It’s not every day a West Las Vegas high school takes its students, who have showed an exceptional commitment to high academic standards and behavior, abroad to Italy. That is unless you attend Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus (DPAC).
“This was my first time out of the country,” said Junior Alisha Graves. “I am the first in my family to actually go outside of the United States. My family was really proud of me for putting in the work to go and making sure I had good grades.”
Fifteen scholars, chaperoned by DPAC staff, took the overnight flight to the enchanting city of Rome.
“It was important for them to travel the world, they wanted to be able to see areas of the world they had never been,” said DPAC Executive Director Adam Johnson, who also traveled with the scholars.
Democracy Prep Public Schools motto is, “Work hard. Go to college, Change the world!” Recognizing that in order to change the world scholars have to see the world, Democracy Prep’s Global Citizens program has taken several hundred high school scholars to ten different countries on five different continents. This was the first year abroad for DPAC, which opened its doors as a Democracy Prep charter a year ago.
“They [scholars] want to understand how to be citizens of the world,” said Johnson. “I always say ‘travel will be the best education you will get.’ It is an experience that I will cherish for a very long time. To be able to be in a place and be a learner alongside my students was actually the most valuable part for me.”
Every student at DPAC is eligible to travel abroad, but they have to apply. The application process requires three short essays and an interview. Using a point system scholars are selected for the trip. Traveling thousands of miles abroad is an opportunity many living in West Las Vegas thought they would never be afforded.
“Being a person of color we don’t often get opportunities like this,” said Junior Arturo Martinez. “It didn’t hit me that I was really going to Italy until we landed, it was surreal.”
Upon graduation, more than 50 percent of Democracy Prep alums will have traveled abroad on an educational trip at least once during their high school tenure. By comparison, only one in ten U.S. undergraduates will study abroad, and less than 15 percent of those are African American or Latinx.
“This trip inspired me to travel abroad again, there is one trip I really want to go on which is the trip to South Korea,” said Sophomore Brandy Tinoco. “I think it is amazing we have this opportunity at this school.”
Scholars landed in Rome and were immediately engulfed in awe by the architect, art, and food. Scholars visited multiple parts of the city including Vatican City, the infamous Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
“I hadn’t heard about the Roman Forum until we started preparing for this trip,” said Graves. “When we got there, I didn’t think it was going to be that much space. It was really cool to see all the original artifacts that have been there all this time. I also enjoyed the pizza and gelato!”
Democracy Prep Agassi Campus was not the only school in the charter’s network to travel abroad this year. Every year high school scholars throughout the Democracy Prep network travel to South Korea, France, Spain, and Ecuador during their Winter and Spring Breaks.
“It really does provide a parent with that validation that I am putting my child in a space that they are really being exposed to the maximum amount of good while I am parenting them,” said Johnson.
Johnson believes providing scholars from West Las Vegas with this kind of educational experience and exposure gives them the confidence they need when meeting with others who have had such opportunities.
“It is incredibly important for scholars to know they are equally prepared to be in places that other more affluent students have been,” said Johnson. “When affluent students talk about their travels to other countries, our scholars can say ‘I have been able to do that as well.’ It provides them the capital to share that just because they have lower incomes does not mean they are less experienced in the world, or have less perspective of how the world operates.”
DPAC scholars say they are aware of the negative coverage and comments made about their school, and say the changes made have had a great influence on their academic success and has provided them with the opportunity to do what was once thought to be impossible.
“People came in with a negative mindset, but this change was positive,” said Martinez. “I feel more challenged, and most of our parents never imagined going abroad and getting the opportunities we have had. This was an experience of a lifetime.