Campus News

Uptown Opera Project Brings Recent Immigrants to Bowdoin

Story posted July 21, 2000

Can singing teach you to read and speak?

The organizers of the Uptown Opera Project, also known as Literacy through Music Program, believe just that. July 31, they will bring 30 students from recent-immigrant families to Bowdoin for a week; while here, the students will receive ESL, academic, and music instruction. They will also attend several rehearsals and concerts of The Bowdoin Summer Music Festival. In addition, the students will tour the Museum of Art and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and visit Wolfe’s Neck and Reid State Parks.

The Uptown Opera Project was founded in 1998 by Adan Vásquez, a music instructor at a transitional high school for recent immigrants. It is geared toward teenagers in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. The 50 teenagers in the program receive literacy instruction through musical education, focusing on voice development and exposure to the classics, with a particular emphasis on operas written in English. They participate in vocal and violin instruction four afternoons per week, and many attend a Saturday Academy, which provides academic tutoring and English as a second language (ESL) instruction for students and their parents.

The students involved from families who have recently immigrated to the United States. Many of them survive on the meager income from the part-time employment of one parent at sub-minimum wages. Their parents speak little or no English, and the students themselves attend transitional high schools for two to three semesters before being transferred to high schools throughout New York City. Several of the Uptown Opera Project students have been accepted into high schools for the performing arts.

The Uptown Opera Project is sponsored by the Committee for the Heights Inwood Homeless. The Committee is a non-profit organization founded by Bowdoin alumna Ellen Baxter ’75. It works to create community models of permanent housing for homeless individuals and families. CHIH also seeks to initiate cultural and educational activities in its communities. Through its sponsorship of the Uptown Opera Project, CHIH is encouraging teenagers to complete high school and pursue higher education – an aspect of the "American Dream" that is all too often out of reach for children from immigrant families.

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