How a school is drawing upon civics to challenge its students to ‘change the world’

April 12, 2019 | The 74

Djeneba Sy has a way of standing out from the crowd, even one as hectic as this.

The senior at Democracy Prep Harlem High School stood smiling behind a desk in the crowded fourth-floor classroom, ready to explain the details of her yearlong capstone project. A few students thronged around her as others squeezed past. Like her classmates, she introduced herself and gestured toward her visual aid, a foldable display board covered in quotes and statistics about the research she’d conducted this year.

Unlike the other seniors, she was clad in her cheerleader uniform for the Democracy Prep basketball team’s homecoming game later that day at nearby City College. Her subject, depression and mental illness, was a grim one, but she cut an especially — well, cheerful figure in the school’s trademark blue and gold. A bow sat atop her already elaborately styled hair.

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