Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Immigrant Students Bond With Peers Through Music

Source: Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Students in the band at Largo High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, may not all speak the same language, but that difference doesn’t stop them from making music together.

Armando Trull took listeners inside the after-school band program this week in a story for WAMU, in which one student told him it’s OK that some of the students don’t speak English, because “music is the universal language.”

The Band of Gold is made up of students from Largo High School and Largo International High School, which meet in the same building. The international school opened last fall to ninth grade students who are new immigrants to the United States. Most of the students are from Central America and are learning to speak English as a second language. 

Trull reports that before the new school opened, some parents felt that the largely black student body at Largo High School was being “short-changed in favor of the newcomers.”

But in the band, it would seem that students are trying to bridge the divide. The older students act as mentors to the freshmen, teaching them how to blow through horns or asking them to repeat rhythms.

Schools like this new international model in Prince George’s County are designed for immigrants who have been in the United States for less than four years and provide focused instruction tailored to students with varying literacy skills — not only in English, but also in their native language.

These types of schools have fueled debates, with critics likening the separate learning environments to segregation laws of old. Proponents, however, look at these models as a way to close the achievement gap in a system where English-language learners are at high risk of dropping out of school and trail their peers, with a graduation rate of just 62.6 percent

Teens at Largo High School have grown accustomed to the changes, with one student telling Trull he sees this program as an opportunity to mold new minds and open them up to “the world of music.”