Simon Youth Academy at Chester I. Lewis and Simon Youth Foundation.

Nacole’s story tells of her consistency, perseverance and determination, which has inspired all of us at SYF.

Nacole received one of four Simon Youth Foundation Best of the Best scholarships awarded this year. She was awarded a total of $40,000, over four years, to continue her studies at Wichita State University (Wichita, KS).

Nacole plans to study Psychology.

Nacole’s graduation address:

The beginning can be summed up by being in state’s custody, repeatedly running away and several attempts to graduate. At 16, I found myself at Job Corps, but was asked to leave after my decision to not follow the rules, so back to the Children’s home I went. I ran away, again, and was arrested two weeks before my 18th birthday. The judge ruling on my case gave me a writing assignment. My task was to convince the court that I should be released from custody. One of my strengths is writing and I was able to convince the judge to release me. I finally had independence.

But, the fear of not being good enough and my math anathema crippled my determination. Eight years later, at 26, I was having my second son and I knew I needed to do two things: make money and go to school. It only took a short time for me to realize that I was not going to get anywhere without my diploma. I would lie in interviews and say that I had my diploma so that I could get jobs in customer service. As a result of this, I was unable to be happy when offered promotions, due to my fear of being found out. Anxiety kicked in, followed by depression; it was a vicious cycle.

I felt like I had wasted so much valuable time. I started really thinking about my future, my children and the importance of education.

My grandmother was the only consistency in my life, but I realized that she would not be around to support me forever; it was time for me to take care of her. She always believed in me. My pastor, mom and Dr. Cindy always believed in me, but I did not believe in myself.

Three years ago, I decided not to let fear be my driving force. I decided that no matter what people said or long it took, I was going to be consistent and graduate.

My intention was to repay my grandma for the sacrifices that she made for my children, my education and me. Unfortunately, she passed away last year, and her death catapulted my determination to finish school; that was all she ever wanted for me.

A year later, I was in my last two high school classes. I was on a roll: honoring my grandma and about to graduate. Then, my 11-year-old son, Hayden, was hit by a car, which left me having to focus on him and school at the same time. I was able to multi-task and finish my classes, whist caring for my temporarily disabled son. I am grateful for all of the lessons that I have learned along the way. I know that my children are proud of me, and encouraged. My counselor, family, teachers and friends are proud of me. I know that my grandma is smiling down on me and probably, playing her tambourine,

I plan on starting an organization to help under privileged youth called, “Actions Speak Louder.” I want people to understand that it takes more than book smarts and words. Sometimes it takes action. I am not discrediting book smarts, though, I just know from experience that you also have to have the ability to relate to another person’s pain.

My son is recovering, my consistency paid off and so did yours. We are all, in a way, recovered from whatever kept us from graduating.

SYF’s Testimonial Thursday – Sage A.,















Graduation Speech by Sage A.
2017 Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy at Rolling Oaks Mall

Good evening and welcome family, friends, and most importantly, my fellow graduates of 2017! I am honored to stand before all of you tonight speaking on behalf of my class.  I know everyone here has worked extremely hard in order to be on this stage tonight. With that said, I also know that a lot of us would not be here today if not given the chance by the Judson Learning Academy. You see, JLA is not a school that just anyone can attend; it is a school like no other, a school that thrives from improving the educational opportunities of “at-risk “youth.

You may be asking yourselves what I mean when I say “at-risk youth”. Simply put, we are the example.  At some point in our educational careers, we all fell behind, so much so that without this school most, if not all of us, would not be here today. However, we are defined by the choices we make now, not the mistakes made in the past. We chose to leave that life behind us, in order to come to JLA, and become high school graduates.

Now, don’t get me wrong…that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park. I still have reoccurring nightmares of all the modules we had to go through, so many paper cuts! But it was all worth it, not only for us now, but for our future. We still have a long road in front of us. Although we are all adults, we are only now able to close the final chapters of our childhood.

We will leave here today excited, proud, and ready to take on the world! To my fellow graduates, I ask each of you to remember how great this feeling is and whenever you come to a fork in the road, just remember this day and what you have accomplished to keep moving forward! So be proud of yourselves and most of all…enjoy the moment that you walk down this stage. I hope that the choices you make going forward reflect the choices you made this year.

To everyone who came out to support us, I hope you are able to enjoy watching us, the “at risk” students, beat the odds and finally receive our diplomas. Each student in this room deserves a pat on the back for hanging in there and defying the odds.

