Harlem Prep

Step by Step ~ A Retrospective ~ 1967–1975

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A Way Out of No Way:
Harlem Prep: Transforming Dropouts into Scholars, 1967–1977

By Hussein Ahdieh &
Hillary Chapman

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Harlem Preperatory School: An Alternative by Hussein Ahdieh (Dissertation, PDF, 7.4 MB)


From its inception in 1967, the Harlem Preparatory School attracted the attention of educators in New York City and elsewhere for its innovative educational system. Based on progressive education principles, Harlem Prep embraced the concepts of individual responsibility, individual dignity, and support for community.

The alternative school movement (free schools) in the early seventies sparked the intellect and the imagination. Harlem Prep enrolled poor youths 17 to 21 years old (and some adults as old as 40) who generally were either high school dropouts or were in the category of those who could not expect to get accepted into a standard American college. Both groups suffered from poor academic skills, poor goal setting, and a background history of inadequate educational preparation for school and for life.

As a private, non-sectarian school, Harlem Prep was allowed independence in its operation, curriculum, and hiring. The curriculum was needs based. Classes were chosen with an advisor. Classes met at flexible times. The open classroom arrangement in an old supermarket space in Harlem, New York allowed cross observation. Class topics cut across the disciplines. Study materials were supplemented by visits to actual work sites. Tutoring and mentoring were built in. Personal expression was encouraged Mutual respect between teachers and students allowed roles to be interchanged. An individual graduated only when he or she had college acceptance in his/her hands.

Harlem Prep continues today as part of the NYC Board of Education. "Moja Logo," Unity and Brotherhood, is the motto that sums it all up. In the ten years of its independent existence, this spirit of unity and support provided the educational opportunity for more than 500 students to find their way into 189 colleges.

Hillary Chapman & Congressman Charles Rangel. Hussein Ahdieh and Mr. Chapman are writing a book about the early years of Harlem Prep. Congressman Rangel was an effective and tireless supporter of the new school.
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