As a seventh grade teacher at Democracy Prep Charter School, one of my biggest worries at the beginning of the year is the adjustment of new students to our school. Most students matriculate into Democracy Prep as sixth grade students.

During the sixth grade school year, teachers spend a great deal of time building a strong culture focused on our core values of discipline, respect, enthusiasm, accountability and maturity. Scholars leave sixth grade not only academically prepared for success in the upper grades at DPCS, but culturally set up for success in the no-excuses classrooms they will face. However, each year we admit a few new seventh grade scholars to our school. These scholars have historically struggled with not just the academic adjustments of a new school, but with the cultural adjustments that come with enrolling in Democracy Prep Charter School as well.

This August, I was sure I had met a young man who fulfilled the above profile. He was a seventh grader who had never been to a school like ours before. He came into the seventh grade with great academic and behavioral struggles. It quickly became clear to me that he had never been held accountable to high standards before in his life. This young man quickly became a staple in afternoon detention. He earned deductions for his behavior, was constantly chewing gum and rarely completed homework.

During the first month of school, I held Saturday sessions in remedial math. It was in these sessions that I began to see the transformation in this young man. In these small group sessions, he began to participate in class. He was able to take risks that he was not yet comfortable taking in front of a large group of his peers. In these sessions I was also able to get to know him on a more personal level. We were able to discuss his behavioral struggles and develop plans to address them.

Now, this young man has not been in detention for months. His hand is up first in the classroom for every question—whether he is confident in his answer or not. His homework is always completed, and completed well. He loves participating in school activities, and is often seen carrying our “spirit dragon” in the hallways. His mother came into parent teacher conferences and told me how much she had seen him change in the past few months. She told me that she had never seen any of her children feel this way about a school before, and really did not know that a child could feel so strongly about a school. This young man is so changed from the unenthusiastic child who came to us in August. He is now a model scholar, and we are as happy to have him in our school community as he is to be there.

– Margaret Marrer, 7th grade math teacher, Democracy Prep, New York City