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Over 90% of our graduates complete high school within four years, in a city with an on-time high school graduation rate that hovers around 65%.

Contemplating character: a synopsis of November's symposium

What do kids and some cars have in common? “Unibody construction,” moderator Dr. John J. DiIulio, Jr. explained to the crowd of approximately 250 educators, policy makers, funders, parents, and concerned citizens packed into Gesu School’s gymnasium for Gesu’s 16th Annual Symposium on Transforming Inner-city Education: The Hidden Power of Character. Throughout the afternoon, the theme emerged over and over: we have to educate the whole child – not just the intellect – to set them up for a successful life.  Everything is integrated.

Author Paul Tough anchored the conversation with a keynote address on the subject of his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough posits that we have been emphasizing the wrong skills and abilities as predictors of success. While cognitive skills like the ability to multiply or read are important, he argues, things like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism—all character strengths or non-cognitive skills—are just as important, if not more so, in determining who makes it. He discusses a variety of discoveries and perspectives on success and the cultivation of character, such as the cumulative effects of stress on children’s development and what he dubs an “adversity gap.” Curious? The book is worth a read.

The ensuing panel discussion brought a number of interesting issues to light. While most in the room concurred that character matters, Tough pointed out that some of the obstacles to addressing this growing awareness include the absence of a defined curriculum or program that could be adopted on a district wide level, and an insufficient web of support for young children growing up in inner cities.

Panelist Mark Gleason, Executive Director of the Philadelphia School Partnership, works with a number of different schools built on various models that have proven successful. “Great school leaders and teachers are never satisfied,” he observed. “They keep believing there is a better way to do it and they keep striving for that.” He also noted that, “the best schools connect the dots between the cognitive side and the non-cognitive side.” He touched on some of the innovative programs going on in the city.

Panelist Keith Leaphart, D.O., Chairman of The Lenfest Foundation and Owner and Brand Manager of Replica Creative, asserted, “as a nation we have a human capital problem, ” and we are failing our children. “There are certain neighborhoods in this city and this country that are opportunity poor,” he explained.  According to Leaphart, we first need to give these children the opportunity. Then we need to look at why some of the kids are not taking the opportunity afforded them.

The part higher education plays in the solution was the focus of panelist Jeanne F. Brady, Ph.D., Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Dean of Education at Saint Joseph’s University. She stressed the importance of higher ed’s role in shaping a citizenry that possesses a sense of social responsibility. She also noted Saint Joseph’s University’s decision to go “test optional,” whereby applicants are no longer required to submit SAT scores for admissions consideration— an acknowledgement that measures of cognitive ability are not the sole indicators of future success.

The audience offered a number of insights and opportunities for the panel to clarify their comments. The afternoon concluded with an incisive observation. Who defines success? Next symposium, anyone?

Tough speaks at 2013 symposium   Full house at the 2013 Gesu symposium

See more photos from the event on our Facebook page.


We thank our generous event sponsors:

Cozen O'Connor
Morgan Lewis
Saint Joseph's Preparatory School
Saint Joseph's University, Center for Catholic and Urban Education
Mr. and Mrs. Mark Solomon
Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, LLP
Wells Fargo
Mr. Craig White