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Student Advocacy Finds a New Voice in School for Democracy and Leadership

First School Year Ends with Advances in Scholastic Performance and Social Activism

NEW YORK, July 18 /PRNewswire/ -- The School for Democracy and Leadership in Brooklyn today celebrates the close of its first year in helping students participate and achieve in a new learning environment. Exams are done. Lockers are emptied. Textbooks have been returned and final grades have been sent home. And 150 sixth and ninth graders, who just nine months ago chose a unique approach to learning, can now reflect on how the 2004-2005 school year progressed and what they look forward to in the coming year.

"The smaller, more focused setting at the School for Democracy and Leadership has opened up opportunities for me to learn and succeed," said one ninth grade student. "Before coming to SDL, I attended a larger, overcrowded high school where less attention was paid to students' individual interests. At SDL, the teachers listen to our opinions and help us to accomplish personal goals. I'm glad I decided to come here; it has been a great experience this past year being able to participate in more hands-on activities and affecting the shape of the school and community through change projects."

Formed in association with the New York Urban League, New School University's Center for Urban Education and Sadie Nash Leadership Project, the School for Democracy and Leadership is rooted in the belief that democracy and education are inextricably linked. The school was launched to foster a learning environment that uniquely ties student choice, community involvement and the realization of personal potential. Providing a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, SDL aims to cultivate confident leaders and critical thinkers whose academic accomplishments and sense of connection with the larger community empower them to become meaningful participants in the world around them.

SDL joined more than 50 small, theme-based secondary schools that opened their doors in 2004 as part of Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to transform education and reverse alarmingly low graduation rates in New York City.

"The School for Democracy and Leadership represents an opportunity for students to take a more active role in shaping their own education and their communities. After only one school year, it's clear that the educational principles underlying this approach are taking root," said Nancy Gannon, co-founder and principal. "Students are both meeting and exceeding expectations. For example, eight students passed the Math Regents this year, despite the fact that we were hoping to prepare them over two years. Four students are preparing for the Physics Regents, a course that a very small fraction of pupils -- mostly as seniors -- take in New York City. And reading scores for the ninth grade are up 30%. And while test scores are important, just as important is the high level of student engagement we see daily, in contributing to their own educational progress under the leadership of an equally motivated SDL faculty."

SDL provides students with a range of opportunities to transform themselves and their environment through participation. For example, one student had the rare opportunity to observe youth cases at the Red Hook Youth Court that inspired new insights into and how the community deals with problem youth. Other students proudly led 2004 voter registration drives. Further, others led a lobby in Albany against the inequitable way in which the city is funded for education versus other communities in NY State. One 14-year old student even undertook the task of helping create a library for SDL.

Apart from individual and small group projects, several notable special events were held during the school year, including:

Hip-Hop Reader Summit

SDL hosted the kick-off of the Hip-Hop Reader Program in New York City with Russell Simmons of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, Marc H. Morial of the National Urban League, and Patrick Gaston of the Verizon Foundation. Hip-Hop Reader is a youth-based literacy and leadership initiative designed to engage public high school students in reading and discussing books, poetry, lyrics and issues important to their lives. The summit featured three key reading ciphers which integrated multi-sensory activities for students -- sight, sound and touch, music and art -- to demonstrate the power of literature.

Thirteen's Human Rights 101 Project

SDL was one of a few schools around the Tri-State Area to be awarded a grant to work on a human rights issue of importance. Students spent the year studying and preparing a teach-in about the importance of immigrant students' right to education, and the importance of the Federal D.R.E.A.M. Act. Among other things, this act provides the opportunity for undocumented students to get financial aid for college and be granted documentation.

Science Fair with Columbia University and Polytechnic University

The school's first annual science exhibition showcased innovative projects focusing on model rocket design, competitive robot construction, water erosion analysis, the study of sea-side crab morphology, and more. One student, for instance, who was interested in developing robots for combat built a simple robot for the KISS Robotics Competition. Another student interested in reducing energy use explored how to power motors using solar panels.

Distinguished scientists from Columbia University and Polytechnic University, who work in the fields of computer science, nanotechnology, astrophysics and chemistry, participated in judging the exhibits and provided winners an opportunity to tour their labs.

MIT and McGill University Research

SDL sixth-graders traveled to Rockaway Beach along the Atlantic Ocean to participate in invasive crab research. The students are part of a joint program between MIT, McGill University, and citizens to set-up a monitoring program along the Northeast coastline. The goal is to determine the prevalence of crabs that have arrived here from across the Atlantic Ocean, and which have started to take over the food and habitat of the plants and animals that are native to this area.

"A key event for all students at the end of the school year is the creation and presentation of a portfolio," said Jhumki Basu, SDL science teacher and New York City Teaching Fellow. "In their portfolios, students demonstrate the work they have pursued, the essential skills demanded, and reflect on areas where they are strong as well as areas that need improvement. Almost every child, despite moments of self-doubt, has risen to the challenge of completing a portfolio. For the teachers at SDL, this is especially a time of pride and reflection. It is amazing to see how much students have matured over the course of the year."

"As we move into the 2005-2006 school term, our second year of operation, the staff plans to extend our focus on career-oriented student opportunities to help those who may wish to pursue special interests in fields such as law, media, engineering, and medicine," Gannon continued. "It's not enough to create a new small school and expect that everything will be right from the start. Student participation requires a flexible, responsive approach that enables individuals to achieve their personal goals. With a strong foundation in place, I look forward to SDL's second year with even more excitement than our first!"

About The School for Democracy and Leadership

The School for Democracy and Leadership is a 6-12th grade college preparatory school that will cultivate strong leaders and learners in our world. Our students will have exciting opportunities for internships, mentorships, college exploration, a summer bridge program and student governance, supported by partnerships with the New York Urban League, New School University's Institute for Urban Education and the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. We emphasize high academic achievement, a rigorous college preparatory curriculum for every child, and a close connection to the larger community. Our school emphasizes student choice, parent and community participation, and the development of personal potential through a number of elements including student advisories, Town Hall meetings, student government, and Change Projects where students work towards transforming an issue or challenge they select. Our students will take what they learn at School for Democracy and Leadership far beyond its halls -- to college, to their communities, to the city, and to their future careers. They will be a positive force in their world, capable of influencing change, participating meaningfully in their communities, and contributing constructively to democracy in our society. For more information, visit www.democracyandleadership.org.

Source: The School for Democracy and Leadership

CONTACT: Dionne Manchester, +1-917-805-7479, or Dionne@GWCco.com, for
The School for Democracy and Leadership

Web site: http://www.democracyandleadership.org/

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