Perseverance and Grit

Chris Giangregorio ’01 is the principal of De Marillac Academy.Each workday, Mary Gerlomes ’15 walks the litter-strewn streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin,  past drug dealers and addicts, to get to her sixth-grade classroom. This is reality for her students, 70 percent of whom are low-income Latinos, attending De Marillac Academy (DMA), a Catholic school.

"What's hard for me, is knowing that they can’t escape it. I can go home and not hear sirens or people screaming or people living on the street. My students can’t escape that," she said.

Yet there's something about this tuition-free grade 4–8 school, run by the Daughters of Charity and De La Salle Christian Brothers, that educators find astounding. Eighty-seven percent of DMA students successfully graduate from high school or are still on track to do so. Moreover, 64 percent are enrolled or have graduated from higher educational institutions, in contrast to 41 percent nationally for all ethnicities and 32 percent nationally for Latinos.

This success is the subject of Lasallian research conducted by a Saint Mary’s team led by Educational Leadership Professor Rebecca Proehl and colleagues Gloria Sosa, professor in the Counseling Department and co-director of the High Potential Program, Desiree Braganza, director of the Educational Leadership Program, and Lisa Ayon, a candidate in the Doctorate in Educational Leadership Program.

In an 80-page paper, “De Marillac Academy: Perseverance, Purpose, and Promise,” the researchers document the school's use of the concept of grit, measured by student traits like curiosity, character, perseverance, and interest in long-term goals. The two most outstanding factors, said Proehl, are the school’s focus on perseverance and the student’s tendency to persevere.

Also important, she said, is the school’s emphasis on long-term goals—especially meaningful goals. "They’re thinking about going to college. They’re thinking about making a contribution. They’re thinking about what their careers are going to be."

Principal Chris Giangregorio ’01 calls De Marillac's approach to education holistic. "It incorporates noncognitive skills, teaching virtues like leadership, perseverance, and grit that are more challenging to document in curriculum or assess on a standardized test."

He said Proehl's research has inspired and empowered them to identify where students are in areas beyond subjects like math and reading. "Gratitude, compassion, perseverance, leadership, integrity, responsibility—we incorporate it across all curriculum areas."

This is De Marillac’s 16th year, and Proehl plans to continue her research, and will write a book about the school that is known as “a miracle in the Tenderloin.”  

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