A message of hope from Mount Karmel

Before I begin, I need to apologize to my readers for the long delay. It probably won’t shock any of you to learn that being the head of a young charter school, particularly one on its third leader in 2 years and in the middle of charter renewal, has been all consuming. Having said this, I am excited to be back finally, and excited to be sharing our work at Arise with all of you. Over the next several months I will be writing extensively about the school design work we are now undertaking but for today I have more immediate reflections.

It is an amazing world we live in.

I say this in part because I am sitting across from Autumn Graves, the head of Girard College, on Mount Karmel, in Israel. The two of us are visiting the Yemin Orde Youth Village.

I also point out that the world is an amazing place as a statement of philosophy and purpose. There is enormous power in optimism, in hope, and in appreciation (See Norton, Anik, Aknin, and Dunn, 2011). The Yemin Orde Model, what they call the Village Way, asserts the belief in something transcendent as one of their philosophical anchors. It is awareness of, connection to, and faith in values and principles greater than ourselves that allows us to achieve the extraordinary and to lead others to do the same. It is from the transcendent that inspiration comes.

Building on this theme, Chaim Perri, now emeritus director, contends that a visionary and inspirational leader is essential to the development of a transformative school culture. Chaim is one of the most inspirational leaders I have had the privilege to meet and he has been the school’s spiritual core over the past thirty years (See my previous post about Chaim’s work, from prior to my meeting him).

And so I find myself on Mount Karmel feeling optimistic. The Mark and Paula Solomon Foundation has generously provided Autumn and I the opportunity to learn from the Village Way, from the Yemin Orde staff, and from Chaim Perri and I am deeply appreciative of and energized by the experience. In this series of posts I will attempt to capture some of our learnings.

Overview: The Yemin Orde Youth Village is a residential village and school that takes young people, mostly for high school, from all over the world. Like the students at Girard and Arise, many if not most of Yemin Orde’s students have been through trauma and hardship. It is evident from speaking with students and alumni that for these young people, Yemin Orde is home.

Students here are not just getting by, they are thriving. They come from Russia and Poland, from Ethiopia and Sudan, and they are matriculating to some of the best programs, military service divisions, and gap year programs in Israel.

In addition, the Yemin Orde Educational Initiative has worked to reverse engineer the Yemin Orde model—capturing it’s philosophy and its methods and many of its design tools to share with schools, including ours. It is a powerful and inspiring experience to come to a school doing so much good work and to find them not in the business of Franchising their model, but instead to find them doing the work of support school design in similar purposed schools across Israel, in Ruwanda and Etheopia, and in the U.S.

Arise is not Yemin Orde—we do not have the same cultural context, we are not residential, and we certainly do not have the same real estate. The Village Way, however, suggests something more fundamental about school design–that there is a philosophy and a method of care that is more important than any pedagogy or content matter. The school–the village–is a home, a community of meaning, and model of living. As we continue to design Arise, we must shift our priorities to focus first on these fundamentals.

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