By Shaquana Harvey
When I was in elementary school, my principal used to greet us every morning and stay out at the end of the day until every kid was gone. I hoped that I’d find a school with leaders like that for my son Nicholas.
At the end of Nicholas’ second grade year, I decided it was time to find a new school for him. I applied to Democracy Prep, and they found him a spot at Harlem Prep Elementary School. Because Harlem Prep Elementary starts in third grade, the timing was perfect! And the school is just a 15-minute walk from where we live on 116th Street near the entrance to the 5 train.
Within a month, Nicholas started telling me, “I love my school!” Because he has an IEP, the teachers work with him to make sure he’s learning at a pace that works for him. Math is his favorite subject, and every time he gets a good grade on a math quiz he gets so excited to bring it home and show me. He’s only in third grade, but he’s already talking about wanting to become an engineer!
It’s not just academics. Nicholas’ teachers help him express his feelings and manage his emotions using a feelings chart. They encourage his classmates to support him when he gets frustrated and have even helped him make friends. One of his teachers told me about a shy boy in his class and how Nicholas helped bring him out of his shell. Now they help each other with their homework!
I love the fact that there are two young male leaders of color at Harlem Prep Elementary for Nicholas to look up to: Mr. Stroud, the principal, and Mr. Richmond, the assistant principal. I see a lot of young boys in our community aspiring to be professional athletes or musicians. For Nicholas, who is African-American and Latino, it’s so important to have school leaders to look up to who look like him and who are young and relatable. It shows him that he can succeed in school and become an educator, too.
At Harlem Prep Elementary, the school leaders are so active and engaged with the kids. Every day, Mr. Stroud stands outside the school and greets students when they arrive, then says goodbye to them when they leave–just like my elementary school principal did. Each classroom in the school is named after a historically Black college or university (HBCU), and there’s even an after-school club focused on young boys and teaching them how to be well-rounded individuals.
As a parent, I feel so supported, too. I’m in a group text chat with Mr. Stroud, Mr. Richmond, and all of Nicholas’s teachers. I can reach out to them any time if I have questions or need help. Even though the school is within walking distance of our apartment, they offer bus pickup and dropoff right in front of our door. The afterschool program is designed for working parents, so students can stay at school until 6 PM every weekday and do drawing, dance and games while their parents are at work.
I always tell my friends, “If you’re going to send your child to a charter school, send them to Democracy Prep.” Nicholas is thriving there, and I’m so happy he has leaders to look up to who will help shape his future.