Welcome Remarks to the Arise Family on the First Day of School: “There’s more than one way to count to ten”

Below is roughly my opening day talk to Arise students. This was long and the students were a little irritable about it, but they were almost silent for the whole end and I was reasonably convinced the messages I cared about got across.

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We will begin, as those of you who were here this summer have guessed, with a moment of silence. I ask for silence when we begin together for many different reasons. One reason is that I want there to be some difference between the time we spend together as a community and the rest of your time–our shared silence brings us together as a community. Some of you will be tempted to talk because silence is hard and being together is hard. That’s ok, we will learn to do this together. If you can’t be part of the community right now, we will ask you to leave and to come back when you have sat with your anger or your fear and are you ready to rejoin us.

Moment of silence

Thank you. How are you today? Welcome back to Arise. Welcome to a new year. Welcome to a time of renewal, of possibility, and of hope. I am Gabriel Kuriloff, some people call me mr. gabriel, and I am the CEO of Arise Academy. If you are waiting to hear about the new rules this year, I’m going to get to them, but it’s going to take a little while.

Today, by way of welcoming you to a new year at Arise, I want to tell you some stories. First, let me say that I believe that stories are among the most important things that we have. Stories are the foundations of community. Leaders (like CEOs) tell stories to help shape and capture shared values. By learning to share our stories, we learn to control our lives and be the authors of our own tales. When we become the story tellers, we become the CEOs of our own lives.

Today I am going to share three stories. I will try to be brief, but most likely I will be long, for as the great poet Sterling A. Brown said, I am a long talker in the tradition of American long talkers. I am also loud, I get louder the more enthusiastic I get, so forgive me if I sound hype.

As I said, I am going to share three stories. The first story is my story. I will tell it true and I will tell it as short as I know how. It will tell you something of what I stand for, what I care about, and what I believe in. The second story is an African-American folk tale about counting to ten and why it matters to know there’s an answer no one has thought of before. The final story, is a story that is still in its beginning–it is the story of Arise.

First things first. My story:

I grew up in Philly. My family lives here. I have a wife and two kids, Ruthie is 3 and Nathaniel is 1 and I love them more than anything in the world. My father teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and my mother teaches at Temple–I have school in my blood. I love Philly, our food, our landmarks, our language, and our spaces. I love our sports teams. Allen Iverson is my favorite athlete of all time (say what you will).

I almost never get too angry, but I get angry when people hurt each other, when they tear down instead of building up. I try to evaluate my own actions by whether they add value, whether they make the world a better place. If something isn’t going to improve our community, I try not to do it. I believe that each day we live is a great gift to be treasured and that the best we can do is try to make some meaning out of what we have been given.

Story 2: Two Ways To Count to Ten

I shared this story today for a couple of reasons. First, everyone here comes with a different story. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. It does not matter whether right now you can read well or whether you are good at math. It only matters that you are going to apply your brain and your skills to every problem that you come across. If you try hard, we will do what it takes to make sure you have the chance to succeed.

Secondly, there are many ways to solve every challenge. At Arise, we believe that it is a great thing to solve a problem in a new way. We don’t want you to tell us what we already know, we want you to think so things that only you know.

Story 3: Arise and the power of community

Many different members of our family have told me the story of Arise. I will do my best to capture what I have learned.

Arise is a community that cares about each individual member. At Arise, the needs of each student are taken seriously. Different staff members care in different ways, but every single adult in this building cares deeply about each of you. Even more importantly, students at Arise care about our school, you care about our community, you care about each other, you care about our staff, and you care about yourselves. That is the powerful beginning to our story.

You may have noticed there have been some changes this summer.  We now have a slightly bigger building than we used to—new rooms for our library and student support services as well as a space for debate and other after-school activities. We will have a number of new after school activities this year including a variety of athletics and a number of clubs including student government, debate, chess, music, and more.

We have extended our school hours—the school day now goes from 7:45 to 3:30. If you want to know why, it’s because we believed we were failing you. There is too much to learn and not enough time.

Being present in school is of the greatest importance. You can’t work hard and we can’t help you if you aren’t in school and if you aren’t trying hard. If you miss school time this year, we are going to ask you to stay afterschool to make up the time you’ve missed and to make sure you aren’t failing your classes.

While we have extended the hours, we are also expanding the number of choices we offer you. This year you will be able to work with Ms. Johnson to create special schedules including partial day schedules for those who work and twilight school where that is most appropriate.

Two other rules I want to quickly mention, that are about community. We ask you to dress appropriately for school. We did not ask you to wear a uniform this year. We are asking you instead to take responsibility for wearing clothes appropriate for our community. Nothing rude, nothing uncomfortably revealing.

Finally, you already know about the cell phones. Here is the story—they have proven to be very disruptive to our community in the past. Ultimately, however, I don’t want to take your phones, I want you to learn to use your phones responsibly. We are going to develop a system whereby students who follow the rules, including the cell phone policy–students who support the values of our community–can earn privileges that will include being allowed to carry your phone in school. You have to earn it by being a responsible member of our community.

This year our theme at Arise is Community.

A community is a network of people, each with different strengths and concerns, sharing some common place, purpose, and need. We are here because we share a common place–the walls of this building, its rooms and its people. We are here because we share a common purpose–helping each one of us become stronger, more able to be competent, and confident and to achieve our individual goals. And, we are here because we share a common need–we need each other to succeed.

There is no CEO without students. There is no guidance or mentoring without teachers and staff. There are no students without other students. The school only stays open as long as each of you chooses to be part of it.

And this is the story I want to tell. What I have learned about Arise is that it is, above all else, a community of choice. Arise students choose to be here because they have found that in many other schools people care about things more than they care about people. Staff and teachers choose to be here because they love you and they love each other.

Arise is a place of choice. Choose to come here and choose to try and we will give everything we have to make sure you get what you want out of life.

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