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The Civic Transformation of Harlem Schools

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Seth Andrew, the founder of Democracy Prep Charter School, was nominated for the Hometown Hero in Education Award from the New York Daily News for his work in transforming schools in Harlem. Since founding his first school in 2005, Andrew has created seven others dedicated to preparing responsible and engaged citizens, writes Ben Chapman in the Daily News.

The first school that Andrew opened was located inside the lowest-performing middle school in the entire city, but just four years later Democracy Prep students earned the highest math and reading scores of any city school. “You start with the neediest kids if you want to change things. We’re trying to start a revolution,” Andrew said. Andrew attributes the strong success of Democracy Prep’s charter schools to a positive civic culture, high expectations, outstanding teachers, and more instructional time than average schools. The unique approach to education has paid off, Chapman writes:

Democracy Prep’s students outperform almost every other school in the city on standardized tests, even though its curriculum focuses heavily on civic achievements such as volunteerism and participation in government.

Succeeding on standardized tests is not the only goal of Democracy Prep, however. Instead, students are expected to become active citizens. “The goal is to prepare students to become responsible citizens.  We want them to go to college and change the world,” Andrew said.

For another perspective on the positive impact of Democracy Prep’s curriculum, read our report, “Charter Schools as Nation Builders: Democracy Prep and Civic Education.”

For more on civic engagement development in charter schools, review our “Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools” project.