COMPTON, Calif. – Dominguez High School in Compton is one of 26 schools partnering with the Young Musicians Foundation for their inaugural Fellowship Program. It is an initiative that brings teaching artists into marginalized and underserved communities to develop both basic music literacy skills and English language acquisition.

Federico Zuniga, an established performing artist working in both traditional and Latinx fusion idioms, is one of the debut fellows in the YMF program. Although he has made his name as a performer, he is also a passionate educator who has also been involved in bringing music instruction to incarcerated individuals.

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Zuniga is also keenly aware that music instruction has faded from many schools, even though its benefits are well known and extend to other areas.

“Music should be a cultural practice,” said Zuniga. “It's about the storytelling, it's about the message and that message resonates with people, that unites them and helps people just kind of relieve stress, to help us get through the day.”

Zuniga started his class at Dominguez High School with some basic rhythmic clapping patterns, using word syllables to demonstrate beat subdivisions, blending music, and language.

“[We] not only just increase the English language acquisition skills, but [teach students] to become better musicians and better people, but they're already amazing,” said Zuniga.

Student Kimberly Garcia said she enjoys the music classes. Music is important in her family and learning here helps her to participate more at home.

“I want to learn to play the guitar again”, said Garcia, “I want to keep practicing as playing music has been a tradition in my family.”

Many of the students at Dominguez High have been in the U.S. only a short time and this class provides a culturally-relevant environment to help build language, community, and self-esteem. Since 2016, YMF programs have grown from serving 1,100 students to over 4,500.

“It's a privilege to be able to serve the students,” said Zuniga. “We come in with our own preconceived notions of what our goals are and what we want to give to them, but at the end of the day, the students are the ones that teach us, and their hearts and resiliency are an inspiration.”

Although the fellowship program is relatively new, its early success is pointing the way for the future expansion of engaging underserved communities and affecting social change through the power of the arts.