Grit, And How To Get It

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Thanks to Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed, we know that “grit” is an important factor in kids’ achievement. But the question still lingers: How do we encourage the development of grit?

Maiken Scott of NewsWorks, a program of public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia, reports on a program that aims to instill grit through regular mentoring and adventurous trips:

“The program, called Summer Search, pairs low-income kids with mentors in a five-year quest to strengthen specific traits—curiosity, self-reflection, altruism, empathy, appreciation and performance—to help them succeed.

Kids start the program in their sophomore year of high school, and the ones who stick with it get support through their second year of college. They meet weekly with a mentor to build up their skills. Come summer, they go on their first adventure, usually a wilderness experience, says  Amanda Jefferson, director of Summer Search.

‘They are going to go completely out of their comfort zone, and hike and canoe and track, get on a plane for the first time,’ she says. ‘It’s all about pushing them out of their comfort zone and teaching them all about team building, and the grit and the resilience that comes along with that.’

Participant Kamira Sloan of West Philadelphia said when she went on her first trip, she did not think that she would be able to live in the woods for two weeks. ‘But I did it, and I didn’t cry all the time, so I give myself credit for that,’ she says. ‘And I found a whole bunch of confidence.’

Jefferson says kids have to learn that the only thing they can really control is themselves and their behavior. ‘[That means] holding up the mirror, asking, What are you doing to sabotage your own life?’ she says.

It’s often a rocky path, says Jefferson; about 15 percent of students drop out of the five-year program.

Kamira Sloan recalls doubting the program along the way. ‘Sometimes I felt like, This is not going to work, so why do I need to do this?’ she says. ‘But it did, and I’m glad that it did, because the outcome is great.'”

Kamira will be going to college in the fall. (Read more here.)

That move of getting out of one’s “comfort zone” seems like a key part of this program—proving to these kids that they can do it. If they can cope with two weeks in the woods, why not another unfamiliar place, like a college campus? The mentoring seems important, too.

Risk and support—that’s what we everyone needs in order to grow.

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One Response to “Grit, And How To Get It”

  1. I definitely agree that there is something about getting out of one’s “comfort zone”, both as evidenced by this piece and in Tough’s book as well. The mentorships and even the NYC chess program that he highlights are examples of students and practitioners reaching for something beyond their everyday lives. Character, in many ways, is built from risk, challenge and adversity. College and the real-world can bring a lot of obstacles–knowing early that you can face and beat them can be huge for self-esteem and confidence. Fostering grit and perseverance early is a great way to start that journey.

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