‘The Slingshot Project’ is Prepping Students for Success By Teaching Them the Qualities of Grit

A boy holding a slingshot.

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As parents and as educators, we would give anything to see our children thrive. That’s why we spend years upon years trying to put our children on the best path to success.

Traditionally speaking, success has often been regarded as something that is predetermined; we tend to associate it with those who are exceptionally talented and highly intelligent. But a new program called The Slingshot Project is challenging that mode of thinking.

Ken Mehlman, founder of The Slingshot Project, believes it is grit, not just talent or intelligence, which ultimately determines success. For those unfamiliar with the term, grit refers to the ability to triumph in the face of adversity. A good synonym would be “perseverance.”

The good news about grit is that it is a character trait, not an innate ability. In other words, it can be taught.

And that’s the whole idea behind The Slingshot Project. The program will study the coping mechanisms that underprivileged students use to overcome misfortune. Those coping mechanisms will then be taught to other students, who can use the strategies to overcome their own challenges.

Angela Lee Duckworth, PhD, has been studying the subject for years. Her research findings lend academic credence to Mehlman’s belief that grit is a better indicator of success than talent or IQ.

“Grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment,” Duckworth stated. “If it’s important for you to become one of the best people in your field, you are going to have to stick with it when it’s hard.”

The Slingshot Project is revolutionary in the sense that never before has anyone tried to teach these skills to students. If successful, we could very well have a new generation of children who are better equipped to handle the obstacles and challenges that life throws their way.

“I don’t think anyone’s figured out how to make people smarter, but these other qualities of grit may be teachable,” Duckworth concluded.

To learn more about The Slingshot Project, click here.

The Resistance School

An image that says, "resist."

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“The Resistance School” sounds like a dystopian young adult novel. Perhaps appropriate, since it could be said that the world feels like one, these days. But actually, it is an activist group forming inside Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Unofficial and entirely run by student volunteers, it is more of a knowledge-sharing center than anything else.

The Resistance School began, as many ideas do, as a conversation between friends. Eleven graduate students came up with the realization that while many people want governmental change, few people have solid ideas of how that change can come about. Their conversations turned into concrete action, in the form of a series of free workshops on campus, on the topic of grass-roots transformation.

According to their Facebook, the Resistance School is “a free four-week practical training program to sharpen the tools we need to fight back at the federal, state, and local levels.” More than 12,000 people follow that page. The workshops, which began on April 5th, have more than 4,000 people following them live, both in-person and streaming. And they’re made available on the group’s site to anyone interested.

“Given our shared skill-set and how varied the group was,” said Yasmin Radjy, one of the original founders of the group, “we wondered if there was something we could do together to contribute to the groundswell of activism happening across the country. The answer that we came to was, given the tremendous wealth of resources we have access to here (at Harvard), how could we get those resources to people?”

Along with their own skill-sets, the founders also reached out for and received help from campaign staffers from the camps of Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton. The workshops are covering topics ranging from mobilizing effective protests to running outright for positions in local government.

Student Spotlight: Ifetayo Ali

A picture of a cello.

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Ifetayo Ali learned to play the violin at so young an age that it might be said to be her first language. By four, she was well-enough versed in music that she decided the cello suited her better, even though even a half-sized instrument was larger than she was.

The young African-American prodigy studied with many of the luminaries of musical education, beginning with her mother Lucinda Ali Landing, as well as Hans Jørgen Jensen and Martine Benmann, of the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute.

By six, she was a viral sweetheart on YouTube among cello fans. In a video from the 2008 Chicago Music Association Recital, she can be seen performing in white tights, a blue dress, and Mary Jane shoes. She plays with all the deliberate care of a performer ten times her age with the intent, bright-eyed focus of a child at her favorite game. She followed that small fame with recognition from several competitions for young musicians throughout the country.

This year, Ifetayo is fourteen. She is also the winner of the Junior Division First Place Laureate Prize in the 2017 Annual Sphinx Competition. She took the prize with an enticing performance of Lalo’s Concerto in D Minor accompanied by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra.

The Sphinx Competition is a 20-year-old institution in Detroit, Michigan. It’s open to all Black and Latino students from seventh grade into college, recognizing talent in a pool usually minimized in an effort to encourage artistic pursuit in those communities.

In 2016, Ifetayo competed at Sphinx and took home the silver medal. She came back to win, and her well-honed drive carried her to her goal. The victory comes with a ten thousand dollar prize and performing appearances with several major orchestras, as well as a featured interview on “From the Top,” a nation-wide music program. She will cast a wide net of influence for children not much younger than her, an icon of artistic success.