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25 years of helping kids graduate: celebrating a 93% success rate

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Getting high school students to graduate is a top priority for the Simon Youth Foundation.

This year, the foundation is celebrating 25 years of helping at-risk young scholars earn their high school diplomas through alternative education academies.

People would never expect to see a school in a mall, but, at Circle Centre Mall, an Indianapolis Public Schools facility is making a huge impact in the community.

“Now that I’m about to graduate from here, I’m really happy that I made the decision to come here because it was really a blessing,” said Nathan Bateman, a Simon Youth Academy student.

The Simon Youth Academy@Circle Centre Mall is across from the arcade and the movie theater. The facility connects teachers with students at a closer level.

Thanks to a partnership with the Simon Youth Foundation and IPS, it’s a school unlike any other in Indiana.

Ryan Cinninger, a social studies teacher, said, “Simon Youth Foundation is amazing. They offer scholarship opportunities. We just recently got back from our Washington, D.C., close-up trip.”

The Simon Youth Academy@Circle Centre Mall has a 100% graduation rate, outpacing the state average that, according to the Indiana Department of Education, is about 85%.

Since its inception, the Simon Youth Foundation has maintained an average graduation rate of 93% across it’s 40 Simon Youth Academies across the nation. The foundation only receives junior and senior high school students. Nathan Bateman, who struggles in a traditional classroom, is one of them.

“The student-to-teacher ratio in the classroom is really high, so you don’t really get like all your questions answered and the teacher doesn’t really give you in-depth questions,” Bateman said.

Now, he can work at his own pace.

“Once you come here, the teachers and the counselors really work with you to try to make sure that your classes are in the best time for you to actually get there and make it on time,” Bateman said.

The educators also help students facing bullying and financial difficulties.

Teachers say the one-on-one interaction and the flexible online courses help them meet the students where they’re at so that they have the opportunity to go to college.

Andrea Neely is the president and chief executive officer of the Simon Youth Foundation. She says there’s still a lot more work to be done. “It’s really scaling the impact, being more strategic and intentional, and then the key is that career pathways is that ‘Yes, we got them through graduation. Now what?’” Neely said.

The Simon Youth Foundation says it wants to see a lot more students graduate in the future.