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 syf.org.

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