Learning for Life
How St. Aloysius Academy students develop into confident, empathetic young men ready to “live greater, do more”
by Sharen Nocella

Every morning at St. Aloysius Academy begins the same way: 225 boys join together and recite a pledge that includes the phrase “to respect the differences and talents of others.” The pledge continually reaffirms students’ commitment to becoming strong, empathetic young men who are just as eager to serve as they are to lead in an increasingly global society.

St. Aloysius Academy is a private, Catholic elementary school for boys and coed Montessori pre-school situated on an idyllic, 42-acre campus in Bryn Mawr. The academy, which was established in 1895 by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, prides itself on providing its students with an exceptional education while building their confidence, self-esteem and empathy—in short, to live greater and do more.

“In our mission statement, we say that we are fostering in each student qualities of leadership and service,” says Sister Stephen Anne Roderiguez, principal of St. Aloysius Academy. “Saying ‘each’ student was very intentional. Through their self-awareness and awareness of others, they can grow in leadership skills.”

When Sister Stephen Anne joined the Academy seven years ago, she brought with her a passion for education and a philosophy that includes developing students both academically and psychologically. She has made it her personal mission to have students graduate from the school better prepared than when they came in, equipped not only with strong academic skills but also with a growth mindset and a healthy dose of grit.

“Leadership doesn’t just mean being in charge of a large group or team but it means leading through simple acts,” she says. “For example, a boy will see something that needs to be done and does it without being told. It can be as simple as seeing something on the floor and picking it up or something greater, like helping someone in need.”

Christopher Cooney, who serves the school as athletic director, agrees.

“We are very proud of how many of our kids are actively involved in some form of leadership while they are here,” he says. “That goes for students who are in kindergarten to the eighth graders.”

The school offers many ways in which students can demonstrate leadership—everything from participating in marching band and a host of athletic teams to becoming part of the Leadership Council and embracing opportunities to spearhead outreach programs.

One key program is PAWS, which stands for Peace, Awareness, Witness and Service. PAWS permeates a St. Aloysius Academy education, beginning with the daily pledge to recognize and enjoy each other’s differences and talents and to seek out the good qualities in fellow students with whom they work, study, play and pray. Each student wears a PAWS pin on his lapel as a constant reminder of the daily morning pledge. Another essential program, known as Magis, promotes leadership and helps students aspire to “being a man for others.”

“That is tough for a kid to understand,” says Cooney. “Young kids can be selfish. We want to make sure we teach them that there are a lot of people out there who need their help. Trying to convince a 13-year-old that he can make a difference in the world by doing more for others is something that we work very hard at.”

Just ask Nicholas Giangiulio, a St. Aloysius student and this year’s president of the Academy’s Leadership Council. Giangiulio has made it his goal this year to ensure that all students truly understand the meaning behind Magis, a Latin term that means “more” or “better.”

“The students here really exemplify Magis,” he says. “The [Leadership] Council just guides everyone, but it is all the students who participate that make the real difference. Helping those less fortunate helps us appreciate all that we have, both here and at home.”

An educational system that teaches students to embrace service and a growth mindset can help children develop healthy self-esteem, according to Sister Stephen Anne, who has been an educator for 30 years. A fixed mindset is one that thinks everything, both deficiencies and talents, is predetermined and cannot be changed. It says, “I don’t know how to do math and never will know how.” By contrast, a growth mindset suggests that, with effort and determination, one can improve. It says, “I can’t do long division yet, but with some hard work and study I will learn.” 

“The word yet has taken on a whole new meaning in our school,” says Sister Stephen Anne. “You could say we have a philosophy of ‘yet’ at St. Aloysius Academy.”

To instill this understanding of this philosophy throughout the school, Sister Stephen Anne had the faculty read “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck and “Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools” by Mary Cay Ricci. As an important complement, members of the faculty are encouraged to also read “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. Duckworth’s book suggests that although education and preparation are fundamentally important to a student’s growth, the intangible quality of grit is essential to long-term success.

“As a faculty, these approaches helped us be much more intentional in the way that we message our students and foster in them the idea of a growth mindset,” says Sister Stephen Anne. “We have seen a difference since we started. I even hear kids talking about the growth mindset, which is refreshing to hear, as we have been messaging each other that a growth mindset helps cultivate a student’s confidence.”

For more than 120 years, St. Aloysius Academy has been a safe place where boys can develop their full potential. The smaller class size contributes to the development of each student as an individual as he learns to become a well-rounded and confident young man eager to tackle the challenges of high school and beyond.

At its heart, St. Aloysius Academy is a unique environment that emphasizes individuality and personalizes learning. In other words, the school has embraced an approach to learning that far exceeds academic excellence; it also teaches essential life skills and helps each student become the best version of himself he can possibly be.

St. Aloysius Academy
401 S. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Photograph by Linda Hanson