Thank you JLA for having the patience and optimism for a student like me, a former drop out and now father, and giving me the opportunity to come out here on this stage and talk with honor and dignity on behalf of my class as I receive my high school diploma. Allowing me to not only make myself; but my family proud, and for that, I will forever be grateful!

And finally, thank you all for showing us your support and giving me your time. Congratulations once again, class of 2017!

In Blog

2017 Masquerade Honors John and Sarah Lechleiter

Long-time Indianapolis civic leaders and philanthropists Sarah and John Lechleiter will be honored at the 16th Masquerade on Saturday, Oct. 14, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Masquerade, a premier date on the Indianapolis’ fall social scene, is the signature fundraising event of Simon Youth Foundation and Pacers Foundation and has raised nearly $11 million for the two organizations since its inception. Both work to ensure youth in need, in Indiana and across the country, are given education and other opportunities to better their lives. The Masquerade has dazzled attendees over the years with top-tier entertainment and high-profile attendees.

The Lechleiters are being recognized for their years of civic activities and other efforts that have strengthened the Indianapolis community.

Currently, Sarah serves on the boards of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  Sarah was a founding member and served as chair for what is now United Way of Central Indiana’s Women United, as well as Women of Tocqueville.  She is a sustaining member of the Children’s Museum Guild, the St. Augustine Guild of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Proctor Club.

Sarah graduated in 1976 with a degree in Sociology and Social Welfare from Edgecliff College, which is now part of Xavier University in Cincinnati.

John Lechleiter has served as chairman of the board of directors of Eli Lilly and Company since January 1, 2009. He retired as Lilly’s president and chief executive officer on December 31, 2016, after 37 years with the company.  He joined Lilly in 1979 as a senior organic chemist in process research and development.  In 2005, he was named Lilly’s president and chief operating officer and joined the board of directors.  He became CEO on April 1, 2008.

John earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in 1975 and master’s and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Harvard University.  He has received honorary doctorates from Marian University (Indianapolis, Indiana), the University of Indianapolis, the National University of Ireland, Indiana University, Franklin College, and Purdue University.

John is a member of the American Chemical Society. He is chairman of the board of United Way Worldwide and serves as vice chair of the board of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.  He is a member emeritus of the board of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.  John also serves on the boards of Nike, Inc. and Ford Motor Company.

In addition to their individual accomplishments, Sarah and John together chaired the 75th Anniversary Gala for Marian University and have been deeply involved in the United Way of Central Indiana’s efforts to strengthen early childhood education and support families.  The Lechleiters are proud parents of three children and grandparents of six.

“We are deeply gratified that we can honor the Lechleiters for their profound impact on our community,” said Masquerade Co-Chair Cindy Simon Skjodt. “The proceeds of this event go directly to benefit of youth both nationally and here in Indiana and have created opportunities and better lives many times over.”

Last year’s Masquerade honoree was Indiana Pacers Vice President of Communications and Fox Sports Indiana Pacers television analyst Quinn Bucker. Previous honorees include Jim Morris, Larry Bird, Deborah J. Simon, Cindy Simon Skjodt, Tamika Catchings, Rick Fuson, Steve Stitle, Frank Hancock, Jeff Smulyan, the Hulman-George Family, Melvin Simon, Herbert Simon, Reggie Miller, Bobby “Slick” Leonard, Clark Kellogg and Donnie Walsh.

The Masquerade evening will begin with a reception, followed by the dinner, tribute and live music. Special guests will include the entire Indiana Pacers team and basketball staff as well as many of the past Masquerade honorees.

The Masquerade is made possible through the generous support of many local and national sponsors. PNC Bank will return as the event’s title sponsor for the 16th year.

For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact Brandi Young at (317) 263-7694 or

ABOUT SIMON YOUTH FOUNDATION: Simon Youth Foundation, a national nonprofit headquartered in Indianapolis, exists to help at-risk students who are on the verge of dropping out of high school stay in school. Through 30 Simon Youth Academies in 12 states and Simon Youth Scholarships, SYF advocates, creates and initiates educational opportunities for students so they can start here and go anywhere. In partnership with local public schools, SYF has maintained a 90% graduation rate at its Academies since inception, graduated more than 14,000 students, and awarded more than $16 million in scholarships. Learn more at

ABOUT PACERS FOUNDATION: Pacers Foundation, Inc., the public charity founded by Pacers Sports & Entertainment, is dedicated to improving the lives of Indiana’s young people by building individual and corporate partnerships that will provide assistance for projects that benefit Indiana’s youth. Since its inception in 1993, Pacers Foundation has awarded more than $6 million in cash and in-kind donations through grants to youth-serving organizations, scholarships and Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever tickets.

