The Indianapolis-based Simon Youth Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The nonprofit, which helps at-risk students graduate high school, last week passed the 20,000 mark for graduates from its approximately three dozen Simon Youth Academies across the country.
In an interview on Inside INdiana Business, Chief Executive Officer J. Michael Durnil said the goal is to bring students who have or will drop out of high school and put them on a path to success.
“We’ve had students who’ve gone on to get full-ride scholarships,” said Durnil. “We know of a former alum who is the mayor of a small town in Texas. This year, we also celebrated the second alumni to come back as a teacher in one of our academies in Independent, Missouri. I think we provide that refuge and a place where a student feels like they belong and important for us, too, is that the teachers feel like they belong.”
Durnil says one of the main distinctions of the academies is a focus among the teachers on “the whole student.”
“So many teachers are content experts, but we work with our teachers…to have (them) understand that student that’s standing in front of them. Did they have breakfast today? Did they have trauma in their home? Did they have trauma growing up? How do you help a student in that situation actually get to graduation day? They need something different. They need a different set of competencies in schools and teachers are the ones who can deliver that.”
Durnil says putting more graduates into the world creates an economic development benefit as well.
“We know from government statistics that every kid who graduates high school is going to earn about a half a million dollars more in their life, over the course of their lifetime. That times 20,000 is $10 billion. Last year, we had our largest graduating class of almost 2,100 students nationally and that was $1 billion alone.”
You can watch the full interview with Durnil in the video above.