'Girl Power Is the Strongest Power of All'

Richard Barth, the CEO of the KIPP charter-school network, on three lessons for academic (and life) success.

"Girls with their girl power never say 'I can’t,' writes Barth.

Dear Students,

Welcome back to school! I wanted to take a moment on this afternoon to share what I hope for all of you – as well as three lessons I’ve learned over many years working in the education sector. First, let me say I hope you are as fired up for the new school year as I am. At KIPP, we believe that all students, regardless of their zip code or demographics, will learn and achieve. I have never been more optimistic about the prospects before you – and I’ve never been more confident that you will keep charging up that mountain to and through college. I also know that when you reach the summit, you will be committed to leaving the world better than you found it.

Here’s a little secret: you are uniquely suited to leadership. Leaders are made – not born – and nothing fosters true leadership more than taking on big challenges and overcoming them. But as you know, the climb isn’t always easy. There will be challenges along the way. So: as you settle back into the rhythm of the school year, I want to share with you three lessons to success I’ve learned from many of the student-leaders in my life.

Character is Important

At KIPP, we believe character is as important as academics. Your teachers are going to challenge you to expand your mind and fill your brains with knowledge of math, language arts, science, and history. Mastery of these subjects and the critical thinking skills that enable you to tackle them are so critical to get you ready for college. Your teachers will also encourage you to pursue your extra-curricular passions whether that takes you to the stage, the athletic fields, an art studio or out into your community. Inside and outside the classroom, you’ll be talking about grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity and how to keep developing these character strengths.

Lean Into Your Relationships

Here’s something your teachers probably may not tell you, but is important to know: Relationships are important. When I ask alumni to reflect on what they took from KIPP and how KIPP helped them overcome the challenges they faced on the climb, they inevitably cite the relationships with their peers and a relationship with one or more teacher. They talk about the teacher who took their calls for homework help or for advice or sometimes just for moral support. They talk about the teachers who believed in them and how that helped them to believe in themselves and see the vast potential that lay before them.

Here’s my advice: Ask yourself, “Who is the adult in my building to whom I feel the closest connection?” Don’t have one yet? Lean in. Lean in to your teacher. Lean in to your coach. Lean in to your guidance counselor. Lean in to your school leader. Share your aspirations. Share your struggles. Share your doubts. Share your victories. What we know, from years of experience, is that those strong relationships will serve as the foundation for you as you continue your climb to and through college and to a life filled with choices.

Girl Power Is the Strongest Power of All

This lesson comes from watching my wife and my daughter, who is the youngest of four children and the only girl in the family. Two years ago, during a family vacation, my wife told my then 3-year-old daughter that, “Girl power is the strongest power of all.” In watching my daughter and wife tackle life, I am starting to believe that they are right. Just a few weeks ago, my wife told my now five-year-old daughter: Girls with their girl power never say “I can’t.” I want you, students, to recognize that girl power is the strongest power of all, and that girls with girl power never say I can’t.

At KIPP, we’ve always believed in leaning in (and not just to the adults!) so I leave you with a reminder of the KIPP credo and encourage you to live it each and every day.

If there is a problem, we look for a solution. If there is a better way, we find it. If a teammate needs help, we give. If we need help, we ask.

Let’s make it a great year.

Richard Barth CEO, KIPP Foundation