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WATCH — Inside Democracy Prep, a School Network With Civics in Its DNA, Students Are Embracing Their Assignments to ‘Change the World’

April 10, 2019

“Work hard. Go to college. Change the world!”

When Democracy Prep students stream into their classrooms each morning, their school motto follows them. It’s written on the blue and gold banners slung in their hallways, alongside packets of graded student work and on rows of university pennants. It peeks up from school-issued planners. And it’s occasionally found on pieces of the school uniform, a variegated ensemble that makes room for branded button-downs, sweatpants, ties, cardigans and vests.

Not every school can boast a mantra, but Democracy Prep chose one that leaves no ambiguity about its mission. Unique among both charter and district schools, Democracy Prep’s institutional focus lies in preparing kids not just for the rigors of college but also for the demands of citizenship. Through an emphasis on government and social change, as well as a heavy dose of extracurricular civic involvement, the schools seek to transform K-12 students into future voters, volunteers and activists.

In short, adults who could — and might see it as their duty to — change the world.

Measured by traditional metrics of school quality, the results have been striking. Extensive research released between 2012 and 2015 showed that students at Democracy Prep’s New York schools achieved significant gains in math and literacy comparable to those of students at other high-performing charters. But the schools’ most touted impact has been felt on an entirely non-academic outcome: political participation. Last spring, the research group Mathematica released a study finding that attending Democracy Prep made students significantly more likely to vote.

In this new 74 documentary, we go inside the network to talk to the founder, the current leader and the class of 2019 as they work on their capstone “Change the World” projects.