Hmong Youth Education Services (Hmong YES), a St. Paul based non-profit, will expand its after-school tutoring program to include a college mentoring program starting mid-February. Hmong YES received a grant to fund the program from the Great Lakes Education Corporation, a non-profit college loan organization. The college mentoring program will focus on matching up Southeast Asian high school students in St. Paul with college mentors at a ratio of 5 students to 1 mentor.
The candidate pool for mentors is already large, and according to Xiongpao Lee, the Mentoring Coordinator at Hmong YES, 10-12 college mentors will be hired by the time the program begins later in February. Lee says that they will be looking for specific attributes in mentors, such as being bilingual and having strong proficiencies in subjects like math, science and English.
In addition to a summer program geared towards preparing high school students for the college experience, the mentoring program will allow prospective students to tour area colleges and prepare for ACT and PSAT tests and work on leadership and team-building activities.
While the focus of Hmong YES has traditionally been Hmong students, Lee says that they hope to work more with students from the Karen community as well. Like the Hmong from Laos, the Karen are an ethnic group from neighboring Burma (Myanmar) who have been marginalized and persecuted by the military regime there. Both the Hmong and Karen fled their home countries to refugee camps in Thailand, and some went on to resettle in the United States. Lee says that while the last wave of Hmong refugees arrived in Minnesota in 2005, some of the Karen have been here for less than two years.
Lee says that while the refugees have been educated at the camps, they arrive in St. Paul facing a whole set of new cultural obstacles and a new language to learn.
“Obviously there is a lot of transitioning to do with assimilation and acculturation; getting used to the ins and outs of school,” Lee says. New arrivals to the United States have different testing standards and Lee says the main struggles are “primarily in English, getting used to the social atmosphere and learning about the ‘hidden curriculum,’ things that mainstream students take for granted.”
The Hmong YES building is located on the east side of St. Paul and in addition to rooms for tutoring, there is also a computer lab and a gymnasium available to students from the area. At present there are 25-30 students receiving regular tutoring from college volunteers who come primarily from Century College and Metro State University. With the hope of diversifying to including other colleges and universities, Lee says the capacity for the college mentoring program will be 50-60 students.
“We are not going to advertise it,” Lee says. “We’ll base it off of referrals at first. We want this program to try and catch students who are falling through the cracks in terms of other college prep programs [that already exist].” He cites the example of the Community School of Excellence, a Frogtown area charter school that at present doesn’t have a partnership with a college mentoring program.
In addition to working with charter schools, Lee says that Hmong YES also plans to work with counselors and teachers directly to find referrals from nearby high schools such as Harding and Arlington in the St. Paul Public School District. More information can be attained by contacting Hmong YES through their website.