45 scholars and staff from Harlem High School, Harlem Prep Middle, Charter High School, Bronx Prep High School, Endurance Middle School, and Endurance High School went to Albany for the day to participate in the New York City Charter School Center’s Charter School Advocacy Day. Scholars were there to speak to lawmakers about the advantages of charter schools and advocate for policies that promote them, including raising the current cap on charter schools so that more can open in the state of New York.
At their first meeting of the day, nine scholars from DPCHS met with Senator Brian Benjamin’s Legislative Director. Senator Benjamin’s district includes Harlem.
The scholars were eager to share why they think Democracy Prep is special.
Asse Diallo chose to discuss the “Change the World” project that all seniors complete.
“A really fascinating aspect of our charter school is the Change the World project,” Asse said. “It’s a year-long project where we choose to work on something that we are passionate about. I chose empowerment of women in Islam.”
Asse also shared how attending DPCHS impacted her identity.
“Coming to this school helped me embrace my personality, culture, and religion.”
For Diavionne Robinson, her school’s emphasis on college and the life-skills necessary to be successful in college is what makes DPCHS a great place to be a scholar.
“Democracy Prep is really serious about college,” said Diavionne. “They take us on college trips. They talk a lot about advocacy. If you have a problem with a grade or a class, they teach us to advocate for ourselves.”
Samantha Hernandez spoke about how Democracy Prep’s safe learning environment leads to scholar success.
“I feel safe going into the building,” Samantha said. “I know I’m safe. I know there are no outside factors that are going to come in and stop me from doing my work.”
Samantha said the teachers at her school play a big role in creating a secure environment.
“Our teachers really care about our safety.”
Samantha also shared how her school cultivates a positive culture and celebrates scholar growth.
“Every Friday, we have a town hall where we walk in as a grade and celebrate each other’s achievements. We have Nerd of the Week. We like to acknowledge students for their good work.”
The legislative director was clearly very moved by his discussion with the scholars.
“I have to say, I’m really really impressed with your stories,” he said. “One of the things that struck me is this idea of training for citizenship. There are so few people out there who are aware of their citizenship or actually doing anything about it. That you guys have been spending years getting ready for that, that gives me a lot of hope.”
In addition to speaking to representatives about legislation related to charter schools, each school group also chose an additional issue they felt passionately about such as suicide prevention and bullying. Scholars advocated for a bill that promoted their chosen issue.
Bronx Prep High scholars chose to encourage lawmakers to support a bill which prohibits state and local police from biased-based profiling. When BPH scholars met with Assembly Member Latoya Joyner’s Chief of Staff, they spoke about their own experience to illustrate why the bill should be supported.
“We live in a community where we don’t have a great relationship with our local police officers,” Favour Oladeru said.
“We would benefit by having a better relationship with them.”
“I come from a community where I know a lot of people don’t who like the police,” said Kenneth Yeboah. “I think we should pass this bill to ease the tension between the community and the police department.”
The BPH scholars also discussed the indirect consequences of biased-based profiling.
“Stigma from the police can impact people’s mentalities,” said Samuel Krapah. “If you feel like you are being racially profiled, you might think ‘oh I’m not smart enough. The police think because I’m black, I can’t do this.’ Then racial profiling can lead to all of these other things like low graduation rates.”
On the bus ride home, scholars reflected on their meetings and felt positively about their conversations with their representatives.
“I could tell they were really astounded when we told them about our school,” said Diavionne.
Participation in Charter School Advocacy Day is just one of the many ways Democracy Prep scholars pursue a life of active citizenship. To learn about Democracy Prep’s commitment to civic education, please click here.