KIPP Sol Mariachi: Embracing Community Culture Through Music

KIPP Sol Mariachi: Embracing Community Culture Through Music

KIPP Sol Academy (KSOL) is known for embracing the East Los Angeles community it calls home — and a prime example of the school's cultural richness is the KIPP Sol Mariachi.

With a waitlist of more than 150 students, the mariachi program has been a high-demand staple at KSOL since 2016 and is currently the only mariachi program offered at KIPP SoCal. 

Arlette Morales, the enrichment content team leader and music teacher at KSOL, founded the popular program that was initially only offered to students enrolled in the after-school program.

Morales, who started her musical career in a mariachi group in high school, knew first-hand the cultural importance of music and the meaningful impact a mariachi program would have. Rachelle Minix, the KSOL school leader at the time, also saw the program’s potential and decided to offer the mariachi program as a pilot class during the last hour of the school day.

“The KIPP Sol Mariachi is special because it brings a sense of community,” said Morales. “It’s important for schools to offer programs like this because it gives students an opportunity to learn about their culture and represent it with pride.”  

After the transition, the mariachi program quickly gained popularity with students and families. To this day, families enroll their students at KSOL, hoping they can join the program if spots become available. 

To join the program, students enter a lottery for available slots to make the application process equitable and open to all grade levels. Students also do not have to audition or have any musical experience. However, the program is so well received that students usually join in the fifth grade and stay throughout middle school — making the lottery extremely competitive. 

As part of the program, students perform in the annual Mariachi Festival at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights and wear mariachi suits, known as “trajes de charro,” created by Boyle Heights’ renowned trajes tailor Jorge Tello, also known as “El Maestro” (The Master).

In 2019, KIPP Sol Mariachi students and Morales were chosen to represent the youth generation of mariachis in a Great Big Story documentary highlighting Tello's exquisite handmade suits (catch KIPP Sol Mariachi at 2:42 of the video). 

Interested in signing up your student for the KIPP Sol Mariachi lottery? The next lottery will occur on September 5, 2023, and sign-ups are available throughout the year. For questions about the mariachi program, contact Arlette Morales at amorales@kippsocal.org. 

Learn more about KIPP Sol Academy in East Los Angeles