Hmong leadership and mentorship team tours schools

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Ready 4 K, a nonprofit educational organization that is designed to raise public awareness and advocate for policy change, arranged for its Hmong Leadership and Mentorship Program to take part on a “Bus Tour for School Change,” Around 40 students, parents and supporters traveled around the metro area on Aug 29 to meet with superintendents to share their perspectives on education challenges facing Hmong youth in the Twin Cities.

The group traveled to White Bear Lake, St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts. Youth presenters and program coordinators met with White Bear Lake Area Schools Superintendent Theodore S. Blaesing, Ph.D., St. Paul Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Ph.D., and Interim Minneapolis Superintendent William Green, Ph.D. They also attended a Minneapolis School Board meeting. They wrapped up the day with a discussion of the tour back at the Ready 4 K offices, at 2233 University Ave. in St. Paul.

Vicki Thrasher Cronin, Ready 4 K Community Relations, said the tour was designed to give immigrant high school students a chance to build their leadership capacity around school issues and to give them a voice through direct dialogue with school leaders.

Jennifer Blevins, director, Community and Systems Change, Family & Children’s Service in Minneapolis, said the meetings surpassed expectations, and said the students were impressed with receptiveness of the superintendents and principals in listening to youth share their concerns and insights with school administrators for change.

“This organization is specifically trying to develop today’s youth into tomorrows leaders,” said Blevins, who described the team as a group of like-minded youth who have identified their concerns and created goals to help the children coming into school to have an even better opportunity for success.

Jesse Kao Lee, Ready 4 K Hmong Project Manager, said he was impressed with the energy, commitment and passion that the students showed in this first-of-its-kind meeting between Hmong students and school officials.
The youth presenters included Michael Vang, Kabee Chang, Tua Xiong, Drake Ly, Hue Vang, Mysee Chang, Kia Lor, and Vin Voie Xiong.

In the meeting with Von Sheppard, Associate Superintendent for Minneapolis School District and Michael Favor, Principal of North High School, Michael Vang, provided the background issues and Michael Vang offered the summary. Kabee Chang and Tua Xiong gave the presentation.

Michael Vang said the group is worried about the children entering kindergarten have high quality early care to perform better in school and go on to graduate from high school and even college.

Kabee Chang followed to talk about school climate issues, and specifically the problems of violence, drugs and school safety. She said that students do not want to go the rest room. The hallways and stairwells are havens for students brandishing weapons, hitting people as they pass by, and passing drugs.

“We would like the school to have a school climate committee to create a plan for making changes,” said Chang. “The committee should include students, parents, teachers and administrators.”

Chang also said the school technology is becoming very outdated. She said there are some classes where there were no books and they were expected to get the information online. They could not get access in the library and they had no computers at home.

Chang also said that ESL students have a tough time in large classes. She would also like to see the Hmong language qualify as a second language for credit.

Tua Xiong discussed college readiness. He said there is not much support and many students are not even aware if they have a guidance counselor to help with planning and scholarship applications.

The group met with Luz Maria Serrano, Area A Superintendent and Mo Chang, Charter School Liaison and Special Projects Coordinator for the Superintendent at Four Seasons Elementary Library in St. Paul.

Drake Ly provided the background and presentations were made by Hue Vang, Michael Vang, Mysee Chang, and Kia Lor.

The issues were the same, with the additional concerns about gang related graffiti that is all over the bathroom walls and lockers.

They also addressed class ditching, which they think is partly due to student frustration with teachers that are not interesting or put an effort into teaching.

“My brother was in music and for some reason the teacher didn’t like him, and so she failed him even though he was good,” said Michael Vang. “Sometimes teachers accuse me of doing things wrong even though they see other students actually doing it. Teachers assume, make judgments and put you down. Some teachers seem like slackers. The impact on me is I can’t learn. If the teacher is engaged and supportive instead of negative, I learn more when I get the support I need.”

Kia Lor said there needs to be more effort at getting kids to be aware of higher education opportunities so that they can make choices to prepare. She is upset when schools lose class time to see counselors that don’t seem to help them at all.

Mysee Chang’s Powerpoint presentation on school related and non-school related teacher and student disengagement issues.

She described the behavior of a disengaged teacher as a disciplinarian that fails to encourage students. They stay at their desk and leave students confused over assignments. They verbalize frustration and shout often.
In turn the students begin daydreaming, sleeping or goofing off. They do not pay attention or complete their assignments. They ditch class and get into trouble.

She offered solutions with improvement assessments, focusing on positive school climate, and developing a positive teacher-student relationship.

“Students who are engaged (doing homework, participating in class) tend to have higher levels of higher academic achievements,” she added.

In the meeting with Dr. Theodore Blaesing White Bear Lake Area Schools Superintendent, Drake Ly provided the background, and Vin Voie Xiong presented.

Xiong was concerned that with more Hmong students than other ethnic groups, that there should be more Hmong staff and faculty. He also thought that a Hmong Culture Class would help Hmong students feel connected and help to address divisiveness and prejudice with the rest of the school population.

“Right now, racism is a problem in our school,” said Xiong.

For more information, contact Jesse Kao Lee at Ready 4 K at 651-644-8138, x.111 or online at www.ready4k.org.

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