Academic journal article Education Next

The Meaning of Community at Democracy Prep: School Culture Supports Students and Their Families

Academic journal article Education Next

The Meaning of Community at Democracy Prep: School Culture Supports Students and Their Families

Article excerpt

HER FAVORITE MOVIE is Frozen. She can recite almost every line. After learning one day that her favorite song is "Let It Go," I encouraged her to sing it in her near-empty classroom at Democracy Prep Endurance, a charter middle school in central Harlem where I am a social worker and Hope is an 8th grader.

She walked up to the front of the room, picked up a pencil, positioned herself as any diva would, and started to belt it out. Her words were a little hard to understand, but her rhythm was undeniable and her exuberance unmistakable, so words didn't matter. This young girl has Down syndrome.

Children with Down syndrome often suffer from a false sense of inadequacy and a fear of building relationships. As she was going into the last stanza, Hope's class was filling the room. She turned her back, her makeshift mic visibly shaking, and continued to sing. The class snapped her up--our signal of support--and although she couldn't see it, there were almost 30 sets of fingers moving wildly in the air to send her love and encouragement.

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, "We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond." Democracy Prep Endurance is our village; we are "each other's business." We are committed to truly seeing one another. This is particularly important for young people like Hope. She's different, and difference is not easily accepted or understood.

I saw in Hope's turning her back a response to years of bullying and teasing, the inevitable "I don't understand what you're saying," and the general meanness of people who simply don't understand her.

Hope is being raised by her dad. Her mom is largely absent from her life; the void is real and tangible. With the exception of Democracy Prep Endurance and her afferschool program, Hope and her dad operate as a small island. He works a full-time job and pulls second shift once he picks her up in the afternoon.

Like many single parents I work with, he texts at all hours. I don't mind. I am available even when it's inconvenient; life doesn't happen on a schedule. …

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