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.

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.

Change the World projects like Djeneba’s are a fixture at Democracy Prep high schools, the most ambitious expression of an organizational mission that has been developing over the network’s 13 years in operation. Along with preparation for college-level academic work, the organization — 21 charter schools spanning New York and four other states — aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills for a lifetime of active citizenship.

Change the World is the culmination of the network’s civics approach, a rite of passage that sees 12th-graders launching hundreds of small-scale social enterprises each year. By raising money, organizing demonstrations, hosting guest speakers and building advocacy groups, the seniors have a chance to put what they’ve learned about activism and community engagement into practice.

It’s a method that the school believes will ultimately yield energetic, responsible citizens — and possibly act as an antidote to the grim state of democracy today, in which too few Americans are prepared to cooperate to solve major problems facing their communities.

Read the full article about democracy prep for students by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.