Democracy Prep Charter Middle School
Manhattan NY 10037
Korean music and dance, lots of trips
Strict discipline and high suspension rates
Democracy Prep Charter is a structured and challenging school with strong leadership, good test scores and orderly classrooms, according to school surveys. The school combines strict discipline and a long academic day with trips, civic engagement and exposure to Korean music and dance. (High school students take four years of Korean language.)
The school day runs from 7:45 am and 4:00 pm, but many students don't leave until later due to tutoring, extra-curricular activities, a proctored study-hall and detention. Extracurricular activities may include sports, choir, dance, student government, storytelling, and Korean mask dance.
Like the other schools in the Democracy Prep network, the school has clear rules and high expectations. Students move from class to class in straight, silent lines. Countdown clocks keep middle school students on task, and for the most part, desks are arranged in pairs facing the front of the classroom.
High school classrooms are set up to facilitate greater class discussion, and the tone of classes is less structured than in the middle school. In one class we visited, 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.
Students earn and lose fake dollars based on their behavior and academic performance and can use their dollars to participate in a variety of activities and trips.
While the structured environment is a defining feature of the Democracy Prep schools, the strict rules do not appeal to everybody. More than one-third of students say discipline is unfair, according to school surveys. The 2014-15 suspension rate (the most recently available data) was 27 percent, far above the statewide average of 3 percent. “Any student can thrive at Democracy Prep, but you have to be able to work in a structured environment,” External Affairs Associate, Amara Sillah said on our 2012 visit.
The focus on citizenship and democracy is reflected in a variety of activities. During election campaigns, students participate in a “Get out the vote” campaign to help Harlem residents identify where they should vote. In 2012, some students attended a campaign event for Barack Obama in Columbus, Ohio; others went to South Korea to study that country’s presidential election.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: School founder, Seth Andrews, who had a learning disability as a child, said the school was designed to accommodate children with special needs.
ADMISSIONS: By lottery. Priority to District 5. Democracy Prep accepts new students at every grade level, depending on the number of spaces available. About two-thirds of the middle school students continue on to the high school. (Pauline Zaldonis, November 2012; updated, school data, 2017)