SYF Student Takes First Place in Orlando 5K Race, Mall and Academy Team Up for Success


Top row: left to right
Chris Spafford (Simon Youth Academy student), Mr. Gerald Allen (OJT teacher), Ajay Bohra (Simon Malls)
Bottom Row:
Sonia Ledger (Lead teacher), Madison Shannabrook (little ducky), Maribel Lebron (Assistant Principal)

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace teamed up with Mall partners for the Quack Attack on Poverty 5K race on February 18, 2017.

SYF student Chris Spafford led the way coming in first place in the Juniors age division.

“We had a great time getting some fresh air early in the morning, and our student came in 1st place,” Sonia Ledger, Lead Teacher at the Academy said.

That’s an impressive accomplishment because the Quack Attack on Poverty 5K is a nontraditional race.

Participants must complete the 3.1 miles wearing a duck-shaped pool inflatable around their waists while navigating bubbles, squirt gun and wacky quack zones.

After winning his division, Chris turned around to find his team.

“Chris won first place, then ran back to find us and walked the last 2 kilometers with us,” Ajay Bohra, Assistant General Manager at Orlando International and Outlet Market Place, said.

Bohra said the relationship between SYF students and teachers is unlike other schools.

“How often do you hear of teachers and students running a race together on the weekend? Not often,” he said. “That shows how committed each are to each other.”

That unique relationship is what makes SYF teachers and students so special, Bohra said. “We do what we can to provide support, but the recognition goes to the Academy students and teachers. We see the impact SYF makes in students’ individual lives, and we’re thankful to be a part of it.”

Ledger said she appreciates the amazing support the Academy receives from the Premium Outlets team. “We loved bonding with Ajay from the Outlet Mall team. He’s such a good partner to us.”

Kappa Delta Pi Experiences Unique Learning Environment at Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre

Left to Right: Laura Perkins, Susan Perry, Chris Beaman and Tina Paris of KDP Foundation










Leadership from Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), International Honor Society in Education, visited Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre.

The KDP team experienced firsthand the Academy’s nontraditional learning environment and different look and feel from a traditional high school.

Laura Perkins, KDP Director of Membership & Chapter Services, said, “The architecture is amazing. It really brings the school environment to a whole new level.”

The Academy is located on the third floor of Simon Property Group’s Circle Centre Mall in Indianapolis and is designed to make students and teachers feel comfortable.

“Our space is open and flexible with bright colors that inspires student learning,” Michael Durnil, President and CEO of Simon Youth Foundation, said. “When you walk into our schools, it looks more like a modern office space than a traditional school.”

Durnil explained that everything in the classrooms are modular. “The walls, desks, and chairs are all on casters so teachers can move the furniture and use the environment in different ways,” he said.

KDP Director of Marketing & Communications Chris Beaman observed how the environment affected student and teacher interaction.

“I love seeing the students working with the teachers,” Beaman said. “It’s really encouraging to see the smiles and general happiness of the students and teachers at the Academy,” he said.

The SYF model meets KDP’s mission of “advancing quality education by inspiring teachers to prepare all learners for future challenges.”

“We let the educators educate,” Durnil said. “We support them with professional development opportunities like KDP, and then we get out of the way.”

The Foundation provides complimentary KDP membership to all SYF Academy teachers, making the SYF Affiliate chapter KDP’s largest at more than 200 members.


SYF scholarship recipient postpones higher ed for year of service in Senegal

Below is a slideshow of images from Brandon Callegari’s year of service in Senegal



When Brandon Callegari asked to defer his Simon Youth Foundation scholarship, he had a great reason. Callegari chose to spend a year serving others in Senegal.

As part of Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program, the SYF Award of Excellence scholarship recipient traveled abroad after graduation.

Staying with a host family, Callegari is immersed in the culture. He describes his time in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, as “absolutely beautiful, with amazing sunsets and lots of sand.”

Callegari said he feels welcomed by his host family and the people of Senegal. “The people here have so much kindness and hospitality,” Callegari said. “People go out of their way to help you here…helping you carry a heavy bag or helping you learn the local language.”

In addition to learning Wolof, the local language, Callegari is teaching children English through a program with the national YMCA Senegal.

SYF is proud to support Callegari during his bridge year and eager to follow his story.

SYF Scholarship Recipient Does Not Give Up

In 2015, Cherise Sheffner graduated from Coast High School in California and received a scholarship from Simon Youth Foundation.

