Strict Korean Education Builds Confidence for Harlem Students

Students and Korean language teachers at Democracy Prep Public School in Harlem (Photo via Korea Daily)

Last month we posted a translated story on Democracy Prep Public School in Harlem, which models some of its approach on Korean education. After New York Ilbo ran the story, it was picked up by both Korean mass media and New York-based Korean publications.

Below we have translated a story in the Korea Daily which followed up by interviewing students at the charter school about their experience learning the Korean way. The Korea Daily also interviewed the school’s principal, Seth Andrew, who visited Korea last month to participate in an education conference and build connections between his Harlem School and people and institutions in Korea.

“When I heard that Korean classes were mandatory, I couldn’t believe it,” [one student said.] “I thought it would be changed to Spanish, so I didn’t study. But I should study.” (laugh)

On June 27, when the summer vacation began, we met some students at Democracy Prep Public School in Harlem who said that when they first started studying Korean language in the 9th grade, it was hard for them. In particular, at their school, inspired by the Korean education system, students go to school at 7:45 a.m. and study until 5:15 p.m. without going outside — unlike other schools neighborhood. Also, the school strongly emphasizes rules and discipline. And also, after 2:30 p.m., when the regular classes are over, other after-school activities are waiting for students, such as one-on-one sessions with teachers, supplementary lessons, and after-school curriculum such as Taekwondo or choir. Students create their own portfolio for college entrance in their spare time. Students used to rebel against such continued ‘hard training.’

“At first, I really hated the principles of school,” said Aishatu Mohamed, 15, a 10th grader. “I even wanted to transfer to another school. However, as time goes by, I realized that this strict school life will open the doors for us to be successful.”

“Friends who attend other schools don’t study hard after school because they tend to play with their friends,” said Jade Staggers, 15, who is in the same grade as Mohamed, and sat nearby smiling broadly. “However, we can’t do anything but sleep after school in the evenings, because we are totally exhausted from doing our assignments. My parents are really happy about it.”

“I heard that students in Korea study in schools even late at night,” said Justin Jiles, 15, a 10th grader. “We are lucky, because our school is not that hard. I think my school adopts good way of Korean education properly.”

Eighty percent of the students of this school are from low-income families. College graduates are rare in the students’ families. Students, who find confidence amid their difficult circumstances, said they deeply appreciate the efforts of their Korean language teachers.

“Last year, I couldn’t attend school for two days due to personal affairs,” Mohamed said. “In the next Korean class, the teacher delivered the previous lecture  to me individually. I appreciate their devotion.”

What do they think of Korean?

“‘S’ and ‘ㅅ’ have similar sound. But, they are pronounced in a different way, which is interesting,” Jiles said.

“Korean is one of the most logical languages, so that it helps us study mathematics.” Mohamed said.

All the students said that because so few people speak Korean, they would study hard, and that they hoped to work in a field that allowed them to go back and forth between Korea and America.”

The students said that they like Korean girl group singers such as 2NE1, and that they enjoyed K-Pop, [Korean pop music], whose songs and music videos are reminiscent of American pop.

Students interviewed in this article are all recipients of the Korean excellence award for the academic year 2011 to 2012. In particular, Staggers was chosen for the Camp Fulbright Junior Internship Program, so she will study in Korea for three weeks of this summer.

“I want to show people that there are students in Harlem who are learning in the Korean way,” she said. “Besides, I want to learn Korean culture so much.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *