Democracy Prep Charter School
New York NY 10037 Map
Democracy Prep Charter School
Democracy Prep Charter is a structured and challenging school where students learn Korean and take part in a variety of field trips. This combined middle and high school emphasizes civic engagement and encourages students to work hard and to go to college to change the world.
Like the other schools in the Democracy Prep network, the school has an extended day, clear rules and high expectations. Students move from class to class in straight, silent lines, wearing full uniforms. Students are called “citizen-scholars.” Each grade level is known by the year they will graduate from college (not eighth grade but the class of 2020.)
Middle school students take three hours of English, two hours of math, and one hour of social studies and science every day. Teachers guide students seamlessly from one activity to the next, sometimes using a countdown during transitions. For the most part, desks are arranged in pairs facing the front of the classroom. While elements of the curriculum are traditional, middle school students may take a variety of nontraditional classes called “Find Your Passion” that cover topics such as Tai-chi and lacrosse.
High school students also take three hours of English, two hours of math, and one hour of social studies and science each day, plus a class on Korean language and culture—the only foreign language offered. High school classrooms are set up to facilitate greater class discussion, and the tone of classes is less structured and more mature than in the middle school. In one class, students discussed the historical and political context of the music of artists like James Brown and B.B. King. In a chemistry class, students seemed to be covering advanced material with a focus on performing well on the Regents exam.
The school’s values, summarized by the acronym DREAM (standing for Discipline, Respect, Enthusiasm, Accountability, and Maturity), are posted throughout the school and are honored by students and staff alike. Students earn and lose “DREAM Dollars” based on their behavior and academic performance and can use their dollars to participate in a variety of activities and field trips. During the time of our visit, a group of students were on a field trip in South Korea, where they were investigating the 2012 presidential election.
While the structured environment is a defining feature of the Democracy Prep schools, the strict rules do not appeal to everybody. Democracy Prep has had one of the top ten highest attrition rates of New York City charter schools. “Any student can thrive at Democracy Prep, but you have to be able to work in a structured environment,” explained External Affairs Associate, Amara Sillah.
The focus on citizenship and democracy is reflected in a variety of activities. In 2008, the high school hosted the largest inauguration party in Harlem, and in 2012, they hosted an Election Day event attended by students and over 100 parents. A group of middle school students traveled to Columbus, Ohio before the election to attend an event hosted by the Obama campaign. Additionally, during election season students also participated in a “Get out the vote” campaign where they helped Harlem residents identify where they should go to vote.
The school day is between 7:45 am and 4:15 pm, but many students don't leave until 6:15pm due to tutoring, extra-curricular activities, a proctored study-hall, and detention. Extracurricular activities include sports, choir, dance, student government, storytelling, and Korean mask dance among other diverse activities.
Special education: Democracy Prep actively recruits students with special needs, with almost a quarter of incoming 6th grade students having special needs. Students with special needs are integrated into general education classrooms through the ICT model. School founder, Seth Andrews, who had a learning disability as a child, said that the school was designed with the needs of special education students in mind.
College admissions: The school has two college guidance counselors and a director of the college guidance office. The school sponsors college visits and had a 100% acceptance rate for its first senior class.
Admissions: By lottery with priority given to students from District 5 and to siblings of enrolled students. Most students are admitted in the 6th grade, but Democracy Prep accepts new students at every grade level, depending on the number of spaces available. Most middle school students continue on to the high school. The wait list for interested students is generally over 1,000 students long. (Pauline Zaldonis, November 2012)