Meet The Seven Million Dollar Students
Graduating Students At International High School at Langley Park Raises Millions In Scholarships And Increases the Graduation Rate
Updated July 2, 2019 // 3:51 p.m.
Editor's Note: Prince George's Suite Magazine & Media's original reporting based on an interview with Mr. Carlos Beato, Principal, IHSLP stated that the graduation rate was 100%. As of July 1,2019, Mr. Beato requested this edit: “100% of remaining students at IHSLP will graduate, but we started with 99 students who have since either gone to other schools, returned to their native country or simply dropped out. That 100% does not take that into account how MSDE calculates outcomes, which includes those other students.”
By Maria Lopez-Bernstein
The cheers at the commencement for the International High School at Langley Park (IHSLP) was overshadowed only by the pride beaming in the room as 68 of the 71 seniors in the inaugural class of 2019 moved their tassels from right to left.
And they have a lot to be proud of.
The inaugural class of IHSLP worked very hard to achieve academic success, securing $7 million in scholarships to date. And in August 2019, the remaining 3 seniors will complete the requirements for their high school diploma, marking an increase for their first graduating class. Students received a total of 175 acceptances, mostly to four year colleges (75%). Students were accepted into about 40 different schools, including American University, Skidmore, Bard, Goucher, Sarah Lawrence, The New School, Notre Dame of Maryland, and Trinity Washington DC. That is no small task.
Among the high achieving graduating class is Katya Miranda. With a 4.0 GPA, Katya is the inaugural class valedictorian. Although accepted to Loyola University, Trinity University, Saint Joseph’s University, and many others, she has been awarded several scholarships and has chosen to attend Notre Dame University of Maryland this fall on a full Presidential Scholarship. She will major in art therapy.
But Ms. Miranda’s journey did not start at the same equal footing that many of her English speaking peers enjoyed.
A Good Idea That Addressed The Academic Problem
Four years ago when the graduates started their high school journey in Prince George’s County, the statistics were bleak for their academic achievement. While the graduation rate in Prince George’s County public schools system saw a record high in 2015 of 79%, English Language Learners (ELL’s) who make up one-third of the public school population in Prince George’s, were at the bottom of educational achievement, graduating only 46% of ELL’s high school seniors (Maryland State Department of Education).
To help bridge the gap, the Carnegie Corporation stepped forward with a $3 million grant jointly awarded to the Prince George’s County Public Schools system, the non-profit CASA de Maryland, and the educational non-profit International Network for Public Schools, to help build two International High Schools in Prince George’s County, Maryland: a stand-alone at Langley Park, and one in Largo that would share space with already existing Largo High School.
At the helm of IHSLP is principal and doctoral candidate Carlos M. Beato, himself an ELL student when he came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a youth himself. His experiences grounded his awareness of the needs of his students and how to engage them to help them succeed.
In an interview with The Suite, Mr. Beato shared, “We know that drop-out rates are high amongst the immigrant community and providing a small space with other international students has proven to be effective at other international schools across the country.”
It’s no secret why immigrant students struggle in traditional schools. Language is a big factor, but not the only one.
Students who are newly arrived to the U.S., “often come with a lot of needs that most staff are not yet equipped to handle in traditional schools. There’s much training and development needed around student trauma, reunification efforts and other matters,” states Beato. “I think that in big schools, ELL Students are often lost and don’t have the proper guidance to be successful.”
At IHSLP, a competency approach is used. According to Mr. Beato, their grading system is “based on mastering critical thinking, socio-emotional, language and content skills.” This gives them the opportunity to personalize learning in ways that aren’t possible with traditional grading. Also, Mr. Beato hand-picked his teachers to ensure they were not only culturally competent, but could think outside the box as well as work together as a team. Besides academics, the school also offers extracurricular activities that many students partake in, including Student Government Association (SGA) clubs that meet daily, and in sports (over 60% of students participate in sports every year). They “also have an advisory program that allows the students to build meaningful relationships with staff all year round.” Additionally, they have social workers who provide support for students and families. And the students work hard at everything they do.
It was a starting point that would prove to be perfect for students just like Katya Miranda.
Hailing from El Salvador, Miranda joined her mother Meybel Garcia in Prince George’s nine years ago when she was 10 years old. Before IHSLP, young Miranda attended traditional elementary and middle schools in Prince George’s where most classes were monolingual, although she did take an English Second Language (ESL) class to help her learn English. “At the beginning,” said Miranda, “it was very hard because I didn’t know the language, and I wasn’t familiar with anybody there… I didn’t have the support of my classmates, but I had the support of my teacher who could understand me and what I was going through.
In Katya’s last year of middle school, Beato visited her school and told students about the new International High School that would be opening. Immediately, Katya knew this was the high school for her. Fearing the idea of an untested school, her mother was less optimistic. Speaking in Spanish her mother said, “I wanted her to go to a good school and I didn’t think this would be the right school for her.” Now she’s pleased with her daughter’s decision and feels that Katya’s academic achievements seem surreal.
Recalling her experiences at traditional schools, Katya said, “They were teaching me content, but I wasn’t understanding what it was [because she didn’t understand English].” By the time she heard Beato speak of the new high school, “I already knew English,” but she said she thought that she could make a difference for new immigrant students at IHSLP, “[I wanted to] help other kids who have gone through the same things as me.”
Katya says she was always a good student, but she flourished even more at IHSLP “because it is a small school of [no more than] 400 students” and because she had a good experience there, “we’re a small community, we know each other,” and that support and familiarity is part of the school’s success.
Students at IHS aren’t atypical in their school environment – while they hail from 25 different nations, and speak over 20 different languages, they have one great similarity that connects them: they are all dealing with challenges of assimilating to a new country and homelife. They all come to this new experience together, sometimes leaving trauma behind and sometimes bringing it with them. But all in all, they have each other’s backs. And that gives them an edge.