Sheffner chose to enroll in a community college to pursue an associate degree, as she was diagnosed with a rare disease that made it difficult for her to go far from home and commit to more than a two-year program.

Earning a 3.7 GPA, Sheffner will graduate this May with an Associate Degree in Psychology from Orange Coast College.

It hasn’t been easy, but Sheffner persists. “It has been a hard couple of years,” she said. “The health troubles that I faced in high school came back. However, that has not let me give up.”

SYF’s scholarship extension opportunities enables Sheffner to apply for additional scholarship money to fund future years at a four-year institution.

Sheffner thanks Michael Durnil, SYF President and CEO, for encouraging her when she was in high school. “Your support gave me more motivation to not give up on my higher education,” she said of Durnil.

SYF congratulates Sheffner on her accomplishments and perseverance.

The Season of Giving

The following guest post was written by Brandi Young, SYF’s Vice President of Advancement.

It is my favorite times of year! I love the decorations, the atmosphere, and I love hearing all my favorite holiday tunes. One of my favorite holiday carols is “Silver Bells” by Bing Crosby.

To steal from the lyrics, when you step into a Simon mall, the holidays are definitely in the air. The malls are dressed in their own holiday style, folks passing each other from store to store, meeting smile after smile, children laughing around the holiday train and jolly St. Nick.

Even through all the bustle, Simon Malls, Premium Outlets, and The Mills, find ways to support Simon Youth Foundation. While purchasing your Simon GiftCards or other gift cards available at Simon Guest Services, you can make a donation, or make a holiday wish by dropping your extra change into a wishing well or fountain. Or, if your Simon Mall is home to holiday valet provided by Ameripark, proceeds from the valet benefit Simon Youth Foundation.

The malls’ support reaches beyond SYF too. Many malls host gift wrapping stations by partnering with local charities. So before you rush home with your treasures, find the gift wrap station and not only support SYF, but a hometown charity.

December is a season of giving. While it’s common these days to get frustrated with the commercializing of the holidays, it’s good to be affiliated with a company in Simon that views the season as a time to be generous and give back to the community.

Wishing you and yours the merriest of holiday seasons!


On Remembrance and Thanksgiving

The following guest post was written by, Michael Durnil, President and CEO at SYF.

If you have been a regular reader of the SYF blog, you will have caught on to the fact that each month we have asked a member of the staff to be a contributing writer. I was thrilled this year when I was assigned the month of November.

November has long been the month of the year often associated with remembrance and thanksgiving; driven in part by two very iconic American holidays – Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. And while I could give you several paragraphs about my thoughts for those themes, I am going to use a bit of dramatic license and co-op those themes into how I see them come to life in the workings of Simon Youth Foundation.

Fall is the busiest season for us at SYF. Amid the regular routine of back to school, our annual conference, the coming year’s budget preparation, committee and board meetings, SYF also is the beneficiary of several large scale fundraising events hosted within the Simon Corporation. In fact, the Foundation raises nearly 75% of our operational budget in the last quarter of the year through these events.

Through the generosity of our Simon colleagues, several regional fundraisers are hosted across the country. I am thrilled to report that these are on track to raise over $1.2 million dollars in 2016. In Foundation terms, that represents enough donations to help SYF see a years worth of Simon Youth Academy seniors to graduation day. Additionally, our Simon colleagues participate in our Employee Contribution Campaign which showers our mission with an embarrassment of riches – moneys from our colleagues own pockets that serve as a testament to their belief in the work of our students, teachers and staff across the country. I have the great privilege to represent the Foundation at many of these events. While it is easy to recite the chapter and verse of the statistics that we know about our work, for me it is the ability to tell the story of our students, our partner teachers and the impact that such giving has on all of us.

Telling our stories, remembrance if you will, reminds me of what our work is all about.

As I tell the stories about our students and their great ability to overcome the overwhelming challenges they face, I catch myself letting my mind wander and thinking about the nearly 8500 graduate’s hands I have been so fortunate to shake over the last several years. I try to remember as many of the graduation speeches as I can. Sometimes, I will see faces or have flashes of moments of conversations with a graduate and their family; but what I often remember most is the feeling of joy for them, what they have accomplished and now what possibilities lay ahead for them.

This time of year, too, allows me to acknowledge and celebrate the great thanksgiving for the generosity of all of our donors. While I tell all our donors about the impact of their gift, it is easy for them to see how a donation can impact a single student. What I want our supporters to know is that their donation isn’t just a one-time thing, but rather an investment in the future.

