Our Roots

In 2011, our founder and director, Robin Harwick, Ph.D.,  wrote that her purpose, as a researcher and educator, was to promote educational reform – so traditionally underserved students receive an education that honors them as individuals; promotes creativity and critical thinking; assists them in reaching their potential, and does not produce indoctrinated masses. Since then, she has been planting seeds about how transformative a democratic approach to education can be for young people.

The Pearl Democratic High School was born when she shared her frustration with her son about not being able to find a democratic school for him, and he responded – “you should start your own.” She then threw the idea out on social media, and was met with a resounding “Do it” and “I want to help.”  Since that day, young people, educators, researchers, and community members from the United States, Mexico, and the UK have volunteered their time and minds to help build The Pearl!

As a student at The Pearl, you will have the opportunity to participate in decision making and guiding the direction of the school. For example the Guiding Principles below were written by youth volunteers.

Guiding Principles

Anti-Racist & Decolonized

Non-authoritarian teaching methods will be exercised. No one person or group of people shall hold authority over the rest of the classroom, a group, or an individual. Race, ethnicity, and culture are explored by students in an all-inclusive, safe environment. As mentioned in the diversity principle’s definition, classes will be an inclusive environment for every race, religion, and nationality, because of this, The Pearl will create courses where beliefs, actions, movements, and policies are adopted or developed to oppose racism. Students are encouraged to critically examine their views.

Encouragement to Take Risks & Support

 In an ideal learning environment, students are encouraged to take risks and chances, make mistakes, and to learn from them. This requires a fine balance between being supported and challenged. This is important for youth because they will learn that if they take a risk they may either succeed or stumble, but either way they will learn and gain skills.

Creativity & Autonomy

Students are encouraged to use and expand upon their creativity in an extensive spectrum of activities while exercising the right to be independent and self-governed.


When teachers encourage competence, students achieve more. In order for students to thrive, an optimum learning environment is created through differentiated instruction and teacher flexibility. “When individuals have a positive sense of their ability and efficacy to do a task, they are more likely to choose to do the task, persist at it, and maintain their effort. Efficacy and competence beliefs predict future performance and engagement even when previous performance is taken into account.” – Wigfield, Eccles & Rodriguez


Belonging & Ownership

Every student is welcomed and seen as an equally valued contributing member to The Pearl. Freedom of thought and expression are encouraged, while also promoting the idea that students own their own work. Nothing is done with the intent to please a higher authority, rather to learn and grow as a human.


At the Pearl every student’s education is valued and students are provided with the support they need to be successful, and stand out. Our environment ensures every youth has the resources they need to achieve their goals and ambitions.


Equality is a vital component of democratic education, thus, in The Pearl every student is provided with equal access to the same level of opportunities in order to succeed, while also being encouraged to achieve their hopes, goals, and dreams, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or social class.


A democratic culture by definition welcomes diversity, multiculturalism, and all learning styles. The Pearl values the differences that unite us and embrace them in order to have a welcoming community and safe learning environment, in which all students feel a positive sense of attachment. 

Excitement & Hope

Not many students associate these principles with education. However, The Pearl is an exciting place where excitement flourishes because students are encouraged to participate in activities which are meaningful to them. Hope plays an important part in this because in a democratic classroom all students are given reasons to be hopeful, they are encouraged to dream and keep their minds open. This builds excitement in classes because students learn new things that are relevant to their lives today! 


Humor is vital to any activity striving to be democratic and it may be its primary nutrient. Traditional schools do not emphasize humor and classes are often perceived to be totally devoid of it and weighted down with “alienation, oppression, and subordination” – Kanpol. Not only are students oppressed but so are the teachers. We do not view school as a humorless place, and within this approach lies potential for democracy. “If we are not having fun, we are not doing it right.” – Tony Knight & Art Pearl


Meaning is an important principle since it deals with utility and the student’s understanding of what is expected from them in their courses. Often, insufficient attention is given to clarity of instruction and the most affected are those who are distracted (momentarily or disengaged completely). For the most advantageous learning, teachers will try very hard to make sure that every student knows why what is to be learned is important and every student knows what to do, besides that, in our ideal classes all activities are useful for immediate and future utility.