BLADENSBURG – The return of classes, notebooks and homework is upon the 129,000 students who trekked back to school in Prince George’s County on Tuesday, Aug. 24. The day also marked the first official day for two new international schools in the county. Both the International High School at Langley Park (IHSLP) and the International […]
BLADENSBURG – The return of classes, notebooks and homework is upon the 129,000 students who trekked back to school in Prince George’s County on Tuesday, Aug. 24. The day also marked the first official day for two new international schools in the county.
Both the International High School at Langley Park (IHSLP) and the International School at Largo High School (IHSLHS) held ribbon-cutting ceremonies on Tuesday. The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell, County Executive Rushern Baker III, Congressman Steny Hoyer, as well as county council members and representatives from the school system attended the ceremonies.
“You’re making history this morning,” Maxwell said to the students at IHSLP. “You’re making history as the first students to enter and begin school at an international high school in Prince George’s County.”
Maxwell, with the county board of education, fought for funding for the new schools throughout the 2015 budget period. The schools, which are funded through a grant and district funds, are structured to focus on helping students with language barriers succeed. He said, although the graduation rates in the county have risen across numerous fronts, the graduation rate for English language learners (ELL) has remained stagnant or even fallen.
“It’s really important work. We’re trying to increase our district’s graduation rate and we’d love to get to the state average,” Maxwell said. “We saw graduating numbers from the international schools in New York City that were exceeding the graduation rate overall in New York City and we’d like to feel some of that here too. We’d like to have our kids graduating at greater and greater numbers every year.”
The schools were built off a vision developed by Claire Sylvan, the executive director of the International Network for Public Schools. The two schools in Prince George’s County will house nearly 200 students.
“We were thrilled to be able to partner with the incredibly strong leadership in Prince George’s County and at CASA de Maryland to make this school a reality,” she said. “There are students in this school that come from 19 countries and speak 13 languages. International high schools serve students around the country in five states, and serve over 7,000 students who come from 130 countries and speak almost 100 languages.”
William Amaya, a member of the inaugural class at IHSLP, said he is excited to learn in a new and more language-friendly environment. He said around 10 other friends join him at the school.
“I can get better benefits for myself, so I can be better with my English,” he said. “And I can be learning more than at other schools because they are going to be teaching me English.”
Gustavo Torres is the executive director of CASA, which is a foundation dedicated to helping transitioning Hispanic and Latino families. He said CASA played an integral part in getting the international schools in the county, particularly in searching out grants. Torres said these schools are necessary to help foster the ELL students by giving them an environment where they can thrive.
“It’s essential,” Torres said. “It’s critical because our main goal is to make sure that we integrate them into society. And the only way that we are going to integrate is that they are learning very good English.
“They need to feel comfortable and to not feel attacked or stupid. They are extraordinary kids with extraordinary talent and energy and passion and oral history. The only thing that they don’t have is the language, yet.”
Amaya said he nervous about starting school since he is still learning English and he wants to talk in his native language, Spanish.
“Sometimes I’m scared. I don’t want to come,” he said. “But this school is really nice. I like this school.”
Both international schools are housed within buildings already occupied by PGCPS, due to budget constraints. Maxwell said the goal for the coming years is for the schools to have their own dwellings and continue to grow.