How Much Grit Does It Take To Be An Indy School Student, of Color?

Grit is a personality trait that social scientists and educational leaders have spent a great deal of time researching as an indicator for academic achievement.

In The New York Times bestseller, Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth suggests a three step plan for achievement that has little to do with a person’s natural ability. Pinpointing a passion comes first; passion turns into skill once hours have been devoted to it (Malcolm Gladwell says 10,000!); and then, one must believe that it can somehow improve a situation. This type of growth-mindset is what grittiness is made of.

But, what does grit look like for students of color in independent schools? Can developing this character trait bypass systemic barriers in education? And, how do students navigating privileged education, like independent schools, leverage this trait to persevere through the cultural challenges our institutions present? Today, RIISE is thrilled to provide students with an opportunity to share their experiences and their voice around grit with our RIISE 500 Social Media Contest (

As an advisor & advocate of independent schools, I am truly passionate about the academic rigor and transformative experiences they can offer students and families of color. But, at the risk of sounding pessimistic, I have to admit that during a recent focus group I participated in I expressed doubt that equity in independent schools, and resulting diversity, would manifest – anytime soon.

However, my watershed moment did not encourage me to throw up my hands. Rather, it created a determination to push ahead, to stick to the notion that if enough hours are put in, by enough people to ensure equity and diversity then maybe we can get there sooner.

Many of our RIISE member schools do hold themselves accountable for offering equity and social justice resources and opportunities. Independent schools should appeal to a higher level of grit to edge out pervasive mono-cultural themes in favor of multi-cultural representations that benefit everyone in the school community.



The grit of one independent school student helped create our social media contest where one lucky winner will receive a $500 scholarship to go towards their independent school tuition or educational enrichment program. We thank Justin Aguirre, our RIISE Summer Intern and rising 9th grader at Riverdale Country School.

In the following postJustin talks about his experience and explains how 7th-9th grade indy school students of color can enter the scholarship competition by sharing how they become inspired and motivated. How do students of color deal with inherent microagressions and at times, more blatant forms of aggression, to speak their truth, have it validated, and not dismissed?

Sure, the financial, social and emotional cost of an independent school education can be high, but most families will contend that they are up for challenge and have the grit to manage the investments in order to gain an exceptional education that includes opportunity for change agency.

The RIISE 500 Social Media Contest ( launches today! We are proud to give voice and scholarship to the resilience and grit students of color are employing to be holistically successful in independent schools and beyond.

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