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San Francisco – Research shows that just under 1 in 5 students still will not graduate from public high school. This week, YouthTruth released an up-close look at how Simon Youth Foundation (SYF) builds innovative Simon Youth Academies that help high school students who struggle in traditional classroom settings to graduate in partnership with public school districts.
SYF has developed a regular practice of gathering student feedback to inform strategy and programmatic changes at both the network and school levels as it supports students who struggle in traditional classrooms, and maintains a 90% graduation rate. The foundation uses student feedback as a guiding pillar in both day-to-day operations and long-term planning as it works with its network of non-traditional high schools located primarily in Simon Malls to help students at risk of dropping out to graduate.
YouthTruth works with the foundation to gather and analyze student feedback to inform improvements. Recent network-wide changes guided by data and analysis from the YouthTruth survey include implementing trauma-informed instruction, launching gender inclusiveness training, and increasing the emphasis on emotional and mental health.
“The student is the reason we exist and what our purpose defines us to. If we can’t hear their voice or know what they want, we become a bunch of well-meaning people who are trying to do something to students and not for students,” says Dr. J. Michael Durnil, President and CEO of the Simon Youth Foundation.
“The students attend our academies for a variety of reasons and I feel that their voices are important to hear as leaders striving to meet students’ wide-ranging needs,” comments principal of Rose Tree Media Simon Youth Academy Sarah Graham. “I meet with staff weekly to discuss items of the week and specific student needs, but the survey helped me hone in on specific areas of need and guide discussions with my staff.”
Insights gleaned from asking students about their experiences at the Academies, and gaining a deeper understanding student reality beyond the classroom, has been instrumental in the foundation’s ability to create network-wide change. Both the foundation and leaders at individual Academies have also found feedback to be a useful tool in creating common language to bolster collaborative improvement and gain support from stakeholders like local advisory councils.
Reflecting on the foundations use of feedback, Dr. Durnil notes, “With this student insight, I become equipped with an immediate strategy or agenda. With the student input, I can go out and find additional resources and bring them to bear to our academies, to our districts, to our communities. With this data, we’re able to better provide support to the most marginalized groups of students.”