So in this season of remembrance and thanksgiving, I challenge all of us to fully appreciate what cumulative impact our graduates and scholarship recipients have in our communities. While we use our resources to provide programs in the present; the true fact is that we do not know where or how the investments in our students will show dividends in the future. In fact, our donor’s gifts multiply exponentially when they invest in SYF’s students, faculty and staff.

This is SYF’s “butterfly effect”.

Definitely something to remember and be thankful for this season!

Looking Back to Help Students Look Forward

The following guest post was written by Amy Updike, Vice President, Finance and Administration at SYF.

2016 is the State of Indiana’s bicentennial. On June 24, 2016, I had the privilege of attending a bicentennial ceremony honoring one of the 43 delegates to draft and sign the Indiana State Constitution, my 4th great-grandfather William Cotton. Two areas William Cotton was passionate about were (1) freedom for all – slavery should never be allowed in Indiana and (2) the creation of a “general system of education, ascending in regular gradation from township schools to a state university wherein tuition shall be gratis and equally open to all.”

I am proud of my ancestor and proud that he was able to include the most important of his two passions in drafting Indiana’s Constitution in 1816– anti-slavery. As with so many of our Simon Youth Academy students, William began his life in Indiana with very little, and yet he had such a profound impact of the founding of a State that is still going strong 200 years later. When William and his wife first came to Indiana, they lived in a large hollowed out tree while they cleared land to build a cabin. I can only imagine the primitive conditions they encountered. When their son was born, his playmates were the Native American children in the area. William’s secret to success was that he was educated and hardworking.

Students at Simon Youth Academies come from a variety of backgrounds. For one reason or another, they have fallen behind their class in their traditional public schools. However, each school year proves our students, many of whom seriously considered dropping out, have become both educated and hardworking. Since SYF’s founding, our students have achieved a 90% graduation rate. Many of our academy students face daunting health issues, have children of their own, or work support their families. The hard work and perseverance they display in juggling these challenges while studying at an accelerated pace to catch up with their graduating class is truly inspiring. Many of our students also go on to pursue higher education with the financial aid of a Simon Academy Scholarship. One Simon Youth Academy graduate and scholarship recipient is currently a junior studying Pre-Med in college. Nichole has already had a tremendous impact on her family and classmates. Other academy graduates are serving our country in the Armed Forces and still another has been the Mayor of Kirby, Texas.

When I look back with pride for what my ancestor was able to accomplish in the creation of the State of Indiana, I can’t help but look forward and imagine the impact our Simon Youth Academy students will have on their families, friends and the larger community. To learn more about Simon Youth Foundation and our academies and scholarship programs and to donate to help SYF reach even more students, please go to

No Bad Kids

Leila Robbins has an insatiable love of learning. Her boundless curiosity has her catapulting between subjects almost faster than her teachers can keep up, and when flipping through a course catalog from a nearby community college, she struggles to decide on just one or two classes to enroll in.

But just a short time ago, Leila was so leila-robbins-rose-tree-mediadisengaged from traditional public school, that the former star student had become one of the 1.2 million students who drop out each year. How did it happen?

“I started believing what I was hearing,” said Leila. “That I really was a bad kid.”

Though Leila excelled in school as a young girl, she began struggling from anxiety in third grade. She begged her parents to let her stay home, or found herself visiting the school nurse, hoping for a reprieve, just for the day. But avoiding school at all costs caused Leila to struggle academically, which only fed the anxiety. As the absences piled up, Leila said she felt even the office staff at her school begin to lose patience. Absences led to detentions, which snowballed into suspensions, and by fifth grade, she was in court for being truant.

In middle school, she began seeing a therapist, but the classroom, once a place of joy and discovery for Leila, continued to trigger her mental and emotional struggles. Finally, her therapist advised her parents to remove Leila from school all together. Relieved to be free from the pressures of traditional school, Leila finally gave up.

“I didn’t make any more plans for my future,” said Leila. “I didn’t plan to have a future.”

But a break in the darkness finally came when a social worker suggested that she look into Simon Youth Academy at Rose Tree Media. Though she was skeptical to return to the the classroom environment, Leila decided to give herself one more chance at a future.

At Rose Tree Media, Leila’s love of learning was reignited. Today, Leila has made up for lost time, and is on track to graduate early. She has already begun taking classes at the Delaware County Community College, and has her sights set on a career in healing. But it’s what she has learned about herself, rather than any school subject, that is the most important lesson of all:

“There are no bad kids,” said Lelia. “Only lost ones.”

Leila, fortunately, is no longer lost, after finding a home at SYF.