Having worked in the Minneapolis Public Schools for more than 17 years, Kaying Yang has seen what holds children back from learning and prospering in education.
“The most important years in a child’s development are the years before that child ever reaches kindergarten,” Yang explains. “And yet, I’ve seen many c hildren who are so unprepared because their parents thought learning only happens when that child starts school.”
While the problem of unprepared children exists all throughout society, Yang says this problem is even more prevalent among Hmong children, “because up to now, Hmong parents have been unable to help teach their children due to their own lack of education and awareness.”
It was this urgency to help prepare children for school that led Yang to open ABC Learning Center, one of only two Hmong owned licensed daycare centers in the state of Minnesota.
In operation since 2002, Yang changed the name from “Hmong Childcare” to “ABC Learning Center” because she wanted to diversify her clientele. She also wanted to send the message that her center wasn’t merely a childcare center, but a learning center.
“Many parents are still in the mode of bringing their children to grandparents for childcare,” Yang explains.
“And while that may be great for safety and their budget, most grandparents are not trained to prepare those children for school.”
She points out that most of these kids spend their days in front of a television set or strapped to their grandparent’s back while they perform their daily chores.
While she worked for the public school system, Yang has repeatedly seen the classroom results of this form of childcare, describing the child’s situation as being “locked out” from where other kids are in their development.
“So while the other kids are learning how to spell and use new words, the children who are ‘locked out’ must spend an entire year learning the basics. They’ve fallen behind and it’s a great effort to get them at the same level as the other kids.”
Shong Leng Yang from St. Paul has seen his twin girls flourish since sending them to ABC. With many options for childcare, Shong Leng chose to give ABC a trial run and saw automatic results. He is confident his girls are well prepared to attend kindergarten this upcoming school year.
“My girls are only 4, but they are more advanced than my brother’s kids who are in first and second grades,” says the busy father. “And they are much better behaved too.”
Following a rigorous curriculum, the licensed staff at ABC are able to document the progress of each child through weekly testing and assessments, which Yang says is one way parents and the state can monitor what goes on at ABC.
With the importance of early childhood education slowly coming to the forefront, organizations such as Ready-4K are advocating for state education reform to include more funding for stronger pre-kindergarten education, which would make it more affordable for parents to send their children to establishments such as ABC.
Nonetheless, ABC’s prices are not much more than at-home daycare providers and a lot less expensive than larger facilities such as Kindercare. Even still, a good percentage of the children who attend ABC are from low-income households who get childcare assistance from various governmental programs.
There is a good mix of children who regularly attend ABC, but Yang insists on a bi-lingual approach which as resulted in children who have a good foundation of both Hmong and English.
“We even had some black students who learned how to speak Hmong fluently!” Yang informed. “They could speak Hmong better than some Hmong kids!”